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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: November ::
Re: Succession
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2698  Friday, 30 November 2001

[1]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 14:14:19 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

[2]     From:   Deborah Selden <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 09:21:05 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.2690 Succession

[3]     From:   John Ciccarelli <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 10:34:15 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Succession

[4]     From:   Alan Jones <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 16:31:39 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

[5]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 11:41:03 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

[6]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 18:10:17 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

[7]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 13:14:08 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

[8]     From:   Brad Berens <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 12:11:05 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

[9]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 13:37:23 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

[10]    From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 17:39:38 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

[11]    From:   Stephen Hazell <
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        Date:   Friday, 30 Nov 2001 10:42:19 +0800
        Subj:   Re: Succession

[12]    From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Friday, 30 Nov 2001 09:39:52 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 14:14:19 -0000
Subject: 12.2690 Succession
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

This goes back a long way in England.  In Anglo-Saxon times around the
7th century to 1066 the eldest son of the king was trained and educated
to take over from his father.  But if some other royal person figured he
was the better candidate then he would raise and army (public support)
and stake his claim.  Later in that period the Witan or Council of
Elders voted (yes, voted) for the royal most suitable to take on the
highly responsible task of a medieval King.  Sometimes they missed the
eldest son sometimes even choosing a woman.  After the 1066 invasion of
the Normans the new law came into being of Royal lineage bypassing the
age-old order of the Witan.  This was to guarantee that a Norman would
always be king as England had become a French colony.  So the answer is
not entirely clear, I'm afraid.  Richard III had the children killed out
of pure paranoia - they were no real threat.  And in any case Richmond
seemingly broke the law of Royal lineage by taking arms against an
anointed king, killing him and taking the crown himself.  In "real
politic" there are no rules.  Might is right.

SAM SMALL

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Deborah Selden <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 09:21:05 -0600
Subject: 12.2690 Succession
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.2690 Succession

It is my understanding that, traditionally, the king in Denmark was
elected by the nobles.

They did not follow primogeniture like the rest of Europe.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Ciccarelli <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 10:34:15 -0500
Subject:        Re: Succession

The line of succession (at least with the British Throne) is usually
that the throne goes to the eldest male son of the departed king not his
brother.  So the sons are considered prior to brothers.  The son must
also be of a legitimate marriage as well.  Its only when you have no
viable male heir that the daughters/siblings/cousins are considered even
above an illegitimate male heir.

The question as to the succession in Hamlet is an interesting one that
was posed in one of college classes.  The discussion never really
reached a consensus, however, we did touch on two scenarios:

The first was that my professor stated that Gertrude was actually the
heir to the Danish throne and not Old Hamlet.  He mentioned that this
wasn't in the play, however, came from the source story for Hamlet.  I
haven't seen any reference to this since then so I'm not sure if this is
true or not.  In any case, Gertrude could have ruled on her own and
thereby not requiring Hamlet to assume the throne.  Claudius then
slipping in through marriage.

The second regarded Hamlet's student status, being that he was either
too young or not legally ready to assume the throne.  The class then
posed that this would also be a motivation for the swift marriage.
Claudius needed to act quickly to marry Gertrude as to head off Hamlet's
coronation after the mourning period.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Jones <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 16:31:39 -0000
Subject: 12.2690 Succession
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

> As I understand it, the principle of succession is that the throne
> passes to the eldest surviving male heir. If he dies, then to *his*
> eldest male heir. But which is in line first, the brother(s) or sons? If
> the latter, then this is why Richard III needs to eliminate not only
> Clarence (George) but also the sons of Edward IV.
>
> How is it then, that upon Hamlet's (father) death, Claudius, and not the
> prince, becomes king? Is it by virtue of his marrying Gertrude? Isn't he
> king before his marriage?
>
> As I said, there must be an obvious answer to this, but I'm not getting
> it.

Under the current British system, the late King's brother doesn't come
into it unless there is no one, male or female, in the late King's
direct and legitimate bloodline. That is, a daughter takes precedence
over a brother.  When King George VI died in 1952, he had a younger
brother living (the Duke of Gloucester) as well as a younger sister and
an elder brother (the former King Edward VIII) who had forgone his claim
by abdicating. But his daughter Elizabeth succeeded him. Today, the
succession would pass to Prince Andrew only if his elder brother Charles
and his children all predeceased him, leaving no descendants. For the
Princess Royal, Anne, to succeed would now require a virtual massacre of
the Royal family.

"Hamlet" shows us a different system, once prevalent in England as
elsewhere, in which the new monarch is elected by the Council from the
wider Royal family. Clearly Claudius has convinced the Council that he
is a better bet, especially at a time of crisis when war threatens, than
the moody Prince. Hamlet himself thinks this was done by sharp practice
("popped in between th' election and my hopes"), as may well be so.
Claudius becomes King before his marriage to Gertrude: Hamlet tells us
so himself, if we assume, as I think we must, that C's election comes
almost immediately after King Hamlet's death ("but two months dead -
nay, not so much, not two ...a little month"). This sort of calculation
is admittedly rather like asking with Bradley "How many children had
Lady Macbeth?" but it all fits together tightly enough without need for
speculation. Gertrude is/was legally an irrelevance: the wife of the
late King receives respect and retains her title only as a courtesy.

Shakespeare's audience may, or may not, have known that in AD871 King
Alfred the Great was elected to succeed his brother Athelstan, evidently
because the brother's son was thought too young at 3 to succeed even
with a Regent, especially in a war-torn country. The traditionally
elective nature of Anglo-Saxon monarchy has an echo in the present
Coronation ceremonial.  Although the Heir Apparent becomes monarch at
the moment of his predecessor's death, the ceremony a year later
includes the Acclamation, when the Archbishop presents the monarch to
the Peers on each of the four sides of the throne, and they each time
shout "God save the King" as acknowledgement that they accept him. (In
Alfred's day, and until relatively modern times, the Coronation was less
elaborately stage-managed and was held within a few days of the actual
succession; so the acclamation was real rather than formal, confirming
the Council's choice.)

