Gertrude: A Portrait of Conflicting Loyalties

Women living in Elizabethan times, although more liberated than medieval women, were still expected to do their husband's will and obey at all times. In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Queen Gertrude begins the play acting as a typical Elizabethan woman. She sits beside her new husband, Claudius, and reiterates each statement he makes. Further into the play, persuaded by Hamlet, Gertrude begins to question her quick remarriage. As she finally learns the truth of Claudius's betrayal, she breaks free from his hold and warns Hamlet of the poisoned cup. Shakespeare's character Gertrude shows emotional growth, from her dependency on Claudius, to questioning her actions, to her betrayal of Claudius in a futile attempt to save her son, Hamlet.

Gertrude begins the play supporting Claudius and backing up his every word. As the deceased King's widow, she possesses more authority than Claudius, but she chooses not to exercise that authority. As the newly crowned Claudius first speaks to Hamlet, he begins by praising him, but then reprimands him for mourning the King's death for too long. "'Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet... 'Tis unmanly grief" (1.2.90-98). After Claudius's...

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