The Queen’s Allegiance: An Exploration of Hamlet

This essay is “hot off the press” (aka, I wrote it about 10  minutes ago) for my MOOC class on Hamlet. Enjoy! 

There are three different versions of Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. The First, or “Bad” Quarto includes a scene which the other two versions leave out completely. This scene is a dialogue between Queen Gertrude and Horatio. Horatio tells the queen that Hamlet has escaped the death trap set by his uncle, King Claudius, (he was sent to England with a sealed letter to the King of England requesting Hamlet’s immediate execution) and is back in Denmark. In the other versions, the audience is informed of this through a dialogue between Hamlet and Horatio in Act 4, Scene 6. In the First Quarto version, the conversation between Queen Gertrude and Horatio includes the Queen’s declaration of loyalty to Hamlet and her resolve to put on a pretense of affection to the king so that he will not suspect her. Without this scene, the queen’s position must be implied from the closet scene with Hamlet. In considering the relevance of this extra scene, we must ask, does it change or confirm what the audience would think of Queen Gertrude after the closet scene?

During the closet scene when Hamlet declares his accusations against the queen, she expresses grief, saying, “O, speak to me no more; these words, like daggers, enter in mine ears; no more, sweet Hamlet!” But at the conclusion of their conversation, she does not indicate her position. She asks, “what shall I do?” and Hamlet advises her to refuse the king’s company. She only responds with assurance that she will not tell the king of their conversation. It seems that the closet scene leaves Queen Gertrude’s loyalty in question.

However, the First Quarto extra scene makes the queen’s position very clear. In speaking of the king she says, ‘But I will soothe and please him for a time, For murderous minds are always jealous.” The scene ends with her expression of love for Hamlet, “Thanks be to heaven for blessing of the Prince! Horatio, once again I take my leave, with thousand mother’s blessings to my son.” Her loyalty is obviously with Hamlet, and her appearance of love for the king is a pretense of protection against his evil designs.

As seems to be the theme of Hamlet, motives are hard to discern from actions. Is Hamlet truly mad, or is it a facade? Is the queen supportive of King Claudius, or is it a pretense? As the closet scene doesn’t make the queen’s position definite, it would be difficult to determine her position by her actions in any following scenes as her words–and actions–can’t be assumed to represent her true position. Therefore, the First Quarto extra scene would be crucial to determining the queen’s loyalty. From this scene we know that her heart is with Hamlet and everything to the contrary is merely pretense.

The queen’s position is important because the audience must determine if Queen Gertrude is a participant in the travesty against her former husband or yet another victim of King Claudius’ wicked schemes. Since the First Quarto extra scene plays such an important role in forming the viewer’s opinion of Queen Gertrude, I would include it in a production of Hamlet.

 

 

 

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