Hamlet

by: William Shakespeare

Gertrude

Do not forever with thy vailèd lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust.
Thou knowst ’tis common: all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.
(I.ii.)

Gertrude directs these words to Hamlet in an attempt to comfort him and bring an end to his grief. For his part, Hamlet interprets Gertrude’s lines as evidence that his “cold mother” does not feel any grief about her late husband’s passing. But in his rush to reject his mother’s performance of grief, Hamlet seems not to notice the way her phrase “vailèd lids” implicitly feminizes him. Although the phrase mainly refers to Hamlet’s perpetually downcast eyes, the use of the word “vailèd” references the black veil that a woman would wear over her face while in mourning. Hence Gertrude suggests that her son emasculates himself by continuing to grieve his “noble father.”

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
(III.ii.)

Gertrude utters this line in response to Hamlet, who has just asked her how she is enjoying the performance of a play he chose for the resemblance it bears to the real-life events taking place in Elsinore. He hopes Claudius’s and Gertrude’s reactions to the play will reveal whether they conspired to assassinate the former king. The queen in the play earnestly commits herself to her husband, who will soon be murdered. Hamlet interrupts the play at this point to ask his question. Gertrude responds that the Player Queen “doth protest too much,” meaning that the character speaks too gravely. In Shakespeare’s time, protest meant “to declare solemnly.” Hence, Gertrude implies that the Player Queen doesn’t really mean what she says—her words are too solemn to be believed. Gertrude may be tacitly suggesting that the marriage vow isn’t sacred, in which case the audience could understand her to be defending her remarriage to Claudius.

This is the very coinage of your brain.
This bodiless creation ecstasy
Is very cunning in.
(III.iv.)

After Hamlet murders Polonius, the Ghost appears in Gertrude’s chambers. Hamlet interacts with the Ghost, and since Gertrude cannot see the Ghost she concludes that her son really has gone mad. This moment introduces a significant point of ambiguity into the play. On the one hand, Gertrude’s lines raise the possibility that the Ghost’s first appearance to Hamlet back in Act I may have marked the original onset of Hamlet’s madness. If Hamlet imagined the Ghost from the beginning, then the Ghost’s story about Claudius murdering Hamlet’s father cannot be trusted. In short, Gertrude’s lines throw further doubt on Hamlet’s point of view. On the other hand, this scene occurs immediately after the scene in which Hamlet hears Claudius confess to murdering the king. We therefore have confirmation that the Ghost’s story is accurate, possibly suggesting that the Ghost intentionally appears only to Hamlet. So is the Ghost a figure of Hamlet’s madness, or a sign of his innocence? The status of the Ghost’s supernatural appearance remains undecided.