Ophelia Was Pushed!

I have to admit I’d never thought of this.  How, exactly, does Gertrude offer such a perfect description of Ophelia’s apparently lengthy death? Did she basically watch it? http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers&discussionID=15280457&gid=1017337&commentID=12995206&trk=view_disc I don’t know if the public in general can see Linked In groups, but Aren Bass poses the question “Did Gertrude do it? Did she push Ophelia in?” My first thought is, “There’s no motivation.” But later somebody offers this blog post from 2007: http://impossiblekisses.blogspot.com/2007/11/did-gertrude-murder-ophelia.html Which argues that if Gertrude didn’t directly kill her, then she certainly watched her die. It still does not fully answer the motivation question (I am deliberately ignoring the person who mentions the “theme” of Oedipus Complex …) So I offer it up as a valid question – what’s the deal with Gertrude sitting there and watching Ophelia die? Anybody got any rationale for that, how she came to be watching, why she didn’t summon help, or try to go in after her or anything like that?  Does anybody think the “Gertrude did it” argument has any legs? If so, what’s her motivation? Jealousy over her son’s lover? Putting the crazy girl out of her misery, like a mercy killing? It’s obviously not a new idea (the linked blog is from 2007), but it’s new to me. 🙂

35 thoughts on “Ophelia Was Pushed!

  1. That is definitely a new reading to me! I don't think we can support it with any textual evidence but I don't think that any reading of that speech is justifiable by anything in entire play and yet we must all do something with it. I think in order to make an assertion like that about Gertrude, you would have to make a very clear reading of Gertrude up until that point in the play which would make such a reading plausible.

    What would Gertrude had done prior to the drowning to support that reading?

  2. Whoa… Never thought about it. Just sort of rocked my world.

  3. For the record, drowning is not a merciful killing. It's one of the most painful deaths someone can have.

    I agree with JM. There's nothing there to support Gertrude wanting to kill Ophelia. Why then is the speech so long? She's trying to give Laertes the news gently!

    The guy just found out his father was killed. He's grieving and all sorts of upset about it. But then, one woe doth tread upon another's heels. Now suicide is damnable, so we don't want Laertes, already in enough grief over his father, to be told that his sister is dead and going to hell.

    He's seen already that she's… not well. She's lost her wits. So Gertrude thinks, why not draw out the tale. Tell it slowly and carefully to illustrate that she fell in, and sunk in her distracted state, drown "as one incapable of her own distress."

  4. Carsonist says:

    They actually discuss this exact issue, (why does she watch Ophelia die, not "did she kill Ophelia") in Slings and Arrows. I think it's in the first episode of Season 2. I love that show.

  5. What a gorgeous descriptive monologue it is.

    I don't believe Gertrude "saw" anything at all, excepting what's in her mind's eye about how she thinks it might have happened. Perhaps it was Ophelia's habit of late to crawl out over the stream and watch the leaves and flower petals drift by? Maybe it was something more people than Gertrude knew about, which is why the surprise of the how and the questioning of Gertrude further are absent.
    But Murder?–and by Gertrude yet? She who wishes at the graveside that Ophelia might have been Hamlet's bride? Who better to give a wonderful, utilitarian speech to? And indeed Duane, where's the motivation? –especially since how she prefers to relate it is NOT as a "suicide", but as the accidental drowning of a crazy person through unfortunate mischance.
    I think it's just another of Willy's semi-loose ends that, in the excitement of the proceedings, no one cared enough about to get their anal retentive dander up over. Not even HIM. Nit-picking continuity genius or armchair Scotland Yard literary sensationalism weren't things he had to be concerned with. But getting information out in order to move the plot along, and pretty, descriptive speeches were among his concerns.
    He had to put a report into the mouth of someone, since no one sees it, and staging it at the Globe is an impossibility. And painting pictures with words is his thing. Gertrude paints a picture for us with her musings on the how.
    Thanks for bringing it. I had no idea this could be such an obviously prevalent notion. But in the end I think it's a case of Much Ado About Nothing on their part.

