The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1667 Saturday, 2 October 1999.
Date: Thursday, 30 Sep 1999 00:22:25 +0100
Subject: 10.1659 Re: Hamlet and Marriage Practices
Comment: Re: SHK 10.1659 Re: Hamlet and Marriage Practices
Henry VIII originally married his deceased brother wife, Catherine of
Aragon, by arguing that as the marriage hadn't been consummated, it
wasn't a marriage. Then he changed his mind and divorced her, arguing
that the marriage to Catherine +was+ incestuous.
Carrying this logic through to the audience watching +Hamlet+ in the
early 1600s, if the Court rather than Hamlet are correct, then Elizabeth
I is illegitimate, since Henry's marriage to Catherine would be valid,
and his second marriage to Anne Boleyn would be invalid, since Catherine
was still alive when it took place.
So at least one (prominent) member of the audience of the original
production would have a vested interest in agreeing with Hamlet on this
Incidentally, the marriage of a brother to a deceased brother's wife
only became legal in England in the early 1900s-there's a Shaw play, I
misremember which, which turns on this point, as it was legal earlier in