In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Gertrude is Hamlet's mother and Queen of Denmark. Her relationship with Hamlet is somewhat turbulent, since he resents her for marrying her husband's brother Claudius after he murdered the King (his father, King Hamlet). Gertrude reveals no guilt in her marriage with Claudius after the recent murder of her husband, and Hamlet begins to show signs of jealousy towards Claudius (a possible situation of incest).The immediacy of her second marriage suggests that there may be some question as to whether or not she was involved in the murder. Her actions are often suspect, particularly because, according to Hamlet, she scarcely mourned her husband's death before marrying Claudius.
Gertrude is first seen in Act 1 Scene 2 as she tries to cheer Hamlet over the loss of his father, begging him to stay at home rather than going back to school in Wittenburg. Her worry over him continues into the second act, as she sides with King Claudius in sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to raise the spirits of her son. Also, rather than ascribing Hamlet's sudden madness to Ophelia's rejection (as thought by Polonius), she believes the cause to be his father, King Hamlet's death and her quick, subsequent marriage to Claudius: "I doubt it is no other but the main; His father's death and our o'erhasty marriage. In Act three, she eagerly listens to the report of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on their attempt to cheer him, and supports the King and Polonius' plan to watch Hamlet from a hidden vantage point as he speaks with Ophelia, with the hope that her presence will heal him.
She asks Hamlet to sit beside her during the play in Act 3 Scene 2 ("The Murder of Gonzago" scene), in which a similar queen is romantically pursued by her recently-slain husband's murderer. When Hamlet asks her what she thinks of the performance, she responds, "the lady doth protest too much, me thinks. In the same scene, when her husband reacts strongly to the play, she asks what is wrong.
Later, Gertrude sends for Hamlet to come to her room as she wishes to talk with him. Polonius begs her to find out the true cause of Hamlet's strange behaviour, then hides behind an arras. On Hamlet's entrance, Gertrude starts with an accusation that he has offended his father (Claudius), whereupon Hamlet argues that she has offended his true father by "damned incest" with Claudius. He implies that she had a hand in King Hamlet's murder, when he states, "A bloody deed- almost as bad, good mother,/ As kill a king and marry with his brother. Hamlet then restrains her, with the idea of forcing her to hear him, but she cries out in fear that he will murder her: "What wilt thou do? thou wilt not murder me? Help, help, ho! Polonius yells from his hiding place and is quickly killed through the arras by Hamlet, who thinks it is the king. Gertrude is shocked at his bloody deed and Hamlet again orders her to sit and listen to his complaints, which he unloads portraying her latest acts in marrying Claudius as shameless, filthy, and sinful. Unable to bear it, Gertrude begs him to stop, calling his words "daggers" to her ears. During the tirade, the Ghost of Hamlet's father appears to "whet [Hamlet's] almost blunted purpose" and to warn Hamlet that he should take no action to harm his mother. Gertrude is unable to see the ghost, however. Heartbroken, she listens to Hamlet as he converses with apparently thin air, and then orders her not to have sex with Claudius again.
In the next act, Gertrude tells Claudius of Hamlet's murder, convinced that he is truly mad. She also shows genuine compassion and affection as she watches along with others as Ophelia sings and acts in absolute madness. At Ophelia's burial, she expresses her former hope that the young woman might have married her son: "I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife. When Hamlet appears and grapples with Laertes, she asks him to stop and for someone to hold him back—saying that he may be in a fit of madness now, but that will alleviate soon.
In the final scene, Gertrude notices Hamlet is tired during the fight with Laertes, and offers to wipe his brow. She drinks a cup of poison intended for Hamlet by the King, against the King's wishes, and dies, shouting in agony as she falls: "No, no, the drink, --O my dear Hamlet,-- The drink, the drink! I am poison'd.
Other characters' views of the Queen are largely negative. When the Ghost of her former husband appears to Hamlet, he describes her as a "seeming virtuous queen," but orders Hamlet not to confront her about it and leave her judgement to heaven. However, he also expresses that his love for her was benevolent as he states that he would have held back the elements if they "visited her face too roughly."
Hamlet sees her as an example of the weakness of women (which affects his relationship with Ophelia) and constantly hurt in his reflections of how quickly (around two months) she remarried.
Gertrude's last words show affection towards her son. She does not confess to any sins before she dies which suggests she was naive about the "corruption" in Denmark. Therefore, Gertrude is most likely a honest queen and a passionate mother (which is debatable depending upon interpretation) as she makes no attempts to ease her conscience regarding whether she would be sent to Heaven or Hell (the Christian ethos formed a backdrop to the play as a technique used by Shakespeare).
Other considerations point to Gertrude's complicity in the murder of Hamlet's father. After repeated erratic threats towards his mother to no response, Hamlet states in Act III, scene IV (line 20):
HAMLET: You go not till I set you up a glass where you may see the inmost part of you. [In essence, telling his mother he will act as a mirror to reveal her true character to which she replies immediately]
QUEEN: What wilt thou do? Thou wilt not murder me? Help, ho! [So suddenly only now at his dictate to reveal herself through him, she projects a killer.]
In the essay "Hamlet and his problems" T. S. Eliot suggests that the main cause of Hamlet's internal dilemma is Gertrude's sinful behaviour. He states, "Shakespeare's Hamlet... is a play dealing with the effect of a mother's guilt upon her son" ("Hamlet and his problems", The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, 1922).
Some scholars and directors believe that there is evidence of an incestuous relationship between Gertrude and Hamlet, a view popularised by Freud's famous notion of the Oedipus complex. This is highly disputed, but found in some film and theatre versions of the play, such as Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 film version of "Hamlet"' and in Tom Stoppard's modern adaptation, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.