  6. I am in the camp of Gertrude watching her die. I can see the point of her exaggerating the death, but I have always seen it as Gertie watching poor Ophelia off herself. I don't see the murder option as pulling nearly as much weight with me: if anything, I believe that Gertrude wanted Ophelia to be her daughter-in-law, but Ophelia's insanity ended up causing ambivalence in Gertrude, which is why she watched the suicide.

  7. Obviously there's nothing in the text to get you a murderous Gertrude, and the only good way to give her a motivation is jealousy over Hamlet's affections, which is itself equally crackpot.

    I have no problem with the idea of Gertrude watching Ophelia die, though — and then it becomes a question of how she reacts. Yeah, she could be drawing it out to cushion the blow for Laertes, or she could actually be profoundly affected and confused by it. Having her see Ophelia commit suicide early, I think, opens the possibility for Gertrude's "suicide" later on; it's possible to play the whole fencing scene with Gertrude KNOWING that Claudius has poisoned the wine, and so she toasts Hamlet to warn her son before giving up the ghost herself.

    And from this you reason backward: why would Gertrude want to kill herself? Two choices, I think — she was either complicit in Old Hamlet's death, or she was suspicious of (or in an extended affair with) Claudius, yet never stopped to question him, and now feels guilty. Having her complicit in Old Hamet's death runs too close to her actively murdering Ophelia in my mind, though.

  8. A "hands off in mercy" while the poor thing drowns?
    Maybe–maybe not. It's up for interpretation. It's certainly more plausible than "Gertrude the murderer". But there's nothing in the script to support it as the definitive answer either.

  9. Ok, I'll try to answer my own question and lets see if its possible. What I am attempting to do is produce a reading in which Gertrude could possibly be seen as killing Ophelia.

    Gertrude, has married her dead husband's brother, a marriage which we don't actually get specifics about in the text (except from Hamlet, who vision is obviously skewed). Perhaps she is actually very unhappy in this second marriage but feels trapped in it for reasons of state.

    That could be a reason why she would be jealous of Hamlet and Ophelia's love even if it is a rocky road for them.

    Then she watched Hamlet kill Ophelia's Father before her eyes. This is a traumatic even for anyone. And the he leaves the body in view for the entire rest of the scene. Enough to freak anyone out.

    Finally, Hamlet is sent away. And Ophelia keeps coming to Gertrude even though she doesn't want to see her. This the fact that Gertrude tries to stop her visits is important. And the surest way to begin feeling like you yourself are crazy is to feel like the world has gone crazy around you. Since Ophelia is (more or less) crazy perhaps Gertrude feels like she is beginning to slip at all.

    Finally, Ophelia's brother gets back from France is himself wild with passion for his dead father. He is threatening to ruin the kingdom. Upon seeing Ophelia mad he begins to produce (potentially) some of this most dangerous rhetoric.

    This Gertrude is not mentally stable herself. She possibly doesn't even recognize herself as a murderer in drowning Ophelia but perhaps a liberator or maybe doesn't even know what she's doing when she does it. It is in this reading of Gertrude that we find a woman who would knowingly drink from a poisoned cup to spare her son from it.

    This is perhaps the most sympathetic reading in which we could see a murderous Gertrude kill Ophelia.

    Any others?

  10. I think Monica is on to something.

    Let's think of the whole thing as a film noir. Gertie's son is a bit volatile and unpredictable. He kills this old guy. The old guy's daughter goes a bit funny in the head and now she's blabbing about it all over town, saying her old man was murdered. Saying Gertie's son done it.

    Now that's embarrasing. Can't have that.

    And then the old man's son comes to town. Better shut the girl up before she causes trouble.

    So Gertie pushes the girl in the soup. But now the brother thinks she committed suicide cause she went crazy cause Gertie's son used her and then dumped her. And he's gonna make Gertie's son pay anyway.

    That's what happens in a noir. Everyone's hoist by their own petard and all purposes are mistook and fall on the inventors' heads. And the same goes for the revenge play.

