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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: November ::
Re: Gertrude, Incest, and Adultery
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 770.  Friday, 12 November 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Karin Youngberg <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Nov 1993 15:33:30 GMT-500
        Subj:   Re: Gertrude
 
(2)     From:   Kimberly Nolan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Nov 1993 15:38:41 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0737  Re: Incest
 
(3)     From:   A.G. Bennett <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Nov 1993 17:14 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0759  Re: Gertrude
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karin Youngberg <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Nov 1993 15:33:30 GMT-500
Subject:        Re: Gertrude
 
>Let me try again to pose my question: when the Ghost says, "Ay, that
>incestuous, that adulterate beast," he makes two charges against Claudius (and
>I assume Gertrude). The charge of incest would apply whether Claudius is alive
>or dead (thus, he says later in the speech, "Let not the royal bed of Denmark
>be/A couch for luxury and damned incest").  But could Claudius and Gertrude be
>regarded as adulterous if their relationship began after King Hamlet had died?
>I don't think so.  Two possibilities exist here: 1) Gertrude was unfaithful
>while her first husband was alive (how does the Ghost know this?  That's not
>clear,but neither is it clear how he learns that Claudius poured hebona in his
>ear); 2) Gertrude was not adulterous, but the Ghost thinks of himself as still
>alive & therefore makes his accusation.
 
Perhaps we might add a third possibility here.  The word "adulterous" is
glossed in the OED as meaning in the sixteenth century "pertaining to or
characterized by adulteration," i.e  counterfeit or spurious. Although
admittedly the proximity of the word "incest" and the bedroom setting would
focus attention on sexual activity, the sense of counterfeit, or not being what
one appears to be, is certainly in keeping with sentiments Hamlet expresses in
his first soliloquy and elsewhere.
 
Karin Youngberg

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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kimberly Nolan <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Nov 1993 15:38:41 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0737  Re: Incest
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0737  Re: Incest
 
I think we need to be carefule about reading the incest issue in _Hamlet_
too literally.  I found Bruce Boehrer's book _Monarchy and Incest in Ren-
aissance England_ to be very useful.  I haven't looked at it in a year so
I hesitate to try to articulate his thesis, but I believe he argues that
the theme of incest was firmly imbedded in the Elizabethan and Jacobean
consciousness as a symbol for variuos shifts in kinship, family structure,
and issues of inheritance.  I feel that I've made a mess of his fine work,
the citation I am thinking of is on pages 11-13 of the book mentioned above.
I hope someone with a better background in this area can add to our discussion.
 
Speaking of inheritance--has anyone thought of Claudius as a second son fraught
with all the baggage that role carries?
 
K. Nolan
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           A.G. Bennett <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Nov 1993 17:14 EDT
Subject: 4.0759  Re: Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0759  Re: Gertrude
 
James Schiffer asked, "Could Claudius and Gertrude be regarded as adulterous if
their relationship began after King Hamlet had died?" I think the answer could
very well be yes, if we consider the degrees of consanguinity which  forbade
marriage among close relations-- as far as I know, Leviticus 18.16 ("Thou
shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife: it is thy brother's
nakedness") is probably still a guideline for the canon laws against incest in
Shakespeare's time-- Leviticus 18 as a whole is the basis on which those laws
were built, I think. Intriguingly enough, Leviticus 18.16 was also the verse
on which Henry VIII based his case for divorcing Katherine of Aragon, which
raises the question of whether the memory of that uproar might have provided
an added dimension to contemporary audiences....
 
Just my hap'orth....
 
Alex Bennett
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