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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Hamlet's Family
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0125  Sunday, 21 January 2001

[1]     From:   Peterson-Kranz Karen <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Jan 2001 11:13:28 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0119 Hamlet's Family

[2]     From:   Pat Dolan <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Jan 2001 14:32:36 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.0119 Hamlet's Family


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peterson-Kranz Karen <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Jan 2001 11:13:28 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 12.0119 Hamlet's Family
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0119 Hamlet's Family

First, one should note that Stone's sociological profiling of early
modern family structures has been contested.  I, personally, find
*Family, Sex and Marriage* very interesting and useful; however, as
Stone himself admits, he derives conclusions from the necessarily small
sample of families and individuals who left written records that have
survived.

Having said that...yes, certainly a couple of spare male heirs as backup
would have been desirable for members of what Leonard Tennenhouse calls
the "community of blood" (*Power on Display*, 1986).  However, Hamlet's
nuclear family of origin would hardly be unique in its failure to
achieve that desirable goal, for any number of reasons (stillbirths,
infant mortality, inability on the part of either the old king or
Gertrude to effectively reproduce later in life, etc., etc.).

It doesn't seem so strange to me that Claudius would want to get rid of
Hamlet. Tennenhouse points out in the text cited above that Hamlet's
claim to the throne derives from his position as only son in a
patrilinear system, coupled with the "love of the distracted
multitude."  Claudius, on the other hand, by marrying Gertrude, can
claim the throne on matrilineal principles.  Also, like so many
courtiers, he wished -- and succeeded -- in marrying into a higher
circle of aristocratic power.  Yet his claim will be dodgy as long as
Hamlet is around.

If we play the "what if-speculation" game, it seems like part of
Claudius's master plan might have been to get rid of Hamlet, THEN find a
way of getting rid of Gertrude (who, for whatever reason, has, as you
noted, not had any subsequent sons), and then remarry a younger,
ostensibly more fertile woman (Ophelia?) who would hopefully bear a son
that would carry on the specifically Claudian house, rather than that of
the elder Hamlet.  And of course, if Claudius managed to eliminage
Gertrude while Hamlet was on his way to his death in England, he
wouldn't have to explain it to her at all.

Getting back to Lawrence Stone, the above is pretty cold blooded, but
that's a major part of Stone's argument: that in early modern families
mutual "affect" was pretty scarce on the ground.

Cheers,
Karen Peterson-Kranz

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Dolan <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Jan 2001 14:32:36 -0600
Subject: 12.0119 Hamlet's Family
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.0119 Hamlet's Family

>I am reading Professor Stone's book Family, Sex and Marriage, as a
>reference for my thesis. After reflecting on his discussion of the
>family structure, Hamlet's family seems very unusual for Shakespeare's
>England.

I've read in a couple of history articles (and I believe) that Stone
ought to be used with caution, especially by literary types. Maybe
widening your reading in social history will help with this problem.
Maybe some of those up on the historical literature will be able to
supply specific suggestions.

Patrick
 

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