The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1374 Monday, 10 July 2000.
Date: Sunday, 9 Jul 2000 10:52:07 -0700
Subject: "Gertrude and Claudius"
I wonder if other list-members have been enjoying a good summer read
with John Updike's latest novel, "Gertrude and Claudius." Updike has
written a kind of "prequel" to _Hamlet_, taking the basic story of
Shakespeare's sources and embellishing it to create a fully thought-out
and imaginative background to the play (not a sympathetic one to Hamlet,
by the way). Updike initially takes the names from Saxo Grammaticus and
Belleforest, then changes them, as the plot develops, to the final names
that Shakespeare gave the characters.
Gerutha/Geruthe/Gertrude, whose characterization is rather pale in the
play, becomes the centre of the novel, and we are shown qualities in
Feng/Fengon/Claudius that are only hinted at in the more limited space
of Shakespeare's original. The novel ends ironically at the conclusion
of 1.2, where Claudius seems to have achieved complete success. Updike's
prose is, as always, a pleasure to read, and he seems to have been
challenged by his illustrious predecessor to create some especially fine
evocations of the Danish seasons (to my ears, I hastily add, since I've
not experienced them first hand).
I won't spoil the fun for those who've not read the novel to say more
about the plot, but there are lots of lovely teasers, and it provides
satisfyingly definite answers to such un-Hawkesian questions as "Did
Gertrude know about the murder?"
Coordinating Editor, Internet Shakespeare Editions