    By the way, I do adore the image of Gertrude as a bit of a Lady Macbeth. And I honestly don't think it's out of tune with the rest of the play.

  11. Gedaly brought up an important point. Drowning is one of the worst kinds of death. And although this has everything to do with "interpretation" itself, has anyone ever seen a Gertrude who relates the story she tells as though she's someone who actually witnessed the very thing of which she speaks?
    The character of the speech itself; the rhythms, words, and sentence construction don't lend that kind of emotion to the actor.The tenor is nowhere close in character to a feverish and emotional "messenger report", relating dastardly and tragic deeds we, the audience haven't been privy to. But the qualities of the piecing together of a visualization in the speech are rife.
    Possibly, Gertrude has received such a report on the discovery of Ophelia's body, then relates the story in her own (and Shakespeare's own) way. The whys of how she chooses to present it have to do with the situation in which she finds herself, many of which have been mentioned here.
    Though related, I'm probably sidetracking a bit here, but the whole business fosters this thought: Why would the accidental death of a person incapable of protecting herself be automatically labeled a suicide? Who has given what happened this label? Unfortunately, I think it's derived from the notion that it's all Hamlet's fault–he's driven her to it. One more absolute to "prove" another negative about HIM. But is there really any indication that it was actually a "suicide"–totally intentional on the part of the victim of this tragic piece of business? Or are we to assume events (always all Hamlet's doing, according to the supporters of the "he knowingly drove her to it" idea) drove her crazy enough to commit suicide, knowingly,on her own part, in fact and in act? Even if Gertrude witnessed such a thing, she doesn't speak of it as such.(Which is what the "Gertrude did it" set are attempting to use for ammo).

  12. To save rebuttal time–Yes it is spoken of as "suicide" later. But by whom? And why and in what context? How does the notion "fit in"?

  13. I think that we know now that drowning is a horrible way to go, but I don't necessarily think that it was common knowledge 400 years ago, at least no more than any other way to die. Gertrude even says that the poor thing was unaware of her situation, and may well have thought she'd simply never even realize what was going on. People who stick a kitten in a bag and throw it in the river don't necessarily lose sleep over how the kitten felt about it.

    I agree that Gertrude does not rush in and say "Oh my god she's dead!" Her speech is very soothing, and I've spoken before of how much it reminds me of the time in high school I woke up to my mom telling me that a high school friend had died in a car accident. If Gertrude is making up that story on the fly (or has thought it up in the past 5 minutes), it's damned good.

    That would actually be an exercise for an actor to tackle – do the entire speech like a Gertrude who most definitely killed Ophelia and is now providing herself an alibi. Instead of playing it like she's trying to comfort Laertes, play it like she's trying to cover her own behind. She was crazy, I tells ya! Crazy! She kept singing and she floated down the river! It's not like they had CSI back then to go look at the amount of oxygen left in the girl's lungs.

  14. Every bit of what Shakespeare's characters utter is "made up on the fly", coming out of their mouths as they think it (or it should seem so). The fact that people speak so beautifully is part of the heightened rhetorical quality of the whole genre in which he writes. So the fact that Gertrude's speech could be a simple rhetorical device isn't negated by the awesomeness of its construction. If we view any of Shakespeare's rhetoric in terms of Today's reality, none of it would be possible. Just as they did so easily at the Globe, we must be able to simultaneously absorb what's happening as "theatre". Which is why it's such a mistake to apply today's fixation on "realism" to his work.

  15. "Which is why it's such a mistake to apply today's fixation on "realism" to his work."

    See, JM, I think this is perhaps where you and I disagree the most strongly, at least if I'm understanding you correctly. My position has always been to extract the plays down not to what Shakespeare wrote and why and when and how, but what he put on the stage as the essence of what it means to be human. In one of the torrent of comments the other day I used the expression "Shakespeare as god", but I can't remember if I ended up taking that out. People often ask why this stuff endures, and I don't think it's because we all have to understand what was going on 400 years ago. I think the exact opposite, I think that what he put on paper does transcend, and that as time marches on we do bring our own evolving understanding into the characters.

