Gertrude is a murky role as written. We don't know whether she colluded with Claudius in the murder of Hamlet's father, or what she really feels about her son. When Hamlet accuses her of lechery and bad faith, she has several remorseful-sounding lines -- "Oh, Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain" -- but we're not sure if she means them. McCarthy's Gertrude doesn't. She's also completely unmoved later, when she describes Ophelia's death. (This is another of those anomalous Hamlet moments. If Gertrude sees Ophelia drowning, why doesn't she rescue the girl?) Most actresses make Gertrude sympathetic; it's to McCarthy's credit that she tried something darker and more difficult.
Her approach reminded me of Margaret Atwood's caustic little satire on the closet scene, "Gertrude Talks Back":
Tony Marble and Hollis McCarthy in the Colorado
Shakespeare Festival's Hamlet.
Presented by the Colorado
Shakespeare Festival in
conjunction with Much Ado
About Nothing, The Taming
of the Shrew and
August 23 303-492-0554, www.coloradoshakes.org
Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre,
University of Colorado, Boulder
"I am not wringing my hands. I'm drying my nails . . .. The rank sweat of a what? My bed is certainly not enseamed, whatever that might be! A nasty sty, indeed! Not that it's any of your business, but I change those sheets twice a week, which is more than you do, judging from that student slum pigpen in Wittenberg . . .. And let me tell you, everyone sweats at a time like that, as you'd find out very soon if you ever gave it a try . . ..
"Oh! You think what? You think Claudius murdered your Dad? Well, no wonder you've been so rude to him at the dinner table.
"If I'd known that, I could have put you straight in no time flat.