In William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the concept of identity is explored through Hamlet’s isolation which is created by the conflict between his duty to his father, and his duties to the monarchy and his peers. Gertrude suffers the same identity questions through her isolation and also that of her sons. The isolation they experience not only is caused by some sort of tragic event, but also provokes many dilemmas in their lives that they both have to work through, but it also results in a lot of trouble, and heartbreak for more than just themselves.
For people who are royalty such as Hamlet and Gertrude, it seems as though it would be difficult to be isolated, or to have anything bad happen to them. They are always surrounded by people, who love them, or who want to be them. But maybe that’s just it; maybe Hamlet and Gertrude being royalty started the downfall. There is usually one point in time, one moment that causes the big downfall, one thing that tears away any strength the person had to battle their isolation. The one thing for Hamlet is the death of his father.
Being a son, the father is the biggest role model and usually the person the son looks up to and learns from the most. To make things worst, in the beginning of the play Hamlet’s isolation can also be due to the fact that he is unaware of foul murder by Claudius. Hamlet also experiences betrayals from his friends Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. When they betray Hamlet it provokes Hamlet to start to question his relationships not only with them, but also with his other friends and family.
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past…
And thy commandment all alone shall live
within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmixed with baser matter. (I.5.99-104)
Hamlet’s mother Gertrude and Uncle Claudius both betray his trust. The actions of his uncle, Claudius, are the cause of Hamlet’s reactions throughout the play which isolates Hamlet from the only family that he has in the play. Finally, when Hamlet tries to get to the root of things and he pretends to go mad, he isolates himself from his friends, family, and especially Ophelia. The root of Hamlet’s isolation is his suffering of false friends and betrayals, and his own secretive nature. These deceitful circumstances of Hamlet’s loneliness and its effect on Hamlet are the major contributing factors leading to his tragic downfall. Similar to Hamlet, his mother, Gertrude also has a tragic event that causes the start of her isolation.
This is the death of her husband, the King. Gertrude, as well as Hamlet, is not aware of how her husband passed away, and that someone close to her, and her son is the perpetrator. Although the loss is hard for Hamlet, it is also really difficult for Gertrude. King and Queen, that’s how it goes. Where there is a king, there is always a queen to follow, and vise versa. When the king is gone, it leaves just the queen, Gertrude to be all by herself. With no one to sleep with at night, and no one to love and have him love her back. She is isolated in a major way. And being just the queen is not easy.
When something tragic happens to one, it is not easy to cope with. You want to make life go back to just the way it was before, although of course, there will be things in the way, such as dilemmas. Hamlet crosses paths with many of them throughout his journey. The first one being when he learns of the murder of his father. The ghost tells Hamlet to avenge his death, which is the first dilemma, murdering his uncle. He tries and he thinks about it all of the time and tries to come up with ways that Claudius will show his guilt for a way that he will be able to murder Claudius. But that’s just it, he thinks about it all of the time, but does not continue through with his plan.
King: O, my offence is rank. It smells to heaven.
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will.
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent. (III.3.36-40)
Hamlet wants to focus himself entirely on this task, and wants no distractions. So, he plays with Ophelia’s head she is a woman that he sees romantically. He tells her he never loved her, causing her to go mad. This is the next step Hamlet has to take to continue his plan. He confides in some friends so they are aware of his well being and acts as if he is mad. He does this to get answers, and maybe even find a small, tiny piece of closure. This is his way of dealing with the death of his father, and the pain that it makes him feel.
Hamlet also becomes isolated from many men, including Claudius and Laertes, due to the fact that they all want him dead, and wants many of them dead. Similarly, Gertrude is also hurt by the death of King Hamlet, she loved him, and she loves her son as well. Back then she would have no choice on who she could marry; it would be expected of her. When there is a kingdom, a monarchy, and society that needs to be ruled, there has to be a king in the picture, no queen can handle it by themselves. Gertrude even married him in the same few days as her husband’s funeral. In the eyes of Hamlet, the actions of his mother totally betray him. When he needs someone the most, she is off with a new man.
Her marrying Claudius proves to Hamlet that she has no respect and no remorse for the death of his father and even for him. Another major dilemma Hamlet has is the power struggle between him and his mother. Naturally Gertrude feels as though Hamlet is still hers, and shall do what she says. She loves him so much, and wants him to see that everything will be okay, but Hamlet believes he can see through it. Hamlet has little or no intentions of taking orders from anyone, or being convinced otherwise by another person, especially his mother. Gertrude finally calls for Hamlet so that they can have a personal discussion about what has been going on, and Hamlet does not even speak to his mother, as if that is what she is.
No more, sweet Hamlet!
these words like daggars enter my ears;
…O speak to me no more;
As will not leave their tinct (III.iv.88-91)
And there I see such black and grained spots
Thou turn’st my very eyes into my soul,
O Hamlet, speak no more… (III.iv.94-6)
All of this happens because of that one point, one moment when everything changed for many people.
After everything that has happened to Hamlet, Gertrude and their peers, you think it would get better, but it does not. The death of the real king causes so many problems in the lives of these people, and in the end, it ultimately leads to their demise. In the last battle of the play Hamlet is prepared to kill his uncle Claudius which is directly related to how Claudius marries his mother, and leaves Hamlet all alone. Gertrude indirectly dies by drinking the poison in a coasting of her son, which is when she shows the ultimate love towards Hamlet. Because she did love him so much, and never wanted King Hamlet to die, and always wanted Hamlet to be with her, and support her. At that point she thought that Hamlet would come back on board with her and she truly believes that love can triumph. Gertrude is ultimately killed by the love she has for her son.
The two truly did love each other, and really would do anything for the other person. Throughout the play, the isolation they both suffered tore from their relationship. Hamlet was separating himself from her, and there was nothing Gertrude could do to change it. The relationship that a mother and a son have is tremendous and is so special to so many people. Finally, another result of their isolation puts a wall between them, and never allows them to have that special relationship before they pass. A result of the isolation Hamlet has is that he received the measures of revenge. Not only did these two die because of this, others also did many others, such as Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Claudius…
So, who were they? Gertrude was a loving mother, who loved her son so dearly, and Hamlet, a son who was torn from so many different angles. This happens all of the time in every day life, even when parents are divorced, the children do not want to see anyone new with their mom and dad. When they do, there is often conflict and tension between them. Or the whole idea of planning, and waiting until the perfect time and moment to go trough with the plan can be related to revenge in our lives. Such as 9/11, obviously that took a lot of planning and thought as well. The only thing I know for sure about Hamlet is that the ending was very solid. The king dies. Revenge has been succeeded. The death of all of these people and of the kings symbolizes that evil is now over. There will be a new king, and he will start a new and pure beginning.