The Innocence of Gertrude and Ophelia
Pretty Ophelia, as Claudius calls her, is the most innocent victim of Hamlet s revenge in Shakespeare s play Hamlet. Hamlet has fallen in love with Ophelia after the death of his father. Ophelia sucked the honey of his music vows and returned Hamlet s affection. But when her father had challenged Hamlet s true intentions, Ophelia could only say: I do not know, my lord, what I should think. Ophelia was used to relying on her father s directions and she was also brought up to be obedient. This allowed her to only accept her father s views that Hamlet s attention towards her was only to take advantage of her and to obey her father s orders not to permit Hamlet to see her again.
Hamlet has the disillusion that women are frail after his mother s rushed remarriage as shown by Frailty, thy name is woman! He also believes women do not have the power to reason. ( O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason. ) Ophelia has the power to change his view but her unexplained rejection of him only adds to Hamlet s disillusion. The ghost s revelation that Gertrude dishonored Hamlet s father but also their marriage by the adultery with Claudius is contemplated by Hamlet until he goes into Ophelia s room to look upon her. As Hamlet searches Ophelia s face for some sign that might restore his faith in her, he instead believes her face shows guilt and thinks she is another false Gertrude.
There is much similarity between Gertrude and Ophelia in the play. Both are attractive and simple minded, and are easily shaped by opinion, desires and ideas of others. Ophelia and Gertrude seem to be the same women at different stages in their lives. This may be one of the reasons why Hamlet was first attracted to Ophelia and now the reason why Hamlet rejects Ophelia.
By disposition, Gertrude turns to the positive side of life and can t bear to face pain. The pain she felt after her adultery with Claudius may have been what motivated Claudius to murder her husband. When the conditions were right for her to marry her lover, she was most happy and wished for the difficulties of the past be forgotten.
The only thing left to make Gertrude unhappy is Hamlet s refusal to forget the death of his father or to forgive her for remarrying so quickly. In order for her to completely bury the past, she must convince Hamlet to accept her new marriage and forget his father s death. But as she sees Hamlet s madness deteriorate even further, she seizes the idea that Hamlet s madness might actually be caused by his love for Ophelia. And for your part, Ophelia, I do wish That your good beauties be the happy cause Of Hamlet s wildness. So shall I hope your virtues Will bring him to his wonted way again, To both your honors. These lines prove that Gertrude is guilty of only looking out for her own happiness.
When Hamlet and Gertrude meet, Hamlet says that she has dishonored his father. Mother, you have my father much offended. She tries to end the conversation quickly rather than have to face his disapproval. But as Hamlet continues to talk of the horror of her new marriage, Gertrude begins to experience a new guilt for her actions.
After Ophelia has gone mad and drowned, Gertrude wishes to avoid this pain as much as she wanted to bury the past from before. This is because Gertrude wants to avoid seeing Ophelia s death and mental breakdown as further proof of the evil caused by Gertrude s behavior, thus making her feel innocent. When Hamlet comes to the fencing match, Gertrude is delighted and starts to feel as though her happiness will prevail. She makes a toast to her son to show how happy he has made her. The Queen carouses to they fortune, Hamlet. After Gertrude feels the effects of the poison, she finally realizes her thoughts of happiness were delusional and realizes she is just as guilty as Claudius is.
Gertrude s guiltiness and Ophelia s innocence are two items that help to make this play such a tragedy. Both women were similar because they both were shaped easily by other s ideas and almost seemed to be the same character, just in different stages of their lives.