Frailty, Thy Name is Woman
The Weak Queen in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Cari Gilkison, Shakespeare 220
The Queen Gertrude is a weak woman. She is told by Hamlet in their dramatic confrontation to confess her sins. Gertrude is guilty in her son’s eyes of murder. Maybe she did not directly kill her husband, but she allowed it to happen, perhaps even encourage it. The Queen should not have married her dead husband’s brothers, especially so soon after his untimely death. It was in poor taste and unfair to her grieving son. Hamlet had a right to be mad even if were not Claudius who killed his father.
She shrinks back in fear as her son rages in front of her. “What wilt thou do? Thou will murder me?” (3.4.22) A strong woman would not have assumed her son would kill her and if she did, she would not have been afraid for her life. She would have stood up to him and proclaimed her innocence. Instead of standing up to him though, she cries out that his words are “daggers.” The truth is too much for her to bear. “O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain,” (3.4.163)
The Queen’s weakness is blamed on her sex and unfairly so. Hamlet mutters, “Frailty, thy name is woman.” (1.2.146) It would seem that Hamlet thinks his mother is incapable of being strong merely because she is a woman. He does not blame his uncle for being weak, but yet he was as well. If anything, Gertrude was a victim of those around her just as much as her poor husband was. She was used and manipulated by her brother-in-law in his quest for power. Still, Gertrude wanted to believe that he truly loved her.
Though Gertrude does not directly scheme and backstab like Tamora in Titus or Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, she still presents a danger to those around her. Turning a blind eye to the injustice around her is nearly as bad as having a direct hand in the treachery. Gertrude is so insecure and desperate for love and acceptance that she does what ever she is told. Instead of being the powerful Queen represented the game of chess; Gertrude is but a pawn in the game.
Her blindness extends not only to Claudius and Hamlet, but to Ophelia as well. She tells her son’s girlfriend, “I hope your virtues will bring him to his wonted ways again.” (3.1.41-42) The Queen hopes Ophelia will bring her son to his senses by being the obedient and virtuous woman she is supposed to be. She does not tell her to ask Hamlet what is wrong or the offer her support as she should have done. Instead, she merely instructs her potential daughter-in-law to fulfill the role that society has created for her.
The Ghost of Hamlet’s father tells Hamlet, “Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven.” Hamlet follows his father’s advice and does not kill her. However, in a cruel twist of fate, Gertrude takes a drink from the cup that was meant for Hamlet. He was the one who was supposed to die from the poison, but instead Gertrude dies. It would seem her fate was to pay for sins in the end. Her weakness poisoned those around her, so it is only fitting that she dies by poison as well.