Gertrude's Moral Transgression in William Shakespeare's "Hamlet"


G. Stolyarov II

See Mr. Stolyarov's Index of Selected Writings, Originally Published on Associated Content / Yahoo! Voices.
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2005 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007, where it received over 2,800 page views. To preserve a record of my writings following the shutdown of Yahoo! Voices in 2014, I have given this article a permanent presence on this page.

~ G. Stolyarov II, July 28, 2014

In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Gertrude commits the moral transgression of marrying Claudius, her late husband's brother, shortly after the King of Denmark's death. Numerous references to her sin are made, and she is punished for it in the end with death.

Hamlet laments Gertrude's hasty marriage to Claudius and considers Gertrude to have had base motivations for this decision when he states of his father, "But two months dead-nay, not so much, not two./ So excellent a king, that was to this/ Hyperion to a satyr," (1.2.142-4), implying that Gertrude had forsaken her duty to mourn a morally admirable husband to wed a morally lax, licentious half-beast whom Hamlet considers Claudius to be.

Hamlet asserts that this decision was driven by sub-animal leanings in Gertrude, since "a beast that wants discourse of reason/ Would have mourned longer!" (1.2.154-5). Gertrude is easily seduced by Claudius's bodily charm and is prepared to abandon all virtue and reverence as a result. Later on, she experiences deep sorrow for having undertaken such a decision, as, when Hamlet compares before her the portraits of her dead husband and Claudius, she is emotionally overcome and tells him, "These words like daggers enter in my ears./ No more, sweet Hamlet!" (3.4.108-9). Gertrude explicitly states the grave folly of her decision when she refers to her inner condition as her "sick soul (as sin's true nature is)" (4.5.22).

By having characters as different in fundamental mindset as Hamlet and Gertrude come to similar conclusions about the sinful nature of Gertrude's carnal attraction to Claudius, Shakespeare illustrates that Gertrude's sin was indeed absolute and verifiable through multiple perceptions, as opposed to being merely a subjective notion on the part of one of the characters. Moreover, Gertrude suffers the consequences of her sinful disposition. At the end of the play, she is poisoned as a result of the actions of the very man in whose pursuit she had abandoned her mourning. In devising such an outcome, Shakespeare imbues Gertrude's story with a certain poetic justice, as, absent Gertrude's lust for Claudius, she would not have died in such a manner.

Gertrude's lack of faithfulness to her late husband led her to hastily marry his murderer and to be killed by him in turn. Had Gertrude waited longer to make her decision and gathered more of the facts about her husband's death, the tragic story of Hamlet need not have taken place.

Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II) is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. 

In December 2013, Mr. Stolyarov published Death is Wrong, an ambitious children’s book on life extension illustrated by his wife Wendy. Death is Wrong can be found on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

Mr. Stolyarov has contributed articles to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), The Wave Chronicle, Le Quebecois Libre, Brighter Brains Institute, Immortal Life, Enter Stage RightRebirth of Reason, The Liberal Institute, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

In an effort to assist the spread of rational ideas, Mr. Stolyarov published his articles on Associated Content (subsequently the Yahoo! Contributor Network and Yahoo! Voices) from 2007 until Yahoo! closed this venue in 2014. Mr. Stolyarov held the highest Clout Level (10) possible on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and was one of its Page View Millionaires, with over 3,175,000 views. Mr. Stolyarov’s selected writings from that era have been preserved on this page.

Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA), Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (ACAS), Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA), Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Personal Insurance (API), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE), and Associate in Insurance Accounting and Finance (AIAF).

Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a philosophical treatise, A Rational Cosmology,  a play, Implied Consent, and a free self-help treatise, The Best Self-Help is Free. You can watch his YouTube Videos.Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.