Hamlet

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Gertrude Character Analysis

Hamlet's mother. After Hamlet's father dies, Gertrude quickly marries Hamlet's uncle, Claudius. Though she is a good woman and loving mother, she is weak-willed and unable to control her personal passions. Whether because of lust, love, or a desire to maintain her status as queen, she marries Claudius, though this is clearly a breach of proper morals. Though some critics have argued that Gertrude might have been involved in Claudius's plot to kill Old Hamlet, evidence in the text suggests that she is unaware of and uninvolved in the plot.

Gertrude Quotes in Hamlet

The Hamlet quotes below are all either spoken by Gertrude or refer to Gertrude. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Hamlet published in 1992.
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not "seems."
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Gertrude
Page Number: 1.2.79
Explanation and Analysis:

Hamlet says this line to his mother Gertrude when she inquires why he “seems” to be so dismayed. He corrects her word choice and points out that his sadness is an accurate reflection of his emotional state after his father’s death—rather than an external performance of mourning.

The difference between the truth of interior emotions (“is”) and exterior presentations in a social context (“seems”) is a critical theme throughout Hamlet. Many of the characters hide their true intentions in order to plot against others, and Hamlet’s actions, in particular, are the subject of much skepticism. As he becomes increasingly irrational and distraught, both the other characters and the audience of Shakespeare’s work are tasked to determine whether these behaviors are appearances or realities.

Hamlet has encapsulated this central concern of the play, here, within the correction of a single verb. The passage points out that while other characters may be more likely to attribute actions to displays of emotion, Hamlet holds a commitment to actual sentiment. Of course, we also must be skeptical of such a line: Perhaps Hamlet’s insistence on the “is” actually reveals just how carefully he coordinates his speeches. But regardless of whether we trust him, it is clear that he and Shakespeare have put high stakes on linguistic precision and the coherence between belief and act.

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Frailty, thy name is woman!
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Gertrude
Page Number: 1.2.150
Explanation and Analysis:

In his soliloquy, Hamlet expresses disgust for Gertrude’s actions in the wake of King Hamlet’s death. The protagonist complains of her lustful nature and her moral weakness.

Shakespeare develops in this phrase a clever rhetorical strategy—one that has endured and been used in texts that range from James Joyce's Ulysses to a Supreme Court dissension to a Pokémon episode. The literal meaning of the sentence is that woman are frail, but by inverting the order of the sentence, he forefronts the accusative quality. Then by making the subject the “name” of the quality, he implies that frailty is epitomized and embodied by the female character. According to this logic, it is not just that some women are frail, but rather that they are synonymous with frailty.

Despite the rhetorical power of the statement, it is also a gross generalization—something of which Shakespeare would have certainly been aware. Hamlet rapidly switches from examining the specific case of Gertrude to making a general comment on her entire sex, which points to his tendency for rash action and totalizing language. We see, then, the playwright giving linguistic power to his characters, even as he also displays their shortcomings in rationality and sensibility.

Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral bak'd meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius, Gertrude, Horatio
Page Number: 1.2.87-88
Explanation and Analysis:

Hamlet continues to rant about Claudius and Gertrude’s marriage. Here, he complains to Horatio about how rapidly their wedding took place after his father’s death.

To do so, Hamlet uses a grotesque image of the same food being served at the funeral and the marriage. What were “bak’d meats” (baked meats) at his father’s death are allowed to chill and then be repurposed for Hamlet's father's widow and brother. This is, of course, not a literal description of what occurred with the meals at each ceremony, but rather a rhetorical way for Hamlet to stress the speed and discourtesy of his mother’s actions. That Hamlet chooses the exclamation “thrift, thrift” brings a darkly economic dimension into the text. The term indicates that Gertrude and Claudius reused the meats in order to save expenses—which would be an offensive choice in the wake of her husband’s death. Thus it is not just speed that falls under critique here, but rather the casual and desensitized way they have acted. The passage stresses both the importance of social norms in Hamlet’s world, but also how flagrantly they have been violated in the specific events of the play.

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Gertrude Character Timeline in Hamlet

