Passive-Aggressiveness and Insight into Gertrude’s Intentions

I like how Hamlet chooses to exact his revenge on Claudius by making him watch his play, The Mousetrap, a “knavish piece of work” secretly based on the murder of his father (Hamlet I). I feel this is passive-aggressive because it’s one of the sneakier ways Hamlet can make Claudius suffer without drawing blood. Claudius would watch the play and realize that it’s about him and become stricken with guilt. Even though the Ghost tells Hamlet to kill Claudius, doing so would be treason, and Hamlet is in no position to go to jail. So, by putting on a play that illustrates Claudius’s murder, Hamlet believes that Claudius would suffer even more from the guilt by having to relive the murder over again.

There is a line that the Player Queen (the actor playing the role of what is supposedly supposed to be Gertrude) that gives a little bit of insight into how Hamlet interprets his mother’s apathy for his father: “The instances that second marriage move / Are base respects of thrift, but none of love. / A second time I kill my husband dead / When second husband kisses me in bed.” (3.2.170-173). Hamlet believes that his mother only married Claudius for his money, not out of love, and that every time she sleeps with Claudius, she’s doing it out of spite for the husband she couldn’t care less was dead. It’s almost as if Gertrude is saying, “Ha-ha, Hamlet. Too bad you’re dead because I’m richer now and fucking your brother in our bed!” She’s basically killing him all over again by “killing” what’s left of their relationship (moving on so quickly, marrying for money, apathy towards Hamlet I). Again, this is how Hamlet is interpreting his mother’s thinking. This could also be considered passive-aggressive behavior on Gertrude’s part.

But then one has to wonder: why didn’t Gertrude just marry Claudius from the beginning?

What perhaps is most interesting during the play is that during the play (Act III, Scene II), Claudius orders his attendants to get him out of the audience, and does so rather dramatically. He stands up, and announces that he must leave, probably to cover up his guilt with offense. It would have been much more interesting to have him watch and suffer throughout the whole play, to be honest, but this works.


3 thoughts on “Passive-Aggressiveness and Insight into Gertrude’s Intentions

  1. tarabutler93

    I was drawn to comment on your post based on the title alone; Hamlet certainly does behave quite passive-aggressively which is pretty funny because it’s such a juvenile response and Hamlet is a grown man. Showing his uncle that he is aware of what he did through a play definitely raises the tension. It would probably be less dramatic if Shakespeare had just had Hamlet confront his uncle. Hamlet is clever; he gets away with saying what he wants to say (by having his characters say the lines) without being blamed for it.

  2. Courtney Ann

    I do agree with your post about Hamlet’s passive-aggressive actions to try and get Claudius to acknowledge the guilt, treasonous act of killing his own brother and then bedding/marrying Gertrude. It is actually a very humorous tactic that Hamlet goes through all the trouble of. As for your question about why Gertrude didn’t marry Claudius in the first place, I feel as though Gertrude might have been in the same circumstance as how Ophelia is, where one’s social status plays a part in whom one marries. It could be a possibility. Great blog post!

  3. sabrinabyrne

    I also agree that Hamlet was smart by putting the guilt on Claudius through the play, but I do not entirely agree with your entire post. I think Gertrude is not sleeping with Claudius as a way to get back at her previous husband. There was no instance where I felt she was with Claudius out of spite of Hamlet. I don’t have an answer as to why she moved on so quickly and with her husbands brother, but I can’t see it being for money and spite. That just doesn’t really seem to fit her character.


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