the burden of a mother; the burden of a queen – hamlet response: polished critical

… the role emotional courage plays when an individual experiences separation.


In experiencing separation from a fundamental element of one’s life, such as losing a loved one, is an adversity that may waver an individual’s resilience or emotional courage. The presence of structure and stability creates the perception of security, familiarity, and control in an individual’s life. The inability to maintain said presence of structure and stability will ultimately lead to catastrophe and chaos. In William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, the character of Queen Gertrude experiences the devastating death and separation of her beloved King Hamlet; and henceforth, must witness her son’s descent to madness caused by the adversities he is facing. Because of the separation from stability, losing a fundamental element of her life, her family, and the kingdom of Denmark, Queen Gertrude attempts to preserve control to maintain the stability through her capacity for emotional courage. Shakespeare asserts that when an individual experiences great adversity from the absence of stability, the fear of further separation will drive them to remain resilient and emotionally courageous, striving to preserve balance in their life.  


The noble duty of Queen Gertrude as a mother of a child and the mother of a nation remains the same: establish order and strength through emotional courage to be a place of refuge for their families and for their people that are experiencing immense grief from separation. Remembered by his ability to regain the land of Denmark and his love for the people, the sudden death of the honourable King Hamlet significantly affected the kingdom. The queen took it upon herself to develop hope of the people and her son, Hamlet, to marry the Old King’s brother, in order to rebuild Denmark’s sense of stability. By marrying Claudius, the queen proves herself as an intelligent woman, implementing the preservation of self and family, by replacing the missing father figure in the family unit, and king for the nation. In this, the guarantee of protection from political enemies is secure. Gertrude remains in a place of control as Claudius refers the queen as “jointress”. Fully aware of the impression this marriage may have upon her son, she attempts to appease Hamlet’s distrust by reminding him to “let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark” (1.2.71). The reference to King Claudius as “Denmark” indicates her emotional courage or acceptance of her role in the nation of seeking security in times of separation. Despite her own son’s misunderstanding of her intentions, she remains patient and kind, exemplifying emotional courage when denying herself of experiencing grief: “Do not… seek for thy noble father in the dust… all that lives must die” (1.2.72). By doing this, the queen sacrificed her own ability to mourn, establishing her imperative role within the family and kingdom. By prioritizing her sense of duty to those around her, separation from her beloved husband compelled Queen Gertrude to pursue a sense of control within her life, her family, and her kingdom. Without the fulfillment of this role, chaos would have ensued prematurely, resulting in the demise of Denmark. Adversity incites coping mechanisms of emotional courage to conserve the stability needed to feel a sense of security in one’s life – out of fear of continuous separation. 


In attempts of retaining some sense of structure and control within life, Gertrude experiences added grief from the fear of separation from Hamlet. As she is a witness of his descent to madness, this hinders the strength of her emotional courage. Hamlet inflicts emotional pain and turmoil unto his mother by his relentless condemnation of her actions, especially in him producing the play, The Murder of Gonzago, in order to seek Claudius’ guilt in the murder of King Hamlet. After this incident, Gertrude calls Hamlet to her chambers to provide an explanation of his behaviour. Hamlet’s criticism ultimately pains his mother, leaving her emotional courage wavering. In such a fit of rage, Hamlet utterly convicts his mother of “a bloody deed… [to] kill a king and marry with his brother(3.4.34-35). He further attacks the queen by deeming her as a “wretched, rash, intruding fool” (3.4.38). Being aware of his reaction to the separation from his father and the absence of his own emotional courage, the queen – through motherly instinct – understands that there is a deficiency in his sense of control and security within his life. To circumvent her fear of separation of her only son, Hamlet, the queen does not defend herself, confirming her suspicions of his madness. In discovery of Polonius investigating their conversation in secret, Hamlet impulsively murders him. The lack of remorse of his actions causes great distraught upon Queen Gertrude’s sense of emotional courage and resilience as he speaks of his accusations towards Claudius as the culprit of his father’s murder and implying her involvement. Although when reporting her experience with Hamlet to King Claudius, she remains silent of these accusations toward him. Out of the fear of experiencing separation from Hamlet, Gertrude protects him from death, which is the punishment of such crimes. However, the queen is unable to protect Hamlet from his separation from sanity, all the more deteriorating her emotional courage. The lack of control in an individual’s circumstances, caused by separation,  will cause their emotional courage and resilience to tarnish.


Queen Gertrude’s inability to preserve control and structure over her life, her family, and her kingdom, in times of separation, is the result of the complete demise of her emotional courage. The queen’s role is the only strength of the kingdom’s potential of combating separation. Repeatedly experiencing grievances caused by the one person her duty was to protect, Hamlet: this destroys her. Hamlet’s absence upon Ophelia’s madness and suicide, as a result of the death of her father and the separation from a sense of self, forces Gertrude to receive the aftereffects of Hamlet’s impulsivity. As a result of the death of Polonius and the suicide of Ophelia, Laertes seeks revenge for his separation – a duel with Hamlet. Claudius and Laertes conspire against Hamlet by poisoning a cup of wine and the tip of Laertes’ sword. Claudius tells her not to drink, but defying his request, “I will, my lord. I pray you pardon me” (5.2.318). Upon realization of the contents of the cup, separation of trust between husband and wife, Gertrude’s dwindling emotional courage is unable to save Hamlet, or the kingdom. Despite Hamlet’s condemnation of her character, Queen Gertrude forewarns Hamlet, ultimately sacrificing her sense of control, of the cups contents by exclaiming, “O, my dear Hamlet! The drink, the drink! I am poisoned” (5.2.340-341). The acceptance of her own death results in the queen utilizing the remaining control she has in her life to protect Hamlet. To preserve the remnants of security amidst inevitable separation, Queen Gertrude attempts to uphold the structure of family and the kingdom through emotional courage. The loss of control and stability in an individual’s circumstance leads to the complete loss of emotional courage and the ultimate separation of life.


The main objective in an individual’s life is to reinstate a sense of security by enforcing their strength in emotional courage from the separation they have experienced. Through Queen Gertrude’s sacrifices of her own emotional well-being to be a beacon of strength for her people and her family in times of separation of order and control, her emotional courage deteriorates, ultimately resulting in her demise. Gertrude’s strength in attempts of maintaining order and security in her kingdom, family, and own life failed her as she, alone, was unable to recover from the burdens of the entire nation.




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