Mother's Day Conversation with James Mark: Hamlet's Mom Gertrude
Mark mentioned that he had been a social worker with Caritas for 17 years. So for my last question, I asked him: "What does Hamlet, a play about revenge, have to say about love and compassion?"
Mark started beaming, as if I "got" him. "I don't emphasize revenge in Hamlet. I don't need to stress revenge, because love and passion create enough conflict as it is." Essentially, Mark's take on Hamlet is that the tragedy stems from Gertrude's conflicting love for her husband Claudius and her son Hamlet.
"It's Gertrude's love and passion, concern and consideration that is most moving. Imagine Gertrude is in a loveless marriage to Hamlet's father. And then there's Claudius, the brother-in-law, who has been nothing but kind, gentle, sympathetic and considerate towards her. So when Claudius kills Hamlet's father and becomes King, Gertrude has a choice. Does she give up her life as Queen and her son's future as King to begrudge a man who's been nothing but caring towards her or does he marry him and secure her son's future? But of course, Hamlet does not understand this and only sees his mother as betraying his father and therefore him. Gertrude loves both her husband Claudius and her son. In my production, I make sure Gertrude sees Claudius pouring the poison in the wine, because I want the audience to see that she drinks it to save her son. Hamlet is not about good or evil, right or wrong. It's about all the conflict that is created by love. Without love, there would be no feelings of regret, loss or pain. That's what makes it so tragic." And that's when Mark reached for a napkin to dab his eyes dry.
I didn't have time (I was already 45 minutes late to brunch!), but I would have argued that the conflict, rather than being created by love, was created by Hamlet's inability to have compassion for his mother. And I would have loved to ask Mark about his mother.