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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: November ::
Re: Hamlet as Gertrude's Heir
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1156.  Saturday, 15 November 1997.

[1]     From:   Kristine Batey <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Nov 1997 13:07:02 -0600
        Subj:   Hamlet's Election and Cladius

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Nov 1997 15:01:20 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Hamlet's Inheritance

[3]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Nov 1997 15:59:17 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.1148  Re: Hamlet as Gertrude's Heir


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kristine Batey <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Nov 1997 13:07:02 -0600
Subject:        Hamlet's Election and Cladius

Larry Weiss wrote:

>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!

In one of my undergrad courses, the prof suggested that "Hamlet" is
really a tragedy about Claudius, given a quarter turn. Try switching the
perspective, and think what the play would be like as Claudius the
central character: an able, talented second son, doomed to stand in the
background while his brother screws up the country. On top of this, he's
in love with his brother's wife-and she with him. She's trapped in an
arranged dynastic marriage to the brother of the man she really loves.
She did her duty and produced an heir for him 30 years ago; no kids
since, so probably no whoopie to speak of, contraception being what it
was in those days.  With the barbarians at the gate, and things falling
apart, Claudius decides to solve his personal problems and the kingdom's
problems at the same time: get rid of the bad brother, marry the girl of
his dreams. He's basically a decent, well-meaning person: a good enough
guy not to do a Richard III and off his nephew and stepson-at least at
first-and lets him mope around the palace. The nephew's a waste as a
potential king: a perpetual grad student, probably not as intellectually
capable as his friend Horatio, whose philosophy he sneers at. (Has
anybody ever played a 20-year-old Horatio to a 30-year-old H?) Hamlet's
a brooding, superstitious, oversensitive, indecisive mess. He's 30 and
heir presumptive, but they haven't been able to marry him off to another
royal house. When he isn't hanging around the University, being a pain,
he's at home being a pain and messing around with the daughter of the
King's chief advisor.

So here's Claudius, trying to straighten out his late, basically
unlamented brother's kingdom before everything falls apart. Suddenly,
this no-longer-a-kid kid of his wife's starts becoming dangerously
erratic, and finally murderous, so the King talks a couple of the
nephew's friends, good friends of the family, just to watch the guy.
Once H murders a high-level courtier, however, major scandal looms on
top of all the other stuff pulling apart the kingdom. There's no adult
residential psychiatric care available for another 800 years, and things
could get ugly if he just locks the guy up in the dungeon, particularly
since Gertrude still loves him, even though he's a pill. So Claudius,
beginning to sweat it now, talks to his courtiers and they agree that,
for the sake of the Kingdom, this Hamlet must die, quietly, offstage.
Things get worse and worse for Claudius, as he tries desperately to hold
everything together. There's nothing he can do: this is a tragedy, he's
a tragic hero, he has the fatal flaw and has committed the fatal sins,
so there's no way he can hold everything together.

Kristine Batey

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Nov 1997 15:01:20 -0500
Subject:        Re: Hamlet's Inheritance

Scott Shepherd asks what authority would back up Claudius's declaration
that Hamlet is most immediate to his throne if, in fact, the Witan
elected the king.  The answer is "very little."  And this lack of
certainty may be one of the things that inspires Hamlet's reaction.  In
any case, there can be no doubt that the king was elected.  Hamlet
refers to Claudius having popped in between the election and his hopes;
later he prophecies that the election lights on Fortinbras and give him
his dying voice (vote); etc.

As for Gregory Koch's observation that Hamlet actually liked Polonius
until he caught him spying, I find no textual support, and much to the
contrary.  The idea that he must have liked the old man because he loved
his daughter is intriguing.  I suppose it is universally true that all
men love their fathers-in-law.

Larry Weiss

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Nov 1997 15:59:17 -0500
Subject: 8.1148  Re: Hamlet as Gertrude's Heir
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.1148  Re: Hamlet as Gertrude's Heir

>I did recently read an article that deals with the possibility that
>Claudius becomes King of Denmark because he marries Gertrude.  Check out
>Manuel Aguirre's "Life, Crown, and Queen: Gertrude and the Theme of
>Sovereignty" *Review of English Studies* 47 (1996): 163-74.

This was the position taken by the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival in
their recent production of <italic>Hamlet</italic>.  It can work on
stage, and certainly gives Gertrude a greater position of power.

Yours, Bill Godshalk
 

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