    Don't get me wrong, I never want to see a production where Juliet has a cell phone and just texts Romeo "Dont wry jus sleepin, k?" That's not what I'm talking about. But I do want to see a production that maybe bumps her age up to 16 or 17 or so, something that's a little more culturally aware these days and less likely to squick people out. And if somebody wants to make Claudius the head of a major corporation instead of the king of Denmark, I can live with that.

    I think there's a layer there (back to our depth discussion!) for people who do want to explore that. To fully appreciate the ghosts you need to better understand how the audience felt about such things, compared to our modern audiences. No doubt. But I don't think it's a mistake to focus on bringing the play to a place where we can better understand it.

  16. I have no problem with "updating" or "conceptualizing" as interpretive tools. But what remains is The Language–that we cannot change. Forgetting that this is in fact Theatre is a mistake, and it's why so many actors have such a problem with it. "My character wouldn't say that" or, "Why does he go on so long about it?" are complaints I've often gotten as a director. It's another world–real in its own existence–and to do it justice we must be able to live in that world of heightened rhetoric as a reality unto itself. Handling the language and not being afraid to be "unreal" in a sense but Very Real in another sense is the answer.

  17. LinusRenee says:

    this could very well have already been mentioned in the previous comments that I admittedly was to lazy to read through, but I just wanted to say that there is a small corner in academia that holds that part of Ophelia's mad songs point to an attempt (or more) at her virtue by Claudius, and although that in no means implicates Gertrude in Ophelia's death, it does leave the door open for Gertrude to know more than she's saying regarding the real situation of Ophelia's death. Again, there really isn't a lot of textual evidence to support it, but there are glimmers here and there.

  18. Enter CAN, with worms in.

    CAN. Hi, does anybody want to open me?

    A new player heard from – Claudius, the horny old goat, has been eyeing up poor Ophelia? Well now that practically writes itself – with her father and boyfriend out of the picture who exactly is going to protect her from those advances? I think Gertrude may have misunderstood her role in that case, she's supposed to protect the *child* from the *monster*, not do away with the child because she's jealous of her.

    I know that we've gone well far afield of anything Shakespeare could possibly have been suggesting, but ain't it fun??

  19. Duane wrote: "I know that we've gone well far afield of anything Shakespeare could possibly have been suggesting, but ain't it fun??"

    'Tis a blast, M'lord, that I would feign repeat.

  20. Duane wrote: "I know that we've gone well far afield of anything Shakespeare could possibly have been suggesting, but ain't it fun??"

    But it is not a reading that is not supported by the text.

    That is the think to remember about a play. When you think about producing it (even just hypothetically), you can do anything — no matter how unlikely — as long as it does not directly contradict the text written by the playwright.

  21. I think JM mostly has it right about the "semi-loose ends." It is similar to Hitchcock;s concept of "refrigerator logic": the hole in the plot that nobody really notices until after the movie is over and they get up to go to the refrigerator and they say, "Hey, wait a minute…" The scene is dramatic, and good enough to get by in production without anyone noticing any inconsistencies.
    On the other hand, there is not really that much to be bothered by. Gertrude may have witnessed the event, or have reported what she was told. The speech is somewhat long, but may have the effect of dilating time. The actual moment from the breaking of the branch and Ophelia's slipping into the brook, her momentary floating on the water and singing snatches of tunes, to her final "muddy death" may have been only a matter of a minute or less. Any observer could have been a considerable distance from the brook and much too far away to come to her aid in time.
    More interesting is the notion of what is clearly described as an accidental death being later termed a suicide. Regardless, it would not be unreasonable for Hamlet to be blamed, since he could be seen as the ultimate cause of Ophelia's madness, which surely could be seen as responsible even for her accidental death.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Right now, I'm writing a paper for my English class: Write a closing statement as though you are the prosecuting attorney at Gertrude's trial, assuming of course that she is not as innocent as the text makes her out to be.

