To What Extent Do You agree that Gertrude

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Simon Everett

To What Extent Do You agree that Gertrude

 is the centre of evil in Hamlet?

        Throughout ‘Hamlet’ we are presented with two possible readings of Gertrude. The first comes from the impression of her forced upon us by the discussions and accusations of Hamlet and the Ghost. The second comes from the lines of Gertrude herself. If we were to follow the first of these two possibilities, placing our trust in the hands of a very possibly insane Hamlet, we accuse Gertrude of playing at least a small part in the murder of King Hamlet; this in turn leads to the conclusion that Gertrude is sited near to the centre of evil at the very least. This is perhaps the more popular of the two options when it comes to stage portrayal.

        The alternative option is that Gertrude is one of the play’s few innocent characters. There are two possible explanations if this is the case, the first being that the evidence supplied by the Ghost to Hamlet is unreliable, possibly because the Ghost is lying, the audience of the time would certainly been sceptical about any evidence offered up by the spirit of Hamlet’s father with ghosts being more associated with hell than anything else at the time and this would be perpetuated by Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act 1 Scene 4 where he himself questions the motives of the Ghost:

Be thou a spirit of health, or a goblin damned,

Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,

Be thy intents wicked or charitable,

Another explanation could be that Hamlet is delusional and the Ghost is merely a figment of his imagination; the second possibility is that she is completely ignorant of the murder of the King by her new husband Claudius, which would mean that she truly believes that The King died of natural causes.

        It is not uncommon for critics to believe that Hamlet is in fact truly insane, rather than his erratic behaviour being put on purposefully as a front in order to lull Claudius into a false sense of security, from which he can more easily draw a confession from his uncle. It is up for discussion as to whether the Ghost is real or not, however I feel that enough of the characters see the figure of the King to make a strong conclusion that there is an actual Ghost in some part of the play. The discussion is stimulated by Act 3 Scene 4, where Hamlet and Gertrude are alone in the Queen’s chamber and Hamlet acts as if the Ghost has appeared, as it states in the stage directions. Despite this Gertrude does not see the Ghost and there are several theories why this is so - some believe that she has been blinded to the Ghost by her own guilt whilst others believe this particular visitation to be the work of Hamlet’s imagination.

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        If Gertrude is guilty of any involvement in the murder, she manages to portray a state of ignorance to any evil doing very successfully. This is most apparent when Hamlet finally confronts her in an attempt to read into her involvement in the death of his father:


                A bloody deed? Almost as bad, good mother,

                As kill a king and marry with his brother.

        Gertrude’s response to this is rapid, “As kill a king?” As she delivers this line she wrings her hands, displaying a very real sense of shock not only to the accusations of her son ...

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