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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: November ::
Re: Hamlet as Gertrude's Heir
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1140.  Thursday, 13 November 1997.

[1]     From:   Louis C Swilley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Nov 1997 10:51:15 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.1138  Qs:

[2]     From:   Heidi Sue Webb <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Nov 1997 14:31:26 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.1138  Qs: Hamlet/Gertrude

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Nov 1997 16:12:22 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Hamlet's election


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis C Swilley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Nov 1997 10:51:15 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 8.1138  Qs: Hamlet as Gertrude's Heir
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.1138  Qs: Hamlet as Gertrude's Heir

Hamlet accuses Claudius of having "popped" between Hamlet and "the
election - of having prevented Hamlet from securing the crown.  Had
Hamlet been elected, would he have been joint ruler with his mother?
Also, if Gertrude *is* joint ruler, we never see her acting in any
official regal capacity, as we do Claudius.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Heidi Sue Webb <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Nov 1997 14:31:26 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 8.1138  Qs: Hamlet/Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.1138  Qs: Hamlet/Gertrude

RE:  Hamlet as Gertrude's heir

Comparing Gertrude's apparent willingness to remarry with Elizabeth I's
carefully orchestrated obfuscation of attempts to marry her off (even in
the case of Monsieur-see her speeches to Parliament and her
correspondence) would suggest that the two queens have very different
positions in relation to the succession and its symbolism.

Also, critical discussions of _Lear_ have addressed the difficulty
presented by exclusively female heirs (Richard Strier, _Resistant
Structures_, "Shakespeare and Disobedience," p. 177, n. 36.).

Certainly Elizabeth I's position as heir to the throne was precarious at
best (MacCaffrey and Somerville biographies).  Even so, I find your
suggestion that the big guy might have seen her position and her truly
fascinating management of it as a context for his female queens
intriguing.

Best,
Heidi Webb
The University of Chicago

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Nov 1997 16:12:22 -0500
Subject:        Re: Hamlet's election

Jeri McIntosh raises an interesting speculation of whether Hamlet might
not have been the heir to Gertrude, rather than Hamlet pere.
Interesting, but, I'm afraid, insupportable by anything in the sources
or the text.  The only even arguable support is the "imperial jointress"
line, but I think it clear that this is a patent attempt by Claudius to
gain public support of his new regime by emphasizing the continuance of
the previous (probably popular) government.

Counterpoised against this weak reed is all the talk about the
"election."  In this WS got it absolutely correct.  Danish kings were
elected by assemblies of ur-nobles called, I believe, the Witan.  While
the elected king was frequently the natural heir of his predecessor,
such was not always the case, as for example, when there was a more
powerful contender or the natural heir was weak or young.  The fact that
Claudius won election over an intelligent 30 year old natural heir
raises interesting possibilities about how Hamlet fils was perceived by
the court.  Also, did Polonius have a role in the political infighting?
Doesn't that possibility (probability?) explain a great deal about
Hamlet's attitude toward the "good old man"?  Doesn't it also explain
why Claudius kept Polonius on as chief advisor (prime minister?) after
it must have become apparent to him that the old man was not what he
used to be?

Polonius seems to be the only character whom Hamlet dislikes from the
beginning.  While Polonius does appear a little foolish much of the
time, a great deal of what he says and does evidences that there was a
finely tuned political mind there once upon a time, a mind that could
well be tapped to hunt the trail of policy.  For example, consider
Polonius' advice to Reynaldo about how indirectly to find directions
out.  In any case, don't we sense that Hamlet is a little more
disrespectful to Polonius than we are comfortable with?

This all leads me to the larger political "supra plot."  We begin the
play by learning that a kingdom that has just suffered a major change of
government, in which the new king is not the "natural" heir, is about to
be invaded.  The new king acts quickly and decisively to: (a) prepare
the country for war, and (b) initiate a diplomatic overture that
promptly bears fruit by (i) avoiding war, and (ii) turning the invasion
against a traditional enemy.  What a king is this!  What would we give
to have such governors?  Contrast this with Hamlet's behaviour and we
see why the Witan made the right choice.
 

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