    I've been doing some research, and there's actually a lot of in depth textual evidence to support the idea that Gertrude killed Ophelia. These are all personal interpretations though, obviously, it is not known for sure either way since WS himself never directly confirms or denies anything. Anyways, these are the motives I've found:

    1. Ophelia is a nuisance to the Kingdom. She was very intimate with Hamlet and surely knows a lot about the royal family's affairs. Including that Hamlet killed Polonius. She is publicly mourning the death of her father, as a complete looney. It simply would have been better for the royal family's image if she disappeared.

    2. Early on, when Hamlet is speaking with Polonius, he mentions the idea that his daughter "may conceive" suggesting that Ophelia may very well be pregnant. This may at first seem wayyy out there, but really Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship is never fully disclosed. Laertes warns Ophelia against Hamlet because he hears that they have been spending a lot of time together in private. Hamlet jokes about laying in her lap in front of everyone at the play. Ophelia sings a song about a man who promises to marry a maiden, however, after they have sex, wants nothing more to do with her. This could be reflective of her relationship with Hamlet. Another possible sign – she gives herself rue when passing out flowers, which could be used for abortions. It is a weak poison that may not kill it's victim, but would be strong enough to kill the victim's unborn baby. Assuming she is pregnant, who would she confide in with this burden? The closest thing to a mother figure Ophelia is ever shown to have is Gertrude. Maybe Gertrude knew and considering Ophelia is of lower social standing and she and Hamlet are not married, she decided doing away with her would be best.

    3. There's also the idea that Gertrude was unhappy in her relationship with King Hamlet, knew of Claudius's plan (or even assisted in it) and married him to secure her safety and Hamlet's, and her status as Queen. This would show that she is power hungry, and the only thing she cares about besides herself is her son. Maybe even in a romantic way. Thus, Ophelia, especially if she is carrying Hamlet's unborn child, poses a great threat to her domineering relationship with Hamlet. In which case, jealousy pushed her to it.

    Another interesting opinion I read was that Ophelia was being sexually abused by Claudius. While I personally don't see the text backing that up, it's still an interesting idea, no matter how unlikely, and maybe Gertrude was jealous?

    Anyways, this is all food for thought. Did Gertrude put pressure on that "envious sliver" supporting Ophelia? Did she watch her drown, in some sort of close proximity, grateful that her problems were fixing themselves? She certainly could have. Even though Claudius orders Horatio to watch over Ophelia when she is mad, it is never shown that Horatio actually follows the order. Queen Gertrude could have easily called him off, offering to watch her in his stead. Or look at the fact that she was all alone outside by a brook, with no attendants attending to her, no one watching over her, how unusual for a queen of that era, huh? Maybe she went alone to watch Ophelia with the very intention of disposing of her. It's all quite possible.

  23. I have to say you've supported your argument very well with creational supposition. It's more "convincing" and replete than the arguments in the linked post that began this discussion.
    You wrote: "obviously, it is not known for sure either way since WS himself never directly confirms or denies anything."

    I think whatever Shakespeare doesn't directly confirm doesn't necessarily mean there is anything to "suppose". He's usually pretty clear in the text. Although you might say he "infers" a lot with reference, analogy, and metaphor, in terms of what would be earth-shattering revelations such as would be these, if he doesn't state it or support it with direct evidence, it's usually not what he wants to say. He's not given to being a writer of "mystery" without an ending resolution.

    You should get a high grade on this paper, though possibly a higher one should you submit it on the fly to a class on criminal investigation, which is where, ultimately, I think it would find a more appropriate home, rather than in an English class. But that's not your fault. Rather, it's the fault of the teacher who, in my view, could find much better use of the time to actually teach something worthwhile about Shakespeare, rather than spend the time on creating soap operas from his work.
    Regardless of my views in that regard, it's certainly well done on your part.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Ophelia had gone crazy and as the gentleman states in scene 4, act 5: "Her speech is nothing,/ Yet the unshaped use of it doth move/The hearers to collection; they yawn at it;/ And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts…" This may be over-looked to begin, however, Ophelia is beginning to make the townsfolk talk and question the new rule. They take her ramblings and put their own twists into it, making it out to be about a traitorous king. Horatio then claims: "'Twere good she were spoken with,/ for she may strew/Dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds".
    If Gertrude is feeling the weight of guilt and is feeling threatened by Ophelia's sudden open-mouthed opinons, is this not motivation to have her removed? She is a threat not only to Claudius, but also to Gertrude's place as Queen of Denmark.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Gertrude's report back mentions her seeing broken branches from a tree, therefore Ophelia must have been contemplating suicide by hanging herself on a tree. However in order for the tree branch to break it must have had Ophelia's weight pulling on it therefore, she must have hung herself and then drowned after the branch broke.

