Does Hamlet's Mother, Gertrude, Know that King Claudius has Murdered her Husband?
Did Queen Gertrude Know???
Is there any evidence of Gertrude's guilt?
Does Gertrude know that Claudius killed Hamlet's father?
There is evidence, in Gertrude’s behaviour, and her words, that she did not know that Old Hamlet had been murdered by her new husband, Claudius.
In Act 1, scene 5, Hamlet learns of his father’s murder, from the ghost ~ in the guise of old Hamlet. This ghost states that ‘the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown.’ And Hamlet replies ‘My uncle!’. Old Hamlet’s ghost does not implicate his widow in the murder and does not want Hamlet to take revenge upon her. He accuses her, not of murder, but of incest, since the royal bed has become ‘a couch for .. damned incest’. He actually describes Claudius ~ that incestuous ..adulterate beast’ ~ stealing into the orchard, where he, the king, was asleep, and pouring deadly poison ~ ‘leperous distilment’ ~ into his ear. There is no mention of Gertrude being with him, though he acknowledges that he had ‘won to his shameful lust the will of my most seeming-virtuous queen’.
Although Hamlet is disgusted by her behaviour, in marrying quickly and incestuously, Gertrude does seem to care about Hamlet, and it would be surprising if she were to deliberately help kill his father, and then marry the murderer. It would be particularly surprising if she then, apparently genuinely, worried and wondered over Hamlet’s behaviour, wanting him to stay with her at court and hoping that he would look positively on his uncle: ‘let thine eyes look like a friend on Denmark’; ‘let not thy mother lose her prayers.. I pray thee stay with us ...’
In Act 3 scene 1, Claudius first admits that there is a ‘heavy burden’ on his conscience and in Act 3, scene 3, while attempting to pray, he admits that he has committed 'a brother's murder', and speaks of 'stronger guilt' and 'brother's blood'. He mentions the benefits of that murder: 'My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen', but, though he acknowledges that taking Gertrude as his wife was a benefit of the murder, there is no mention of her being an accomplice, and he never discusses the death, or his guilt, with Gertrude ~ thus implicating her.
Gertrude, herself, gives no soliloquies of guilt and, in the lines that she speaks, gives no indication of having been involved in the murder. If she and Claudius had planned the killing together, then one might expect that they would discuss the matter, or, at least, allude to it, in their private conversations, but they do not.
When Hamlet arranges the production of ‘The Murder of Gonzago’ he expects that the play ~ paralleling the murder of old Hamlet, as described by the ghost ~ will cause Claudius to respond in a guilty manner, which he does. However, there is no such guilty reaction from Gertrude. Hamlet is expecting her to break, too. When the ‘actress says’ ... Both here and hence pursue me lasting strife, if, once a widow, ever I be a wife’, he comments ‘If she should break now.’ He even publicly requests her response: ‘Madam, how like you this play’. At most, she is affronted by the references to widows re-marrying and states that ‘the lady doth protest too much’. It is Claudius who grows ever more uncomfortable and finally walks out ~ confirming his guilt. Indeed, the queen seems to think that it is only her over-speedy marriage to Claudius, after Old Hamlet’s death, that causes Hamlet’s angry behaviour. She comments, in act 2, scene 2, that the cause of Hamlet’s ‘distemper’ is likely to be ‘his father’s dath and our o’er-hasty marriage.’ She seems to have no idea ~ and no reason to think ~ that Hamlet believes that either of them is guilty of his father’s murder.
When, following the ‘Gonzago’ play, Hamlet visits his mother, she refers to him offending ‘his father’. This seems to be said in innocence. If she had known the truth, this would have been a cruel reaction to her son. A little later, after he has killed Polonius, Hamlet says to Gertrude: ’A bloody deed. Almost as bad, good mother, as kill a king and marry with his brother’, Her response is incomprehension: ‘As kill a king?’
Shortly afterwards she asks: ‘What have I done?’ and ‘Ay me, what act that roars so loud ...?’ Hamlet then seems to accuse of her of allowing lust to blind her to her new husband’s evil faults ~ that he is ‘a murderer and a villain’. There is no evidence that she knew Claudius to be a murderer.
There are no guilty outbursts from Gertrude, as there are from Claudius, regarding Old Hamlet’s death. There are no conversations on the subject, nor lone speeches of anguish. It would appear, therefore, that Gertrude was not an accomplice and was, in fact, innocent of all knowledge of Claudius’s guilt.
She shows no evidence of feeling guilty, until after Hamlet has made her search her soul about sharing an incestuous bed ~ with the person, he claims. has killed his father. When Ophelia, in madness, wants to see her, she speaks of her 'sick soul' and of 'sin's true nature' and worries about whether her guilty conscience will show: 'so full of artless jealousy is guilt, it spills itself in fearing to be spilt.' Until then, she had no such misgivings, because she had no reason, in her mind, to feel guilty.
My Hamlet Hubs
- Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' - What do the soliloquies reveal about Hamlet's true feelings and thoughts?
Act 1. Scene 2: 'Oh that this too solid flesh would melt ...' Act 2. Scene 2: 'Now am alone ...' Act 3. Scene 1: 'To be, or not to be ...'
- Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Sources of Hamlet's Tragedy
I believe that Hamlet's tragedy stems from a number of origins. The obvious one is the death of his father. When the play opens the young man is deep in grief, to the extent that he wishes he were dead. 'O...
- Shakespeare's Hamlet and his 'Foils' - Fortinbras and Laertes.
A foil is a character, who sets off another person, by being a contrast to that person. For a character to be a foil to Hamlet, he or she must have things in common with him, in order for any differences to...
- Shakespeare's Hamlet - Is Claudius a careful ruler and loving husband, or a hateful, lying villain?
Claudius makes a good king. He is a careful ruler and a loving husband, providing stability for his country and his wifeMurderer of the rightful king, Claudius is the plays hateful, lying...
Online articles About Gertrude
- An analysis of Gertrude, Hamlet's Mother
An introduction to Queen Gertrude. From shakespeare-online.com
Useful Hamlet Link
David Tennant's Hamlet
I went, not too long go, to see Shakespeare's truly amazing play, 'Hamlet', at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon.
David Tennant was young Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, and Patrick Stewart was Claudius, the usurping, murderous brother of Old Hamlet. He also played Old Hamlet's ghost!
It was brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
David Tennant simply lit up the stage.
Now the performance has been captured on DVD, so everyone can see it.
And I would definitely recommend it.
If you love 'Hamlet', don't miss it!
Reviews of David Tennant's 'Hamlet'.
- Dr Who's David Tennant as Hamlet at the Courtyard, Stratford - Times Online
'Gregory Dorans fluent, pacey, modern-dress revival of Hamlet gives Tennant the chance to show the world that he has the range to tackle the most demanding classical role of all and, praise be, he seizes it. '
- David Tennant: thrills abound in Doctor Who Hamlet - Telegraph
'By some extraordinary quirk in the space-time continuum, two of our most famous intergalactic travellers have simultaneously landed on Planet Hamlet.'
- BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Review: David Tennant in Hamlet
'From the second David Tennant made his entrance as Hamlet in the RSC's latest production, it was clear just who was the star of the show. '
- From Time Lord to antic prince: David Tennant is the best Hamlet in years | Stage | The Guardian
'A Hamlet of quicksilver wit, mimetic vigour and wild humour', says Michael Billington
- David Tennant's Hamlet what did you think? - Television & radio - guardian.co.uk
'On stage, David Tennant's performance had 'demonic energy, airy lightness and caustic humour'.'