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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: November ::
Re: Gertrude
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1962  Friday, 12 November 1999.

[1]     From:   Carol Morley <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 14:43:07 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1850 Re: Gertrude dunnit!

[2]     From:   Roy Flannagan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 10:14:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1950 Re: Gertrude

[3]     From:   Tom Bishop <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 10:38:56 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1950 Re: Gertrude

[4]     From:   Todd M Lidh <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 10:49:08 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1950 Re: Gertrude

[5]     From:   Justin Drewry <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 12:24:51 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Gertrude

[6]     From:   Syd Kasten <
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        Date:   Fri, 12 Nov 1999 00:01:10 +0200 (IST)
        Subj:   Gertrude

[7]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 19:18:26 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1950 Re: Gertrude

[8]     From:   H. R. Greenberg <
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        Date:   Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 20:16:34 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1950 Re: Gertrude

[9]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Nov 1999 11:35:00 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1939 Re: Gertrude

[10]    From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Nov 1999 07:12:03 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1950 Re: Gertrude


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Morley <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 14:43:07 +0000
Subject: 10.1850 Re: Gertrude dunnit!
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1850 Re: Gertrude dunnit!

Several years ago at the mermaid Theatre, during a City of London
Japanese arts festival, I saw my first kabuki 'Hamlet', and deduced that
in the traditional Japanese translation Gertrude is so far complicit in
her first husband's murder that a lengthy (very lengthy) confession is
added in for her before her death. This was nearly as confusing as the
fact that the leading actor doubled the parts of Ophelia and Fortinbras
as well as the Prince. But fun.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roy Flannagan <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 10:14:35 -0500
Subject: 10.1950 Re: Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1950 Re: Gertrude

No, I can't picture Gertrude watching the poor girl drown, observing
which flowers she had in her hands as she sinks.

But neither could I think that Gertrude is lying, or manipulating
Laertes's emotions, at that point.

Could it be that this is just one of those Shakespearean arias, during
which the audience is supposed to suspend disbelief, forget action,
while an actor describes something beautifully.  Examples include
Desdemona's willow story and song, the Nurse on Juliet's youth, the
murderer's description of the two little princes, Clarence's description
of his dream, even the various apostrophes to the dawn in Hamlet or in
Romeo and Juliet.  Action stops in wonder as something beautiful comes
out of the mouth of an actor.

Roy Flannagan

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Bishop <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 10:38:56 -0500
Subject: 10.1950 Re: Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1950 Re: Gertrude

>Terence Hawkes asks:
>
>>Who is Hamlet's
>>>REAL father?

Brutus.

Whose example he later follows in killing so capital a calf.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Todd M Lidh <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 10:49:08 -0500
Subject: 10.1950 Re: Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1950 Re: Gertrude

Reponding to William Taylor's belief that Gertrude must be lying when
she reports Ophelia's death, I've always taken a different approach...

I feel this is a moment in Shakespeare, of which there are a number,
when a character steps out of character to perform the playwright's role
in telling a part of the story not seen on stage. Gertrude is not lying;
she is just not being Gertrude-Hamlet's-mother at this moment in time.

While this flies in the face of theatrical convention (integrity of
character and even a few unities), I believe that audiences of
Shakespeare's time were more flexible when it comes to what is
appropriate for a character and what is not. In our day, we expect
characters to be much like ourselves: limited to our experiences. But,
with the morality play tradition still alive even in to the late 1500s,
characters possessing knowledge beyond what they "should" know may not
have seemed odd in the least.

Again, we have such limited insight into what the playing of these works
was like, but taking other conventions into account, I remain convinced
that Shakespeare makes use of this flexibility on occasion. Gertrude's
report has always struck me as one of the best examples.

Todd M Lidh

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Justin Drewry <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 12:24:51 -0500
Subject:        Re: Gertrude

I have always thought that the true identity of Hamlet's real father
makes a significant contribution to the Prince's hesitation.  Truly, I
believe that Polonius is the source of Hamlet's seed.

I am currently working on my thesis, which considers the question or
questionable paternity in Hamlet, and was hoping that someone could
enlighten me regarding possible texts that have the meter transcribed.
I am looking to compare the speech patterns of Hamlet with the Ghost and
I would like to save some time if someone has already done the work on
their pentameter.

Thanks,
Andy Drewry
The Webb School

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Syd Kasten <
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Date:           Fri, 12 Nov 1999 00:01:10 +0200 (IST)
Subject:        Gertrude

John Nettles wrote (Wednesday, 27 Oct 1999) that Gertrude

... demonstrates considerable strength and compassion in all of her
dealings with Ophelia, certainly more than any man in the play does.

and

William Taylor (10 Nov 99 SHK 10.1950) reiterates and extends the
opinion held earlier in this thread  by

>Larry Weiss, I believe, who mentioned Gertrude's description of Ophelia's
>drowning, a scene which she could not have witnessed first hand.'  It
>has always struck me that this is a scene which neither she nor anyone
>else could have witnessed at all.  Who could possibly have watched this
>poor soul, making garlands of four specifically identified species of
>flowers, breaking a branch and falling into the stream, floating along
>while chanting snatches of old lauds, till her garments finally soaked
>up enough water to drag her down to muddy death, and have made no effort
>to haul the poor girl out?"