  26. Anonymous says:

    We never actually see Hamlet come into Ophelia's room when she first reports his madness. It is entirely possible that he told her of the betrayal and his plan. Once Ophelia is deemed to be mad, Horatio states "she may strew dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds", giving some truthfulness to what had been thought to be ravings of a madwoman. Ophelia first reveals her knowledge of the treachery of the queen through "How should I know your true love from another one?". Finally, in her encounter with Laertes, she does try to warn him. Her whole flower speech is laden with metaphors. Rosemary means remembrance of the dead or between lovers, fennel symbolizes infidelity, columbine means pretense, rue is repentance, daisy is forsaken love, and violets are faithfulness. She points out all the treachery of the queen, and indicates a lack of faithfulness on the queen's part by saying that the violets withered away. Finally, Gertrude conveys the message that she did indeed cause Ophelia's death in her speech about the drowning. The willow also represents forsaken love, crow-flowers mean ingratitude, and nettles symbolize pain, all things that are connected with the infidelity of the queen and come back to haunt Ophelia.

  27. I cam across this post on a site search while looking for another post. Wow, I totally didn't realize this before! Of course, she AT LEAST watched me die. You've totally changed the way I see that bit now. Although I agree there seems to be no motivation, here's a conversation I actually had with the Gertrude actress after reading this that offers a possible explanation.

    enter OPHELIA, reading on her computer.
    OPHELIA: What? Gertrude murdered me? Oh my gosh, how did I not see that?
    enter GERTRUDE, preparing for rehearsal.
    OPHELIA: Gertrude! You killed me, didn't you?
    GERTRUDE: What are you talking about?
    OPHELIA: You have a speech that goes 'there is a willow grows aslant a brook'. Right? So you killed me, or else watched me die and did nothing!
    GERTRUDE: Yeah, that speech is a bit weird. I think I did.
    OPHELIA: So why?
    GERTRUDE: Well, I was mad at you for driving my son crazy.
    OPHELIA: What, me drive HIM crazy?! You've got it backwards!
    GERTRUDE: You sort of drive each other crazy…
    OPHELIA: No, Claudius drives him crazy.
    GERTRUDE: But I don't know that. My only theory is Polonius' he's-mad-for-Ophelia's-love idea.

  28. RussellSparrow says:

    A possible motivation for Gertrude killing Ophelia could be that her new-found madness made Ophelia a liability at court. Gertrude strikes me as the sort of woman who doesn't like trouble and will try to smooth things over in order to avoid a scandal.
    If Ophelia is now wandering around court singing about her dead father, she's a problem to be sorted out. Maybe she wants to make things easier for King Claudius, if things aren't easy for him, they won't be easy for her. She also strikes me as a weak character who relies on other powerful friends (Claudius). For her to retain her power he must keep Claudius clear of any possible scandal.

  29. @Russel: I think that's one of the more convincing reasons. And given that, it totally makes sense that Gertrude immediately rushes to Claudius (who happens to be with Laertes at the moment) to say, "Well, will you look at this, honey! Ophelia just drowned… um… on accident." But she sure does a good job pretending to mourn later. (We rehearsed the graveyard scene today, and anyone would believe she really is sad Ophelia died.)

