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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: November ::
Re: Gertrude
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1888  Thursday, 4 November 1999.

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 3 Nov 1999 10:20:41 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1877 Re: Gertrude

[2]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Thursday, 04 Nov 1999 11:37:00 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1877 Re: Gertrude


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 3 Nov 1999 10:20:41 EST
Subject: 10.1877 Re: Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1877 Re: Gertrude

>>Must say I never trusted Gertrude myself. Drinks, you know.
>
>Fractiousness aside, there is good grounds to portray Gertrude as an
>alcoholic.  Consider Hamlet's "to the manner born."  And this
>interpretation adds poignancy to the exchange in V.ii: "Gertrude, do not
>drink.... I will, my lord, I pray you pardon me."  It can be played as
>if this was a common request by Claudius, and a typical response.  In
>fact, I saw a production in the West End some years ago in which this
>approach was adopted and it worked beautifully.  It also adds something
>to G's detailed description of Ophelia's death, which she could not have
>witnessed first hand.  In the West End production, G was repeatedly
>refilling a goblet from a ewer she brought on stage with her.

I quite like this idea, Larry (and thank you for the cheeky suggestion,
Terence).  Having been much closer to individuals so afflicted than I
would like to have been in my lifetime, I can see how playing Gertrude
as an alcoholic would explain her inertia, her almost brainless
acceptance of everything that goes on around her (including her
incredibly placid reaction to the murder of her supposedly beloved
husband), and why she would, dependent, cling to Claudius as she does.
Obviously, Claudius has more reason for asking her not to drink than
simple disapproval of her habit- but that explanation makes her a much
more palatable-and pitiable- character, more helpless than clueless.
Again, thank you both!

Cheers,
Carol Barton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Thursday, 04 Nov 1999 11:37:00 +0900
Subject: 10.1877 Re: Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1877 Re: Gertrude

If Gertrude's insistence that she will drink is ascribed to some
dependence on grog, one loses another theatrical possibility which many
directors have found more fruitful-namely, the suggestion that Gertrude
herself is beginning to suspect that something is wrong with that goblet
of wine. Cf Olivier's film, etc.

It would be a pity, too-wouldn't it?--if the idea of a boozy Gertrude
blurred the dramatically interesting issue of whether and how her
relations with Claudius have changed since the closet-scene-and, again,
since the return of Laertes?

Hamlet's own advice on how Gertrude should go about giving up sex with
her husband sound rather like advice on how to give up grog, or, say,
smoking-take it one day (or night) at a time, then it will gradually get
easier. This too is interesting, since it doesn't suggest that Hamlet
has any intention of killing Claudius in the near future-when Claudius
is boozing, or in his allegedly incestuous bed, etc etc.
Maybe the really mischievous "alcoholic" reading is to be found
elsewhere, in all those images (cf, again, Olivier, or more recently
Zeffirelli) of Claudius tottering across the stage with a goblet in his
hand. The only authority for the idea of Claudius as a boozer is, of
course, Hamlet himself, in his prim remarks about how foreigners despise
the Danish court for its heavy drinking.
Although so many productions take their cue from this strange speech,
the obvious difficulty with it is that Claudius hasn't been on the
throne for long enough to establish any such bad reputation for Denmark
and its court. The obvious culprit would be King Hamlet, and this would
also explain Hamlet's father's liking for afternoon naps??

Maybe the real difficulty was that identified by Salvador de Madariaga
many years ago, when he expressed surprise at the way people take a
"Hamlet-centred" view of "Hamlet", trying (however perversely) to view
the play through the prince's eyes.

I'd think the most important difference between the prince and the play
is that Hamlet is never interested in whatever other people think and
feel (e.g. when Horatio says, "Half a share", or when mummy says, "As
kill a king?", young Hamlet ought to be more interested than he
is)--whereas the play "Hamlet" is almost promiscuously interested in the
irreducibly different ways in which different characters think and feel,
and see thir own situations. In other words, the play itself resists
attempts to see the play through Hamlet's eyes?

Cheers-or rather, "kanpai!"-from Tokyo, where "kanpai!" can mean
"Bottoms up!", or " a complete defeat", or "a whitewash".

Graham Bradshaw
 

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