When we are first introduce to Gertrude, she is seen by the side of Claudius of her new husband. She married her brother-in-law soon after her first husband was killed. I think she personifies the theme of corruption. Her marriage to Claudius highlights how corrupt Denmark has truly become. Although her actions nauseate the audience, she still fascinates us unknowingly.
Gertrude is highly sexualised figure in the play. Her sex life appears to bear no secrets, especially not to her son Hamlet who comes across as a voyeur or peeping Tom. Hamlet is strangely obsessed with his mother’s sex life. His obsession is unhealthy and bewilders the audience in my opinion. We learn that her “o’erhasty marriage” agitates Hamlet and displeases him undoubtedly. Gertrude causes Hamlet to feel like the world is a contaminated “unweeded garden” that is “rank and gross in nature” I think his mother’s sexuality disturbs him more than discovering his father was murdered. Hamlet constantly taunts Gertrude because of her sexual allure and not his father’s murder. Many commentators have theorised on the presence of an Oedipus complex in Hamlet- perhaps the real reason as to why Hamlet agonised and procrastinated so much over killing Claudius is that Claudius done what he himself longed to do.
Gertrude is insensitive towards her only son. He is grieving over his father’s death and she can’t seem to understand what the big deal is. “Thou know’st tis common, all that live must die”. I think you could question whether Gertrude really cherished King Hamlet before he was murdered. She disrespects and ignores Hamlet’s feelings, causing him to feel suicidal leaving Gertrude partially responsible. “O cursed spite, that ever I was born to put it right”.
The way Gertrude acts results in Hamlet’s misogyny towards women. “Frailty, thy name is woman”. Hamlet begins to despise every woman he sees. Sadly, his misogyny affects his girlfriend Ophelia leaving Gertrude responsible for Hamlet’s treatment of poor unsuspecting Ophelia. “Get thee to a nunnery!” Gertrude allows Hamlet to continuously belittle Ophelia because she’s oblivious to the reality outside her marriage to Claudius. Gertrude’s importance as a character lies in her insensitive treatment of Hamlet which in turn has a knock on effect on several other characters.
The actual character of Ophelia has a small role in the play. However, her character has two very important function to serve in my opinion. Part of the importance of her character lies in the fact that her innocence serves to highlight the corruption of the Danish court. Her innocence contrasts the entire play because it is full of corruption. The fact that she is head over heels in love with Hamlet is used as a weapon against her as she is exploited by her father Polonius and Claudius in order to get what they want. Furthermore I think Ophelia is an important character because her death becomes the catalyst for Hamlet to stop dilly-dallying and time-wasting and seek revenge on Claudius.
Ophelia is undoubtedly the most tragic victim in the play. Hamlet and Ophelia are in love but in Hamlet’s eyes the corruption of Denmark prevents them to be together. Ophelia is forbidden to have any contact with Hamlet. This devastates her and when he tells her that “I love you not” Ophelia is totally bewildered. Ophelia and Hamlet were manipulated throughout the play. They were toyed and their love was adulterated.
Ophelia’s mental breakdown and suicide broke the audiences’ hearts when she drowned. Ophelia was took advantage of by all the men in her life: Laertes, Polonius and Hamlet. Polonius used Ophelia as “bait” to unearth the source of Hamlet’s madness. Laertes belittled her into thinking Hamlet was too good for her and would never love her.
Hamlet played games with her and treated her repulsively. The three of them destroyed her self-belief, her confidence and shattered her heart into a million pieces.
Ophelia’s genuine madness contrasts with Hamlet’s fabricated madness. “I am mad north-north west when the wind is southerly” Hamlet fakes his antic disposition to try and get away with murder. Nonetheless, Hamlet’s falsity did play a part in driving Ophelia mad. Hamlet’s actions highlight corruption in my opinion while Ophelia shows proof that there is some good in the middle of all evil.
Ophelia is pure and innocent. She was caught up in the corruption and could not survive in it anymore. It was only once she took her life that people cherished her. “I lov’d Ophelia: forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, Make up my sum”. Hamlet was dedicated to Ophelia and absolutely adored her. Her death changed Hamlet’s attitude towards seeking revenge. He becomes more determined to achieve his goal. He is genuinely devastated by her death and seems somewhat unhinged in the Graveyard scene.
To lose the woman you love can be heart-breaking and may serve to drive you mad. “He took me by the wrist, and held me hard” and “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers with all their quantity of love could not make up my sum” Ophelia rejects Hamlet because her father told her to do so and Hamlet took his bad temper out on his girlfriend because she was the one closest to him. Both of them are victims of the corrupt reign of Claudius.
In conclusion, I think both Gertrude and Ophelia play important roles in the play ‘Hamlet’ even though women were seen as insubordinate to men.