Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Was Gertrude promiscuous?

Do you think that Gertrude did some things (in the Biblical sense) that would qualify as being promsicuous? Did she have a choice about this? Was it OK at the time?

23 comments:

Aaron Nussdorf said...

I think that the Gibson version of Gertrude is that of a "slut."

However, I feel that, in actuality, Gertrude was the product of merely bad circumstances, because she did not have the options that women do now.

I think that what Gertrude did was completely acceptable because Henry VIII of England married Catherine of Aragon, who was his older brother's wife.

tmichals said...

I completely agree with that. In the play, I sort of felt that, while what she did was not right, it was almost a necessity for her at the time. I never honestly considered her to be a skank while I was reading it. I am amazed by the way she is portrayed in Gibson's version because I did not feel that way while reading the play.

puddlewonderful said...

I think she had some options, and I feel that it is implied in Shakespeare's language that she has behaved less than virtuously. Certainly she could have gone to a nunnery, as I mentioned today. This play was written during the time of Elizabeth, for God's sake! (or after her?)

And if we want to talk about the lack of options she (and the women of her time) had, aren't we analyzing this with too modern a perspective? Would Shakespeare, creating this character, have thought of the limitations on her with sympathy, or would he simply have scorned her for her disregard for her late husband's memory and love? I think the latter.

I don't think Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon make a good example for what is and is not acceptable-- in fact, could they not have been, perhaps, a model for Shakespeare? Perhaps-- almost certainly-- I read too much into a tidbit I heard in Ms. Deckard's class about Shakespeare having Catholic parents and sympathies, but could he not have found Henry's actions detestable? For that matter, do we assume that everyone in England just accepted the marriage? It seems almost certain to me that his marriage would have been a matter of public scrutiny-- albeit, perhaps, quiet scrutiny-- and something of a scandal.

The haste with which Gertrude married Claudius so soon after Old Hamlet's death also arouses my disapproval. Not only does she marry her dead husband's brother (and murderer), but she does it so quickly!

I should note here that I discuss not so much Gertrude's promiscuity, per se, but her general morality, merit, and behavior.

Do I sympathize too much with Hamlet? Perhaps. But I cannot help but to find Gertrude fickle. I think how you feel about her depends in part on how guilty you find her-- and I'm not sure where I stand on that, yet-- nor do I think I could ever take a stance with complete surety (such is Shakespeare's art). But my impressions, reading Hamlet, led me to, at the very least, disapproval.

puddlewonderful said...

I'd like to add a few more comments:

First, I did not necessarily think her a skank as I read the play-- only as a woman unfaithful to her husband's memory-- and perhaps to her first husband as well while he still lived.

Second, I think the compete slutiness of the Gertrude we've seen over the past two days in Zeffirelli's Hamlet underscores just how much breadth of possibility exists for directors and performers of Shakespeare's plays. With so little stage direction in the actual text, and such a great depth and width of meaning in those great lines, there are many, many possibilities for a Shakespeare production. Which, I think, is in turn why Shakespeare is so great-- so many people can gather so many different meanings from a single soliloquy or solitary character-- let alone an entire play! Unlike many modern plays, Shakespeare translates easily into a variety of settings and stagings. There is little specificity and limitless depth to the text itself. It is a fantastic treat for creative actors and directors.

El Paco said...

Is promiscuous the right word? She plotted to kill the King and married his brother... I wouldn't call that promiscuous.I'd call that...evil. What is it, exactly, that she didn't have a choice about? Was it how to remain in a position of power with her husband, the king, now dead? As the next in line to be king, the prince Hamlet's mother, she would probably be able to sit comfortably in the castle and influence his decisions a great bit - certainly more so than by marrying Claudius and losing all of Hamlet's respect. So, essentially, I don't see how marrying your husband's brother was a "necessity."

stephen said...

I think that Gertrude's actions towards Hamlet throughout the play suggests that she commited adultry with Cladius before old Hamlet was killed. The movie that we have watched I think also depict Gertrude in this way so there seems to be a general concensus of this fact.

Dean Elazab said...

I think that promiscuous is the wrong word, although she is portrayed as a slut in gibson's, I do not believe that she is. She did sleep with the kings brother soon after hamlet's death, but she did because its her duty as the queen.

JP said...

Throughout the whole play Gertrude didn't really seem so evil or promiscuous to me, so much as just... passive.

Really, does she do anything in the entire play? All she really does is talk. And she doesn't even do that very much.

To me, she seems to serve as little more than another outlet for frustration for Hamlet - one that hits a little closer to home than an uncle or a girlfriend.

El Paco said...

Plotting to kill your husband - not evil? It's not like she's going around and sleeping with tons of people - she's sleeping with the king's brother.

Dean - "But she did because its her duty as a queen?" Can you explain how, exactly, it is her duty to sleep marry her husband's brother?

And everyone else - Please don't say things like "she had to do it because of society" without offering any examples of why society demands the action.

El Paco said...

By "sleep marry" I meant sleep with and marry. my bad. And there was supposed to be another sentence in between my first two sentences

JP said...

Did we ever decide if she was in on the plot to kill Hamlet's father? I don't think we can assume for sure that she had any part in that.

