The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2109 Wednesday, 1 December 1999.
Date: Tuesday, 30 Nov 1999 17:52:59 -0500
Subject: 10.2080 Re: Gertrude
Comment: Re: SHK 10.2080 Re: Gertrude
Gertrude's account of Ophelia's death belongs to the tradition of
judicial rhetoric, in which those presenting legal cases followed
established models for setting forth the material circumstances of the
crucial actions (more or less the familiar "who, what, where, when, how"
of the journalists's handbook). The heightened language, physical
detail, and general formality are characteristic of such speeches. This
one may usefully be regarded as conceived for presentation to the
crowner's court of which the Clowns speak, with Gertrude as advocate,
successfully intended to win for the poor girl burial in consecrated
ground, though with "maimed rites." The Ghost's speech to Hamlet
earlier in the play has a similar function, although he is more clearly
an eye-witness than Gertrude, who may indeed be only summarizing the
testimony of servants or mowers or children playing further down the
stream, and as advocate putting on it all the spin that will produce the
least pain for the most people, including herself. And independently to
appeal to that taste for fine public speaking which seems to me to have
been present in the early modern theatrical audience.