Although Gertrude seems to be unaware of Claudius’s misdeeds at the beginning of the play, over the course of events, she starts doubting her assertions. Her beliefs are undermined when Hamlet murders Polonius and accuses his mother of betrayal. He reveals to her the truth about his father’s death and forces her to see her own villainy.
Gertrude, unable to accept the truth, cries and begs Hamlet to stop. She exclaims, “O Hamlet, speak no more! / Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul, / And there I see such black and grainèd spots / As will not leave their tinct”’ (III.iv.2480-2485). How does her reaction advance the plot? It makes the reader realize that Gertrude starts to understand her mistakes. She sees that she indeed betrayed her husband by marrying his murderer.
Laertes plays the important role in ruining Gertrude’s confidence as well. His father was murdered as well, and he is determined to pay back for his death. Unlike Hamlet, Laertes is not inclined to reason. He is ready to take revenge by any means. The word that best describes Laertes in act iv would probably be “anger”. First, he believes that Claudius murdered Polonius, thus, he faces him with accusations. Then, Polonius tells Laertes that it was Hamlet who killed his father in a fit of madness. This puts Gertrude into a position where she has to choose between the mother’s instinct to save her son and her own inability to accept the truth.
The reader follows Gertrude through her doubts further into the act iv where Ophelia has gone completely mad over her father’s death. She sings the song about true love and an innocent man who died unfairly, “How should I your true-love know / From another one? /By his cockle hat and staff / And his sandal shoon” (IV.v.2880-2885).
Gertrude pretends not to understand the lyrics. Why does Shakespeare include this event? Most likely, the author wanted to show the reader how unbearable it was for Gertrude to hear the words of this song. They reflected her own, Gertrude’s, failure to be a truthful mourning wife to her deceased husband.
Ophelia in Hamlet is represented as a contrast to Gertrude’s character. Ophelia changes over the course of the play going from an innocent girl who obeys her father and brother to an insane woman who commits suicide. She no longer wants to live in this twisted world full of traitors. Gertrude, on the contrary, remains doubtful until the very end of the story.
Shakespeare’s scholars still argue about whether or not Gertrude is an innocent character. For example, Emily Graf, in her “Gertrude’s Role in Hamlet”, says, Gertrude is a victim of circumstances who was unaware of the king’s actions and ended up caught between the two warring-parties. She keeps hiding from the truth and wants to avoid the conflict. Others, as Harmonie Loberg, in “Queen Gertrude: Monarch, Mother, Murderer”, claim that she is a traitor and a murderer herself since she knew that her husband had been killed by his brother. The question weather or not Gertrude is guilty remains a topic for debates. However, at the end of the play, during the duel between Hamlet and Laertes, Gertrude finally admits her misdeeds and drinks from a poisoned cup trying to save Hamlet’s life.