Ehren said...

This is a little off subject, but I thought it was interesting how she (a woman) was the one who said "the lady doth protest too much" while wacthing a play. I didn't know it was used in that context. Nowadays it is used when a man wants a sandwhich made and his woman puts up a fight.

bballinsupasta said...

i do not think that gertrude was a slut or promiscuous....she just looked out for herself...if she didn't make claudius happy, he could have had her killed...plus, there is no evidence that suggests that she cheated on her husband when he was alive.

Caroline said...

I didn't read all the previous blogs so forgive me if I'm being repetitive, but I thought that Gertrude was definately just looking out for herself. I mean, with her husband dead, Gerturude didn't really have a place in the castle, but by marrying Claudius, she remained the queen. I believe that she was just trying to remain in some form of power so she wasn't repaced. However, I definately agree with Aaron that Gibson portrays Gertrude as a whore in the movie.

puddlewonderful said...

Andrew made a really good point. If the young Hamlet had succeeded his father to the throne, as was proper, then Gertrude would have been quite comfortable, having her son's respect and love. How did Claudius usurp the throne, anyway? In my imagining, she must have plotted with him, or encouraged him to step up to the throne, so she could marry him. I feel like there was some encouragement on her part. She certainly didn't urge Hamlet to action, which would have been even better for her... then she wouldn't have to marry Claudius and betray her late husband's memory.

Feminism is right and good, and I certainly think it is something to be discussed with many pieces of literature, but I don't think Gertrude is really the character to consider if we all feel like taking out our anger on society and the social norms that women of the last few generations have had to battle. Ophelia, to me, seems more the victim than the Queen.

ndepass said...

i just have to say i thought it was ridiculous that she kissed hamlet in the gibson movie. That was completely uncalled for and not necessary to me. i guess it just added to the "entertainment" of the movie. But in the play i think people he exaggerate her "promiscuousness"

stephen said...

I agree with Nick's interpretation of the sexual scene between Hamlet and Gertrude in the Gibson movie. The text of the play does certainly suggest some underlined characteristis of Gertrude that are not explicitly stated like her involvement with Cladius, but there is no real indication that they were sexually involved.

JP said...

It seems to me that just about everything Shakespeare does in his works is intentional - he doesn't just "forget" stuff.

I think, then, he must've left whatever mechanism it was that allowed Claudius to usurp the throne, along with Gertrude's role in it, ambiguous for a reason.

Then again, he does provide a certain amount of context for Gertrude's involvement in the plot to kill Hamlet's father when in the play, she doesn't seem to really react to the reenactment of Hamlet's father's murder, and instead only reacts to Claudius flipping out.

Also, when Hamlet confronts Gertrude after the play and explains everything to her, she seems sincerely shocked and upset to hear that Claudius is a murderer. I suppose she could just be faking it, but when Shakespeare's characters lie or fake something, in general I think he makes it clear or at least drops some hints that they're not being sincere.

Maybe, then, that should suffice as enough context to show that Gertrude isn't a conspirator in Hamlet's father's murder?

Of course, she still marries her husband's brother like two days after his death. That is very fishy...

Going back to my original thought, then, maybe this part of the play was exempt from explicit explanation for a reason. What do you guys think?

TOO LONG; DIDN'T READ VERSION - Gertrude acts, as I see it, completely innocent. Does that mean that she is innocent, or did Shakespeare just write her character to be an extremely skilled liar/fake? Could Shakespeare have left Gertrude's role in all of this, and thus her true moral character, ambiguous for a reason? What might that reason be?

bballinsupasta said...

i think that the kiss in the gibson movie was completely unnecessary. i really think that gertrude was innocent. i also did not like how she told hamlet to get over his father's death as though it was no big deal in front of everyone. i think that any conversations with him should have been as private as possible.

puddlewonderful said...

John-

So much of this play seems to center on ambiguity; Shakespeare makes us really question what we can ever really know. Is Hamlet truly crazy, or is it just an act? Where is the line between his pretend and his true self? When is he faking it? Does he even mean the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy? And then you have all the spying, all the obvious deception that occurs-- how can we watch/read Hamlet and not question what is real and what is fake(d)? I guess I'm just further supporting your idea that Shakespeare intended for us to question whether Gertrude was part of the murder plot. It seems to fit into one of the grand themes of Hamlet.

ndepass said...

i thin i agree with michelle, that it is up to us to decide what happens and i think that makes the play more interesting, but she still should NOT have kissed hamlet!

bballinsupasta said...

i think that hamlet might have been considered too young or inexperienced to take the throne after his father's death. we don't really know how old he is supposed to be, but his friends, ophelia, and hamlet himself all act immature and naive in a bunch of instances throughout the play. if hamlet the elder had died a natural death not precipitated by claudius, i think that the danes would have chosen him to succeed his brother.

Manal said...

I agree with John's post that Gertrude didn't actually do much in the play. She kind of just went along with everything and kept herself out of most of the things going on. she didn't seem very important. I think her character was ambiguous becasue of her lesser importance. The play was baisically on Hamlet getting revenge and allowing things to get back to normal. Gertrude's addition was just more details to make the story seem more interesting.