The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2115 Thursday, 2 December 1999.
Date: Wednesday, 01 Dec 1999 10:45:49 -0600
Subject: 10.2109 Re: Gertrude
Comment: Re: SHK 10.2109 Re: Gertrude
I am very attracted by David Evett's observation that Gertrude's account
of Ophelia's death belongs to the genre of judicial rhetoric and might
have been part of the crowner's inquest to which the clown refers. This
takes us back to the inquest into the death by drowning of Katherine
Hamlet, about which Edgar Fripp wrote an interesting essay many years
ago (Shakespeare studies, biographical and literary, 1930)
If you put yourself in the situation of a 1590's playwright doing a
version of the Hamlet story there are these questions:
Why do you kill off the "honey pot" court lady and friend of Amleth in
the old saga?
Why do you kill her through suicide?
Why do you kill her through suicide by drowning?
Why do you invoke a judicial procedure like an inquest?
Ophelia has been such a powerful presence in the literary-mythological
universe that we are apt to forget that none of these details were in
any of the sources and none of them are strictly necessary.
I have argued elsewhere that the relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia
(like that of Hotspur and Kate) belongs in Shakespeare's theme of
"disrupted marital intimacy," which he picked up from Plutarch's Life of
Brutus and played variations on, most notably in the case of Lady
Macbeth. And I'm inclined to think that Ophelia's "death by water" is a
contrapuntal variation on the "death by fire" of Plutarch's Portia,
which is a very striking narrative detail at the end of Plutarch's life
I am pretty confident, however, that memories of Katherine Hamlet
entered into this death by water. If I'm on the right track in this,
David Evett's observation on the judicial character of Gertrude's speech
suggests that this memory has even more structuring power than I thought