The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2080 Thursday, 29 November 1999.
Date: Wednesday, 24 Nov 1999 10:37:21 -0500
Subject: 10.1982 Re: Gertrude
Comment: Re: SHK 10.1982 Re: Gertrude
I always assumed that Gertrude was relating these details second hand.
While she would surely have rushed to Ophelia's aid had she witnessed
the events herself, one of her maids or a local peasant might not be so
presumptuous. I envision one peasant watching the gruesome events
unfold, while another runs to the castle for help. By the time the
palace guards arrive, or Gertrude herself, Ophelia has already been
dragged under, and so only the peasant remains, perhaps brought before
the queen to give witness. This would be in the manner of the Clown in
Winter's Tale who describes to his father the simultaneous deaths of
Antigonus by the bear and the crew of his ship by a storm, both of which
he had to be positioned to witness, but with neither of which he could
It is interesting that the one scene in Hamlet whose representation has
attracted the most visual artists is the invisible death of Ophelia.
Gertrude's verbal painting thereby puts Shakespeare into the rivalry
between poet and painter that was so much a part of Renaissance
And if Gertrude's word pictures are a demonstration of the superiority
of the poet over the painter, then the paradox of witnessing the
unwitnessed not only does not violate a reasonable suspension of
disbelief, it is a testament to the poet's transcendental power.