  30. Okay, as far as I'm concerned, Gertrude certainly watched Ophelia die (or else killed her) in order to have given that speech. But now I'm thinking that that simply doesn't make sense. First of all, Gertrude seems really upset about Ophelia's death, especially during the funeral scene. So if she's the murdress, Shakespeare is being awfully subtle. Secondly and more importantly, if she killed Ophelia, wouldn't she hesitate to be the one to tell Laertes about what happened, for fear that he would reason the way we all have and see what Gertrude had done?
    It's gotten to the point where this question keeps me awake at night– I jest not. When I try to ask for my family's opinions, the usual response is, "Look, nobody in the world except you even considers that Gertrude could have killed Ophelia." So what do YOU guys think of this paradox? How could Gertrude know without having (effectively) killed Ophelia, but how could Gertrude risk revealing her guilt by telling Laertes?

  31. Gertrude is as much a woman of inaction as is her son. She would never do the deed. She is buffetted from event to event throughout the play, and knows not which end is up. Besides, she is queen, and if she were out following Ophelia about, there would likely be an entire entourage with her. So murder is out. And if there were others with her, why didn't they do anything to help the poor unfortunate soul?

    So, my guess on all of this is that Gertrude did not actually witness the drowning herself, but is retelling what was reported to her by one who did witness it. And if the bough Ophelia was on was too far toward the middle of the stream, I could see someone calling to her from the bank, trying to snap her out of her trance, not wanting to get into the freezing water themselves, knowing their garments would not permit anything like swimming, and becoming a victim themselves. So the poor wretch drowns.

  32. What are the most shocking, disturbing, and dramatic possibilities? This is play filled with incest, adultery, murder, madness, and suicide. Does it not follow that Shakespeare would write Gertrude as a most sinfully compelling character? Come now. She is whorish woman who has been sleeping with her brother-in-law. She understands entirely the game of power. Does it stand to reason that she is so naive and passive as to be ignorant of the manner of her husband's death, wistfully daydreaming of her son marrying down to a woman of lesser station, and timidly begging forgiveness of her murderous and incestuous lover… for being thirsty? Those who view Gertrude as a bystander and victim of circumstance would do well to remove their blinders so as to revel in the masterful portrait of debauchery and villainy that the bard has gifted.

  33. Anonymous says:

    I absolutely think that Gertrude killed Ophelia. Some people stated that Gertrude did not have a motive, but I disagree. Here is my crazy thought: I believe that Ophelia was pregnant with Hamlet's baby. When she was collecting herbs, she got rid of all of them except for the one that could cause a self induced abortion. This also explains many of Ophelia's mood swings. If Ophelia was pregnant, then their child would be the next heir to the throne, which means that Gertrude would no longer be queen. Gertrude was the last person to see Ophelia alive. This also explains how Gertrude was able to give such explicit details of Ophelia's death.

  34. p michael says:

    If Gertrude were there at Ophelia’s death (how else would she know so much?), why did she not try to rescue her? Did Danish queens wander about without entourages, escorts or guards?

    The description “there is a willow grows aslant a brook” is enticingly vague. She’s not saying, “You know that tree by the fosse from the moat?” “A willow” – not “THE willow”, and “a brook” is curiously vague, and suggests it was not well-known, as if stumbled upon while wandering.

    So, was Gertrude following Ophelia? If so, why? You’d think someone would be following the poor girl given her recent dippiness.

    [I have never heard the suggestion that Ophelia was attempting to hang herself. I doubt if she knew how to tie a knot. This interpretation comes from associations with Judas and willows, no doubt.] I had always supposed she’d climbed there as she had done as a child, possibly to jump in when playing; with Hamlet, perhaps. A childhood meeting place? A safe place, away from the adult world? That could explain why Gertrude knew it. A place of innocent fun and fond remembrances?

    I like that idea. And then, it was a case of when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall.

    Were they not already dead, I would have blamed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. As it is, Gertrude has a case to answer.

    As for motive, earlier commentators have failed to ask the right questions: What as Polonius doing in the queen’s bedroom anyway? Would he have been there alone with her? Gertrude probably feared (or knew) that they’d been discovered by Ophelia and she couldn’t risk a scene like the one she had with Hamlet.

    The girl had to go!

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