In many works by Shakespeare, single parents struggle with the difficulties their children have, such as Desdemona and her father in Othello, or Hermia and her father in A Midsummer Nights Dream. Issues between parent and child are evident in Hamlet, but the single parent is a mother, not a father. The poem Meditation at Elsinore by Elizabeth Coatsworth embodies the situation between characters, and has hidden morals within the prose. There are many morals and life lessons in Hamlet, one of which is the effects of poor parenting.
In Hamlet, emotional suppression and lack of parenting lead to the downfall of Gertrude, and her son Hamlet. Proper parenting can be defined as caring for children and providing them with shelter, emotional security, food, education, and safety so that they can become successful adults. Gertrude may have had involvement in her husbands murder, and this as such, would qualify her as a poor parent. Her failure to respect Hamlets emotions, provide emotional security for her son, and engender mutual trust confirms her as an unfit parent. This behaviour by Gertrude caused Hamlet to be suspicious, and it was his suspicion that brought about his and his mothers death.
When King Hamlet died, Gertrude quickly remarries Hamlets uncle, Claudius, and the timing of this union is detrimental to the relationship with her son, eliminating all respect Hamlet had for his mother. Gertrude realizes that her swift remarriage has greatly affected her son, and doubt[s] [that] it is no other but the main: / His fathers death and our o erhasty marriage (Hamlet, 2.2.57). She realizes the cause for Hamlets new found insanity, but does not react to the situation as a responsible parent would.
Hamlet, being witty and quick, refers to his new parents as his uncle-father and aunt-mother (2.2.362) when talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. This demonstrates that Hamlet has lost respect for both his mother and his uncle. Hamlet tells Horatio that the funeral baked meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables (1.2.180) when asked about the funeral. In a respectful relationship, a mother would have confided in her son before making the choice to remarry. Hamlet grieves for his lost father, but Gertrude seems more interested in spying on him. This causes Hamlet to become suspicious.
When Gertrudes husband died, she did not mourn his death and she did not provide emotional security for her son, in the way mothers are supposed to console their children and support them through the tough times by helping them grieve. Gertrude is annoyed by Hamlets depression, and tells him to stop seek[ing] for [his] noble father in the dust (1.2.70). Instead of comforting Hamlet, she tells him that all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity (1.2.72). She is telling Hamlet to stop weeping over the past, and to move on, when Hamlet misses his father and wants him to return so badly that Hamlet contemplates suicide so that he can be with his father in the next life.
Hamlet obviously notices his mothers lack of grieving, and states to himself that a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourned longer! (1.2.150). Hamlet notices that an animal would mourn longer over a dead loved one than his mother did with King Hamlet. This demonstrates that he recognizes the lack of communication between them, and that communication between child and parent is an important part of a healthy relationship. Hamlet is left with no one else, and one by one his loves [betray] his love (Coatsworth, 7). Helping a child grieve and showing empathy for his feelings is the role of a parent. Gertrude failed in this role as Hamlets mother and further exposes herself to his scrutiny.
Gertrude sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on her son, demonstrating that she does not trust Hamlet. Trust is absolutely key to a healthy relationship between mother and son, and can be attributed to proper parenting. Without trust, there is no true love, there is no relationship, and as a result, there is no happiness. Gertrude tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to instantly visit my too much changed son (Hamlet, 2.2.35). She wants to know what Hamlet is doing, whether to cure her curiosity or to simply know what he is plotting.
Even if this act was committed out of love, the proper parenting approach would be to ask her son instead of spying on, and to talk with him in a mature, sympathetic and respectful manner. When she does talk to him, she agrees with his antics and asks him what shall she do (3.4.184), but when he is gone, she says that he is as mad as the sea and wind when both contend which is the mightier (4.1.7). Hamlet realizes that his own mother does not trust him-nor does he trust her- and that his boon companions came as spies (Coatsworth, 12), not friends. This leaves him feeling abandoned and alone as the relationship with his mother, the only parent he has left, has been damaged.
