The course of true love never did run smooth. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 1 Scene 1.)
For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.
Act 1 Interlude.Of all the characters in “Hamlet”, it is Gertrude we feel we have to defend. We know that Gertrude was no Juliet. She was no Rosalind or Viola. She was no Kate. She was definitely no Lady Macbeth.
Of the over 4000 lines, Gertrude had only 155. That was not many lines compared to the beaucoup lines Claudius and Hamlet get. Even Laertes had more to say than she did, and he was off in Paris doing whatever. Yet, like her son, we make her carry a heavy load. As big as Claudius and Ophelia. Almost as big as Hamlet. We make her out to be a schemer. We make her out to be a co-conspirator. We make her out to be a slut. She was none of them.
Since she is not around to speak up for herself, she ends up getting the blame for a crime she may not have committed. One thing is for sure. Gertrude was a survivor. She lived in an age when a woman needed a husband. Especially if that woman was a royal. Women were the property of their fathers, their brothers, their husbands, their kings, even their sons. Perhaps she was an Eleanor of Aquitaine who knew how to make the best of a situation.
Back in Gertie’s Ham Senior days, it was possible she was feeling unloved by Hubby. He was out of town a lot. She was feeling unbeautiful too. She was losing that figure that made her the belle of the ball when she was younger.
There was a good chance she had a bit of Guinevere in her. Claudius, the king’s younger brother, showed up and he was her Lancelot. Started wooing her with candy and flowers. She had never paid much attention to him before. After all, he was five years younger than she was. When he left the court for parts unknown, he was a scrawny kid with no grace at all.
Then he returned. He was all shiny and new in that knightly outfit of his, his long brown hair cascading over his shoulders, those dark eyes speaking of his admiration for her. (Don’t you just love that word “cascading”?) Claudius danced the light fantastic with her and made it feel like walking on air. Unlike Ham Senior, who was such a klutz. Every second or third step he made ended up on her footsies.
Every time Claudius walked into a room, her heart went pitter-pat faster and faster. She started having dreams about the happiness she would feel if Claudius were her husband and king instead of Ham Senior. If there was a guy in the room who could get a girl’s chastity belt unzipped, it was Claude.
Then she came up with a plan. Or did she? We shall never know. Shakespeare wasn’t talking.
We do know that Lady Macbeth had no children. She could only be ambitious for herself and her husband. Maybe Gertie was ambitious for her son. Maybe that was why she married Claudius. She didn’t want him to marry someone else. That someone else might produce an heir to the throne and replace her son. Seems to me that this was her plan, her way to make sure Junior got the throne when Claudius died.
One other thing. There were only two women, Gertrude and Ophelia, in the castle. Which left few dating options. So I guess that was why Gertrude was Obvious Choice Numero Uno for Claudius.
He could have gone with Ophelia. Polonius would have liked that. But Gertrude had already made it clear that she was the one for him. She had the Queen job down, she knew how to dress well and stink pretty, and Claudius was taking no chances. He wanted the King job. He wanted it bad. Gertrude was just the person that would secure that throne for him.
Besides his heart belonged to Gertrude back in his Lancelot days. Now that he was Arthur, she was his Gwen.