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The Relationship Between Mother and Son in Hamlet

In many of his plays, especially tragedies, William Shakespeare examines the relationships people have with one another. Of these relationships, he is particularly interested in those between family members, above all, those between parents and their children. In his play Hamlet, Shakespeare examines Prince Hamlet’s relationships with his dead father, mother and step-father. His relationship with Gertrude, one of the only two women in the play, provides Hamlet with a deep sense of anger and pain. Hamlet feels that Gertrude has betrayed his father by marrying with his brother. Throughout the play, he is consumed with avenging his father’s death and all the mistreatment the former King had suffered and still suffers after his life is over. Gertrude adds to the dead King’s tarnished memory by not mourning and instead rejoicing in her new marriage. Hamlet is thus extremely angry with Gertrude and expresses this anger towards her directly and indirectly through his words, both to himself and to other characters.
Gertrude’s actions of marrying her husband’s brother after this king was only “two months dead” (I.ii. 138) causes Hamlet’s view on love to change. He noted that when Gertrude was with his father “he was so loving to [her]” and “she would hang on him” (I.ii. 140, 143). This is how Hamlet believed true, stable love was to be. But his mother’s ability to marry so quickly after his father’s death made Hamlet conclude that a woman’s love is fickle and he states “frailty, thy name is woman” (I.ii. 146). By “frailty” Hamlet is not referring to a woman’s physical abilities, but rather her emotional frailty and her ability to change so quickly after having, assumingly, loved so deeply. Thus Hamlet feels that Gertrude, not only betrayed his father, but also has betrayed the sanctity of love and marriage.

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Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Compnay Inc., 1997. 1668-1759.

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