Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, (1.4.89) Marcellus so wisely stated not knowing the precision behind his words. Various dialogue exchanged throughout the play discretely summarized events that took place. Horatio proved this point when he stated Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, of accidental judgments, casual slaughters, of deaths put on by cunning and forcd cause, and in this upshot, purposes mistook falln on th inventors heads. (5.2.381-5)
These quotes could easily relate to numerous events that took place during the course of the play, however, none of them are more interesting then the question of true love. The words true love do not encompass Hamlet and Ophelia; but, Gertrude and Claudius.
Many readers of Hamlet assume that Gertrude and Claudius were madly in love with out truly investigating the nature of their marriage. Most arguments on this topic are solely based around one misread and overlooked passage. The ghost clearly pronounced Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast, (1.5.42) but, what did the spirit actually mean? To comprehend what the ghost meant by these words, the sentence needs to be broken down. One word specifically plays a significant role in how the relationship between Claudius and Gertrude is interpreted.
The word adulterate has many definitions; counterfeit, corrupted by intermixture, to falsify, to make impure or inferior, or to corrupt. If these definitions are applied to the characteristics of Claudius (to whom the ghost was referring to), or, to the effect Claudius has on Gertrude; it is easily understood why so many are falsely lead to assume that Claudius and Gertrude were partaking in an incestuous relationship, this is caused by lack of examination.
The single word adulterate opens innumerable doors left to be navigated. Questions arise that could change ones outlook on the entire play. Such as: Did Gertrude know about Claudius plans to murder old Hamlet?; What did Gertrude gain by marring Claudius?; What did Claudius have to gain by marring Gertrude?; Were they intimately involved before old Hamlets death? and finally, were Claudius and Gertrude in love?
As to the question of weather or not Gertrude knew about the premeditated murder of old Hamlet, the answer is no. There are uncountable examples that prove this to be a false assumption. During the mouse trap, a performance acted by the players, a scene that depicts a king talking to his queen about death, the player queen recites over and over her immortal love for the king: In second husband let me be accursd! None wed the second but who killd the first. (3.2.179-80) Another prime example would be when she stated; A second time I kill my husband dead, when second husband kisses me in bed. (3.2.184-5) Hamlet soon after turned to his mother and asked Madam, how like you this play? (3.2.229) The lady doth protest too much, methinks, (3.2.230) the queen replied implying that she thought the player queen made empty promises. Had the Gertrude known about Claudius plans to murder old Hamlet, surely she would have acknowledged what the play was about and she would have acted out the way Claudius did when he called for the lights after he finally realized what was going on. Also, after the play, Hamlet had a conference with his mother, during their talk, Hamlet learned that someone was hiding behind the arras, he killed this person and moments later discovered it was Polonius. In an exchange of words between Hamlet and Gertrude, we see that Gertrude is shocked at the mention of old Hamlets murder:
Queen: O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!
Hamlet: A bloody deed! Almost as bad, good mother, as kill a king, and marry
with his brother.
Queen: As kill a king!
Hamlet: Ay, lady, it was my word.
Gertrude portrays a superficial, self-centered woman. On many occasions Gertrude substantiates this point. She tends to be concerned with other peoples thoughts of her and how she is viewed in their eyes. Since she did not contemplate old Hamlets death, she was flabbergasted to learn that he was dead. Once she received news of his demise, she instantaneously began to consider what would happen to her if she no longer held the throne. Rightfully, Hamlet should have taken his fathers place at the royal seat, if this had been so, Gertrude would have lost an ample amount of power in Denmark. Granted, she would always be known as a queen for the remainder of here life, but she would no longer be considered at the top of royal proceedings. This conception frightened her exceedingly. Since Claudius charted the doom of old Hamlet, it can questionably be determined that he would have known Gertrudes reaction to the news, once she was over the initial shock. He began to seduce Gertrude and put inaccurate ideas into her head of how she would indeed become a forgotten Queen. Claudius also presented her with ways she could remain in the seat of state, she could remarry. Who better to remarry than himself is more then likely the justification he approached her with. Gertrude, like Claudius, would have done anything to hold the throne.
Claudius was a power hungry and jealous man. He was envious of his brothers position in Denmark and became ruthless in the odyssey to obtain what his brother had. He himself stated this while praying for his transgressions, I am still possessd of those effects for which I did murther: my crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.(3.2.53-5) It is comprehensible to see what Claudius had to gain by marrying Gertrude, he didnt love her, he wanted his departed brothers possessions.
The word adulterate, which so often misrepresents an undying love affair between Gertrude and Claudius, is only mentioned once throughout the entirety of the play. Gertrudes sins are spoken of on numerous occasions. In act III scene IV, an altercation between Hamlet and his mother allows Hamlet to list her many sins makes marriage vows as false as dicers oaths/ You cannot call it love, for at your age the heyday in the blood is tame. (3.4.44:68) Not once throughout their entire dialogue does Hamlet mention anything about his mother committing adultery.
There is one prominent instance when Claudius and Gertrudes love is put on trial. During the fencing match, Gertrude picked up the cup which accommodated poison put into the cup by Claudius. Gertrude, do not drink. (5.2.290) These were the only words Claudius spoke to prevent his loving wife from dying before his eyes. To the audience he spoke, It is the poisned cup, it is too late. (5.2.292) This statement alone proved that Claudius loved the throne and the power accompanied by it more then he loved Gertrude. Using this example to prove that Claudius and Gertrude were not in love can be noted as a one sided argument. Claudius proved to the audience that he did not love Gertrude, however, the question as to weather or not Gertrude loved Claudius still remains indecisive.
It can be concluded that Claudius certainty corrupted Gertrude and made her into a counterfeit figure, in Hamlets eyes nevertheless. In the beginning of the play, Hamlet was extremely affection toward his mother. As the play progressed, Hamlet became more and more bitter and acrimonious with her. Hamlet didnt believe that his mother and Claudius were in love, he didnt seem to care, he was more interested in preserving his fathers honor.
Queen: Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.
Hamlet: Mother, thou hast my father much offended.
Queen: Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue.
Hamlet: Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.