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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: January ::
Marriage of Claudius and Gertrude
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0049. Thursday, 20 January 1994.
 
From:           David Scott Wilson <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Jan 94 17:42:08 CST
Subject:        Marriage of Claudius and Gertrude after Hamlet, Sr.'s Death
 
< Not just the Tiv, but also under the old Mosaic law, this
< would have been the thing to do.  The underlying human concept
< is that you should look after your dead brother's progeny,
< (even create them for him -- see Genesis 38:8, "And Judah said
< unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise
< up seed to thy brother".)  The Tiv and at one stage the Jews
< believed you should look after your brother's wife and progeny
< by marrying your brother's wife.  For more on Levirate marriage
< see Deut 25:5-10, and Ruth 4.  And it was still a current
< enough concept in Jesus' time for it to be a way of devising
< a trick question: "Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die,
< having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise
< up seed unto his brother". (Matthew 22:24.  Similarly Mark 12:19).
< And Shakespeare and his audience would have been well aware
< of all this, because life was more Bible-centered in those days.
 
But would they have considered it opposite?  Hamlet, Sr. did not "die, having
no children": he had, as we all know, Hamlet.  More relevant to Shakespeare and
his audience, I should think, would have been Henry's marriage with his dead
brother's wife, Katherine, in 1509: the union (which had been otherwise
disbarred for consanguinity) was made possible only by a special dispensation
from the pope, and even then Henry had scruples; which scruples, real or
feigned, eventually torpedoed the royal marriage and made way for Anne Boleyn.
(Or does this bear repeating?  I'm a Romanticist trying to move over, and new
at this.)
 
David Scott Wilson-Okamura
Graduate Student,
English (University of Chicago)
 

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