Well,

Act iv Scene 5 begins with the six emphatic monosyllabels: "I will not
speak with her", "her" being a girl who was orphaned by events in the
queen's closet.  In these six terse words one might find in "her" a hint
of "that woman" used by Bill Clinton. Gertrude's  only other words
before Ophelia's entrance are another four monosyllables "What would she
have?", completing the unfinished pentameter of her first words, and the
aside:

"To my sick soul, as sin's true nature is,
 Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss:
 So full of artless JEALOUSY is guilt
 It spills itself in fearing to be spilt." (emphasis mine)

I'm not quite sure what this passage means, but I would say that it
speaks to Gertrude's state of mind.  The intricate description of
Ophelia's drowning could only have been given by an eye witness.  The
"envious sliver" that broke was none other than Gertrude herself. The
sexual allusions in O's first mad scene seem to centre on Claudius.
Betty Bealy, editor of the Falcon Shakespeare (Longmans Canada 1963), in
her note on the lines from the second mad scene "it is the false steward
that stole his master's daughter" tells us that "By stage tradition,
Ophelia looks at Claudius and starts away from him in horror."  The
sexual intimations in Ophelia's lines are reflected in Gertrude's turgid
eyewitness description of the victim's last minutes.

In summation, the text does not support a compassionate Gertrude. She
had cause for jealousy, not not so much for Ophelia's relationship with
Hamlet as for an implied relationship with Claudius, giving us a
motive.  Through her own words she put herself at the scene of the
drowning. Thus, circumstances point to Gertrude as having caused the
death of Ophelia, either actively, or passively by refusing to come to
her aid.

Columbo would have seen through this. Bobby Simone and Andy Sipowitz
would have at least worked out a plea bargain.

I have made this case once before in these pages (one more time and I
become a crank). I presume that the refusal of those in charge to indict
Gertrude is just one more bit of evidence that class is a determining
factor in our justice system. The grave diggers make just this point!

Best wishes,
Syd Kasten

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 19:18:26 -0500
Subject: 10.1950 Re: Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1950 Re: Gertrude

As for Hamlet's parentage, my vote would have to be for Polonius-the way
Hamlet treats him is much more like the father/son relationships we are
used to than HJr's exaggerated image of HSr. Polonius and HJr don't half
like listening to their own voices, eh? The abhorrence Polonius and
Laertes feel over Hamlet's attentions to Ophelia must stem from the
incest taboo (and proves that Laertes has been let into the secret, but
Ophelia hasn't).  And Polonius knows his way around Gertrude's
closet-there'd have to be a jog in the wall, or Polonius' behind-arras
silhouette would be visible. No doubt he has had to slip behind the
arras before.

Now, what I'd REALLY like to know is whether Horatio once had a nurse
who wrote a three-volume novel...

Earnestly,
Dana (Shilling)

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           H. R. Greenberg <
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Date:           Thursday, 11 Nov 1999 20:16:34 EST
Subject: 10.1950 Re: Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1950 Re: Gertrude

Intriguing observation, but as is so much else mysterious in Hamlet, I
have always viewed this speech as a kind of Elizabethan cinematic trope,
an "as if" moment, in this case, "as if" she were there. I don't think S
had in mind that the actress should "take off"; nor do I think that this
wonderful poetry is emplaced in aid of disarming Laertes. It exists,
mysteriously, as so much in this most mysterious of plays, sui generis,
for itself, and if this sounds essentialist, so be it. Having said this,
has there been any comment on Gertrude's poetic gifts; she is quite apt
at most times, and sometimes marvelously lyric, even before this moment.
"Oh, Hamlet, thou has cleft my heart in twain..." :Why standeth so
particularly with thee..."  "Sweets to the sweet...I had thought to deck
thy marriage bed..." (an expression of grief she stands in no way to
"gain" by...).  She is a very inconsistent and fetching lady, and that
is part of her charm, and undoing. I have always thought of her as the
very incarnation of Browning's LAST DUTCHESS...."She had, how shall I
say, a heart-too soon made glad...."

Frailty etc etc etc   best hrgreenberg md endi

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Nov 1999 11:35:00 +0900
Subject: 10.1939 Re: Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1939 Re: Gertrude

>We are shirking the central issue. Who is Hamlet's REAL father?

How surprising, to see Professor Hawkes using the word "real" in this
way. Whatever next?

Graham Bradshaw

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Fri, 12 Nov 1999 07:12:03 EST
Subject: 10.1950 Re: Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1950 Re: Gertrude

 William Taylor writes,

>Before Gertrude sinks back into oblivion (and the last couple of
>postings suggest that she is going under), I'd like to raise a question
>which was glanced at in an earlier posting in this thread, by Larry
>Weiss, I believe, who mentioned Gertrude's description of Ophelia's
>drowning, a scene which "she could not have witnessed first hand."  It
>has always struck me that this is a scene which neither she nor anyone
>else could have witnessed at all.  Who could possibly have watched this
>poor soul, making garlands of four specifically identified species of
>flowers, breaking a branch and falling into the stream, floating along
>while chanting snatches of old lauds, till her garments finally soaked
>up enough water to drag her down to muddy death, and have made no effort
>to haul the poor girl out?

Not so fast, Bill. I don't agree that neither Gertrude nor anyone else
could have witnessed this scene and done nothing: to give the poor
devil(ess) her due, as you might not realize (never having been cursed
with the burden of numerous lacy petticoats and undergarments), Gertrude
would have been dressed the same way, and would as surely have drowned
for the same reasons, had she jumped in to try to save the increasingly
water-logged Ophelia.  Then too, the prevailing attitude toward human
life on the one hand, and royalty on the other, might rightly have given
the queen pragmatic pause, even had she been able to doff her layers of
textile in time to rescue the poor wretch (which is unlikely).  And
maybe she couldn't swim.

I have no abiding love for Gertie, either, but I don't think we can pin
this one on her in good conscience.

Best,
Carol Barton
 

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