The timeline below shows where the character Gertrude appears in Hamlet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 2
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
...the dead king, holds court. He uses pretty language to make his recent marriage to Gertrude, his brother's widow, sound perfectly normal. He says it is possible to balance "woe" and... (full context)
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Next, Claudius turns to Hamlet, and asks why he is still dressed in mourning clothes. Gertrude wonders why he "seems" so upset. Hamlet says he "is" upset, and that his clothes... (full context)
Women Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Gertrude seconds the request. Hamlet promises to obey his mother. (full context)
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Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...and uncle. He says Claudius is far inferior to Old Hamlet, and, in anguish, describes Gertrude as a lustful beast. (full context)
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...Horatio at Wittenberg, is happy to see his friend, and pleased when Horatio agrees that Gertrude and Claudius's marriage was hasty. (full context)
Act 1, scene 5
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Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
The Ghost commands Hamlet to seek revenge against Claudius for murder and for corrupting Gertrude. Yet the Ghost also warns Hamlet not to harm his mother. Dawn breaks. The Ghost... (full context)
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Hamlet promises to do nothing but seek revenge. He curses first Gertrude, "O most pernicious woman!" (1.5.105), then Claudius, "That one may smile, and smile, and be... (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
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Claudius and Gertrude greet Hamlet's old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whom they summoned to Elsinore to figure out... (full context)
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...the ambassadors have returned from Norway. He goes to get them. While Polonius is gone, Gertrude remarks that Hamlet's mania probably comes from his father's death and her too-hasty marriage to... (full context)
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...long-winded ramble about Hamlet's madness, Polonius reads love letters Hamlet sent to Ophelia. Claudius and Gertrude agree that lovesickness may be causing Hamlet's behavior. Polonius proposes that they stage a meeting... (full context)
Act 3, scene 1
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can't figure out what's behind Hamlet's odd behavior, but tell Claudius and Gertrude that he was excited by the arrival of the players. The King and Queen, hopeful... (full context)
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...Hamlet loves Ophelia. He requests that after the play Hamlet be sent to talk with Gertrude, where Polonius will once again spy. (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
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Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, and others arrive to watch the play. Hamlet tells Horatio he's now going... (full context)
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...attempts to act at university, harasses Ophelia with sexual puns, then makes bitter remarks about Gertrude for marrying Claudius. (full context)
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...about). The players then begin to act the full play. As the plot becomes clear, Gertrude and Claudius become uncomfortable. Hamlet mocks them, while continuing to launch sexual puns at Ophelia.... (full context)
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Polonius enters, repeating Gertrude's request to see him. Hamlet pretends to see odd shapes in a non-existent cloud. Polonius... (full context)
Act 3, scene 3
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Polonius enters with news: Hamlet is headed to Gertrude's room, where Polonius will hide behind a tapestry. (full context)
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...he possesses the spoils of the murder, neither of which he wants to give up: Gertrude and the throne. Yet he kneels to pray. (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
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Polonius and Gertrude wait for Hamlet in Gertrude's chamber. Polonius advises her to be tough with Hamlet. Just... (full context)
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Hamlet enters. Gertrude says he has offended his father (i.e. Claudius). Hamlet says that she's offended his father... (full context)
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Gertrude shouts, "What a rash and bloody deed!" (3.4.27). Hamlet responds, "As bad… as kill a... (full context)
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Hamlet forces Gertrude to look at a picture of his father and compare it to one of Claudius,... (full context)
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...order, it says, to refocus Hamlet on his duty—revenge against Claudius. Hamlet speaks to it. Gertrude can't see the ghost and thinks Hamlet's mad. The Ghost tells Hamlet to calm her. (full context)
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Hamlet tries to convince Gertrude that he's sane, and begs her to confess her sins, to be pure and avoid... (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
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Claudius sees that Gertrude is upset. She says Hamlet was acting insane, and in his madness killed Polonius. (full context)
Act 4, scene 5
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Gertrude and Horatio sadly discuss the madness that has taken over Ophelia since Polonius was killed.... (full context)
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Gertrude exclaims that the mob and Laertes are blaming the wrong person for the death of... (full context)
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...to get revenge for the death of his father. Claudius admits that Polonius is dead. Gertrude adds that Claudius did not kill him. (full context)
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...and handing out flowers (perhaps imaginary): rosemary and pansies to Laertes; fennel and columbines to Gertrude; rue and daisies to Claudius. Laertes demands vengeance for her madness. Ophelia exits, wishing God's... (full context)
Act 4, scene 7
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...Laertes asks why Claudius didn't punish Hamlet for killing Polonius. Claudius answers: First, he loves Gertrude and she's Hamlet's mother; second, Hamlet is loved by the people, so punishing him might... (full context)
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Gertrude rushes in with news that Ophelia has drowned. While gathering flowers she fell into the... (full context)
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Laertes, weeping, exits. Claudius fears Ophelia's death might reignite Laertes anger and rebellion. He and Gertrude follow Laertes to calm him down. (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
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Hamlet and Horatio hear a noise and hide. Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, a priest, and other lords enter in a funeral procession with a coffin. The... (full context)
Act 5, scene 2
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Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, and the entire court enter to watch the duel. Hamlet apologizes to Laertes. Laertes... (full context)
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Hamlet scores the second hit. Gertrude lifts the poisoned cup to drink in Hamlet's honor. Claudius tries to stop her, but... (full context)
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Gertrude falls. Claudius claims Gertrude fainted because she saw Hamlet and Laertes bleeding, but Gertrude says... (full context)