Weekly Blog: Olivier’s Gertrude

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In preparation for the upcoming project, I thought that this week I would blog about my character, Queen Gertrude, as she was depicted in Olivier’s famous adaptation of Hamlet. Gertrude was played by the beautiful and then thirty year old Eileen Herlie, who embodied the beauty and youthfulness that the character of Gertrude has in Shakespeare’s original play. Casted in the role of Hamlet, her son, was the director Olivier, who was actually over 10 years older than Herlie. The decision to cast a mother as younger than her son actually makes sense in this particular story for a number of reasons. Gertrude is a character that possesses many stereotypical feminine qualities. She is weak, easily swayed and deceived, easily controlled, tender, loving, and extremely naïve. She might as well be younger than her son, who is just one of the many characters in the play who have power over her. This casting decision also makes sense if one chooses to believe that Hamlet has an Oedipus complex, as the article by Earnest Jones suggests. In Olivier’s adaptation, Hamlet and his mother often partake in prolonged kisses that hint something more than mere motherly affection. Additionally, during the scene in which Hamlet and the Queen are talking in her chambers, Olivier had the two quarrelling in a somewhat sexual way on her bed. The decision to cast Herlie makes this Oedipus suggestion more obvious than if Gertrude was played by an older, more withered woman. In the original text, Hamlet describes his mother as innocent and being deceived by her uncle. This view also suggests that perhaps Shakespeare had intended for Hamlet’s actions to be due to his repressed desire for her. While we may never know of Shakespeare’s intention or of Hamlet’s true feelings, we do know that Gertrude must be depicted in this light for a reason. 

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2 thoughts on “Weekly Blog: Olivier’s Gertrude

  1. I agree with you that the casting of Gertrude was extremely appropriate. I thought this for many of the same reasons you did. However, I failed to recognize that her character traits also compliment the casting of a youthful mother. I really like how you mentioned that about her characteristics.

  2. I’m glad that you blogged about your character. I think Eileen Herlie’s is fabulous. Donaldson makes some interesting remarks about Gertrude on pp. 35-7. In particular, he remarks that Herlie plays Gertrude as a “seductive mother” who shows how Gertrude “could have remained ignorant of the murder and the moral implications of her remarriage: her response to ethical difficulty is to seek the comfort of a sexual response, even from her son” (36). He explains how the bedchamber scene frames them as both lovers (the camerawork reminds one of a love scene) and allies, which is how Gertrude (in the film) comes to knowingly drink the poisoned wine.

    Anyway, I’m curious to know how Herlie’s Gertrude will impact your interpretation of her character.

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