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The Character of Hamlet’s Mother

Heilbrun: The character of Gertrude cannot be only described by such qualities as weakness, shallowness, and intelligence (201).
Gertrude is a strong-willed woman and a rather reserved personage (205).
Maxwell: Gertrude could be identified as a weak and neutral heroine, though her role in the story was very significant (237). Throughout the novel, the heroin was relying on the decisions of other characters, except the closet scene when she drank the poison notwithstanding Claudius’s warnings. Anyway, isn’t this last Gertrude’s deed the most important in her life? It is more important!

The articles under consideration present two different outlooks on the character traits of Gertrud in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Although this is secondary personage, it plays a crucial role in the story, being the mother, the wife, and the widow at the same time. Caroline Heilbrun’s article called The Character of Hamlet’s Mothers opposes the commonly established idea that the heroine is a weak and shallow woman having little influence on other characters. On the contrary, she supports the idea that Gertrude is the embodiment of calmness and strong character. The second article is still in favor of the first argument. Hence, Maxwell believes that Gertrude was fully subjected to other protagonists being relying on the other characters. Therefore, this debate requires a thorough examination.

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Maxwell, who relies on other researchers in that field, expresses his idea of Gertrude’s shallowness. He disagrees with the suggestion of innocence of the adultery and instead of being “no slave to lust” Instead, Maxwell proves his points of Gertrude’s asthenia where all her wishes are subjected to other heroes’ goals and desires. In that regard, he states cite many scenes where her husband manipulates the Queen, being no more than “a puppy” (235). In other words’ he strongly believes that she does not have a crucial impact on the play itself. Therefore, at the beginning of the article, he opposes Heilbrun’s opinion thus testifying that her statement is not firmly grounded.

In response, Heilbrun states, “none of the critics has failed to see Gertrude as vital to the action of the play” (201). The author criticizes other researchers for their incapability to conduct a more in-depth analysis to uncover a veritable intention of the Queen. She gives the example of other unjustified thinking concerning Gertrude’s behavior and significance in the play. She believes that this stereotyped presumption was made based on first impression without considering historical and cultural traditions of that time.

Concerning adultery, Heilbrun rejects the idea that Queen was not guilty of adultery, because of being “no slave to lust”. Instead, the author insists on the fact that Gertrude was a “strong-minded, intelligent, succinct, and… sensible woman” (203). To perceive the character of the heroine, it is necessary to get down to a closer consideration of the Shakespeare play. According to the author, her strength lies in her decision to marry Claudius without any notes on hesitation, and therefore, such a deed could not be regarded as the deed of a weak person, as could be explained by the political or even sexual intention of the Queen. Her hasty marriage is not due to her weakness but due to necessity. Not every woman is capable to make such a difficult decision.

The article reveals that the Queen’s desire was predetermined by sexual desire that proves that she was not a person whose desires were dependent on others. To prove that, Heilbrun flashbacks to the lines of the play, stating, “We first hear her asking Hamlet to stop wearing black, to stop walking about with his eyes downcast, and to realize that death is an inevitable part of life” (205).

Maxwell failed to notice the Queen’s hidden motivations and her independence. On the contrary, he is confident, that even if there are some requests of Gertrude, they had little impact on the heroes. The authors’ arguments are still not persuasive because he refuses to recognize even the presence of those asking. Those lines from the play showing that Queen only repeats the King and Hamlet’s words are rather vague. The fact is there is no explicit evidence for Maxwell to be objective in interpreting those words.

Heilbrun’s examples seem to be more promising and evidence-based than Maxwell’s, as they reveal her feelings and strong ambitions as the Queen and the mother. There are great contradictions about the “Closet Scene” of the play where the heroine drinks the poison. In Maxwell’s opinion, this action was a failed attempt to reveal her independence from his husbands but not to save the life of her son. This action could not compensate for her previous behavior that never discloses her individuality (Maxwell 238).

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In her turn, Heilbrun expresses the opposite idea concerning this matter. In the article, she explains that the act of poisoning was predetermined by her desire for redemption so that this act could be identified with the sacrifice of a mother who wants to protect her son.

Considering two different opinions, it should be stressed that both cases to more or less extent reveal her personality. Thus, even if the poisoning was predetermined by her desire to set free pressure from the mortifying atmosphere imposed on her beloved husband and desperate son. The Queen’s pride leads to self-determination and salvation through death. In this case, it is false to believe that this heroine is neutral and passive, as the climax of the story overweighs the heroine’s previous behavior. In this situation, Gertrude also discloses herself as an egoistic and self-esteemed woman with her hidden emotions and feelings. Next, if to consider this act as the act of sacrifice, it still proves the presence of Gertrude’s peculiar qualities that reveal her individuality and care for the presented situation. Arising from this, it is impossible to focus on such heroine’s trait as shallowness; in that regard, Maxwell contradicts himself. Even if to admit that Gertrude is an outright follower, it is still impossible to insist on the absence of Gertrude’s hidden motives.

In conclusion, it should be stressed that both articles suggest rather persuasive arguments about the character of Hamlet’s mother. Heilbrun protects the strength of the heroine whereas Maxwell thinks that Gertrude is a trifling character that does not influence the other characters. However, Heifbrun thoughts seem to be more logical and consistent, as she manages to submit rather persuasive examples that successfully reveal the Queen as the embodiment of femininity, patience, and strength, which are misinterpreted by Maxwell as neutrality. Despite the duality presented in her last action, it still manifests her bright personality.

Works Cited

Heilbrun, Carolyn. “The Character of Hamlet’s Mother”. Shakespeare Quarterly 8.2 (1957): 201-206.

Maxwell, Baldwin. “Hamlet’s Mother.” Shakespeare Quarterly 15.2 (1964): 235-246.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'The Character of Hamlet’s Mother'. 30 October.

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