Although Hamlets death is not directly caused by Gertrudes early remarriage, failure to help her son mourn, lack of trust and mutual respect, and the suspicion aroused by these acts lead to his demise. If Gertrude had paid more attention to Hamlet, and not to her own personal affairs, Hamlet may not have been suspicious. Things may not have been so rotten in the state of Denmark (Hamlet, 1.4.94). Gertrudes failure to parent Hamlet and convince him that everything is well leads to a downward spiral which results in the death of many. Gertrude dies a painful death, and only wishes that she would have had an opportunity to say good night [to her] sweet prince (Coatsworth, 20).
Children will always push the limits with their parents, seeing what will make them give in, or what will make them explode with anger. Every child has does it, and every parent deals with it. It is part of life, but in the end, proper parenting will prevail, and the children will grow up knowing that they may have their own children. This is evident in Hamlet, by Shakespeare, and Meditation at Elsinore by Elizabeth Coatsworth. Hamlet will never have children, because of Gertrudes failure to properly parent, which eventually leads to the demise of both mother and son. This failure could be prevented, but many factors end up swaying the final decision, and Gertrude is the reason for the demise of both Hamlet and Gertrude.
Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. This is because of the high levels of hormones during periods such as birthing a child and menopause. The latter of the two is the reason for Gertrudes depression, and specifically leads to a failure in parenting. That is why Gertrude hurried with most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets (Hamlet, 1.2.157). This horrendous act committed by Gertrude can be classified as a failure in parenting. Gertrude forces her son to live with the reality that his uncle has become his father, which, on her part is a thoughtless and impetuous act. With the loss of her husband, it would be proper for Gertrude to fully mourn her deceased husband. Before remarrying, a mother should join with her son in the grieving process, to show that the father in the family would be missed.
The ten stages of grieving ensure that a person can accept and affirm reality, a stage that Gertrude achieves far too quickly. She skips a few steps on the way, and knows that Hamlets rash actions can be blamed on no other but the main: his fathers death and our oerhasty marriage (2.2.56). While some steps are missed, some are taken too far. Depression and loneliness is a stage Gertrude botches, as it is a stage where family members find communication difficult. Instead of moving on to the next stage, Gertrude lingers around loneliness and depression, which eventually brings her to marry Claudius. Gertrude does not erupt with emotions, or is never overcome with anger at anyone for the misfortune brought on old Hamlet. Ultimately, Gertrude reached the final step of the ten stages, but disregarded many rules on the way, resulting in poor communication between mother and son.
Communication is essential to proper parenting, and this is where Gertrude failed. A lack of communication between mother and son can distance a relationship. To state that Gertrude has communication issues would be to grossly underestimate-she does not communicate at all. The love between mother and son had been established, but one by one [Hamlets] loves betrayed his love(Coatsworth 8). Instead of instantly jumping into marriage with a dead husbands brother, a parent must talk to their child about what their feelings are. Gertrude should have told Hamlet that she had a desire to find another man, so that Hamlet would have been prepared for what was coming. Gertrude sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to extract information from Hamlet, instead of talking to her son in person. In Gertrudes final seconds of her life she calls for her dear Hamlet (Hamlet, 5.2.314), the only person she really loves.
Gertrude chooses to address her only son in her dying seconds, when the conversation should have taken place long before. All of the miscommunication leads to the demise of both Gertrude and Hamlet. On his deathbed, Hamlet knows that life will probably be better after death, as his biological father will not deceive him in heaven. Hamlets mother has left him with nothing, and even though Hamlet did not plan on dying, he wished that the Everlasting had not fixed his cannon gainst self-slaughter!(1.2.131-132)Depression, loneliness, improper grieving, and miscommunication lead to the failure of parenting. Hamlet was not crazy; he was simply confused and misunderstood. Gertrudes selfish choices hurt Hamlet, and showed Hamlet that his mother no longer cared about the welfare of her son. If Gertrude had used proper parenting skills, things may not have been so rotten in the state of Denmark(1.4.94). Denmark would not have to say good night [to their] sweet prince (Coatsworth 20).
Coatsworth, Elizabeth. Meditation at Elsinore.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. John Crowther. New York: Spark Group, 2003.
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