Alan Jones

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 11:41:03 -0500
Subject: 12.2690 Succession
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

Eduardo del Rio asked,

>How is it then, that upon Hamlet's (father) death, Claudius, and not the
>prince, becomes king? Is it by virtue of his marrying Gertrude? Isn't he
>king before his marriage?

Denmark, as represented by Shakespeare, is an elective monarchy that is
not subject to the rules of primogeniture that seemed "normal" to
Shakespeare and his audience. The nobility chose the new king (and it
can't have helped Hamlet's chances to choose to live in Wittenburg)
although a good riot may have had some impact, as when the commoners
call for Laertes to become king.

Dana Shilling

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 18:10:17 -0000
Subject: 12.2690 Succession
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

"How is it then, that upon Hamlet's (father) death, Claudius, and not
the prince, becomes king? Is it by virtue of his marrying Gertrude?
Isn't he king before his marriage?"

Denmark (as presented in the play) is, unlike England, an +elective+
monarchy -- all close kin are in the frame, and there is no automatic
primogenitive right.  Thus Claudius gets the rank ...

Robin Hamilton

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 13:14:08 -0500
Subject: 12.2690 Succession
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

> As I understand it, the principle of succession is that the throne
> passes to the eldest surviving male heir. If he dies, then to *his*
> eldest male heir. But which is in line first, the brother(s) or sons? If
> the latter, then this is why Richard III needs to eliminate not only
> Clarence (George) but also the sons of Edward IV.
>
> How is it then, that upon Hamlet's (father) death, Claudius, and not the
> prince, becomes king? Is it by virtue of his marrying Gertrude? Isn't he
> king before his marriage?

We've been through this before, but lets do it again for those who just
tuned in: The medieval Danish monarchy (unlike the English monarchy) was
elective.  While the dead king's eldest son had a natural advantage, his
election by the assembly of chieftains was by no means certain.
Shakespeare got this right -- he has Hamlet tell us that Claudius
"popp'd in between the election and my hopes" and he predicts at the end
that "the election lights on Fortinbras."  Given Claudius's statecraft
and Hamlet's indecisiveness and other flaws, I think the correct choice
was made.

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brad Berens <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 12:11:05 -0800
Subject: 12.2690 Succession
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

Hi everybody,

This is for Eduardo del Rio, one of many like responses, I expect.

As I understand it, primogeniture (first-born-male-heirness) works in
this way: once the crown is handed off to one branch of a family it
stays in that branch unless everybody dies.  So, with the current
British Royal Family, Andrew the Duke of York (Queen Elizabeth's younger
son) would only inherit if Charles and both of his sons (Harry and
William) died.

As to the HAMLET question: Denmark was not a hereditary monarchy in
Shakespeare's day (or at least in his source material).  The same is
true in the Scotland of MACBETH: Duncan names Malcolm Prince of
Cumberland and it is something of a surprise to Macbeth.

       Best wishes,
       Brad Berens, Ph.D.

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 13:37:23 -0800
Subject: 12.2690 Succession
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

>How is it then, that upon Hamlet's (father) death, Claudius, and not the
>prince, becomes king? Is it by virtue of his marrying Gertrude? Isn't he
>king before his marriage?

This has been discussed at fairly excruciating length by various.
(Elective versus hereditary, etc. in various periods in Denmark,
Elizabethan England, etc.)

Comes down to the old basic: whoever has the power and influence to take
the throne, takes it. Claudius apparently had that influence, and Hamlet
was out of the country.

The text doesn't tell us whether the coronation or the marriage came
first.

I highly recommend list member Tony Burton's recent two-part article in
Shakespeare Newsletter, on inheritance and succession. While it ventures
a bit into children-and-lady-Macbeth-land (who am I to talk?), its
analysis of Elizabethan inheritance law vis-a-vis Hamlet is remarkable.

Steve
http://princehamlet.com

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Nov 2001 17:39:38 -0500
Subject: 12.2690 Succession
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

On succession, one may note that King John, youngest brother of Richard
the Lion-hearted, has what appears to be a weaker legal claim to the
throne than his nephew Arthur, son of John's older brother Geoffrey. But
these succession controversies themselves suggest that successions were
not so firmly grounded in law as disputants would have hoped.

Could the law have differed as well among different nationalities,
Denmark and England?

Jack Heller

[11]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen Hazell <
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Date:           Friday, 30 Nov 2001 10:42:19 +0800
Subject:        Re: Succession

I'm sure there will be many respondents to Eduardo del Rio's question.
The difference is between clear rules of succession in Richard's England
(giving Richard an uninterrupted view of appropriate targets) and the
much less clear mix of descent and election in Hamlet's Denmark (giving
Claudius a legitimate opening).

'Hamlet' is famously ambiguous, and allows plenty of room for
justification of Claudius's "popping in" (whether to the throne or
Gertrude) when the old Hamlet dies while the young Hamlet is a student,
absent from Elsinore (and equally plenty of room for subjects to judge
both acts wrong).

The English rules of succession give precedence not only to the eldest
son but to his sons over his brothers. I believe there is current talk
in the UK - whether tested or, rather, whipped up by the press, I don't
know -  of the desirability of Charles stepping aside (should succession
ever loom close for him) in favour of his son - a partly-elective
monarchy is being invented? Abolitionists like me would like to simplify
the whole business radically.

Stephen Hazell
Singapore

[12]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Friday, 30 Nov 2001 09:39:52 -0000
Subject: 12.2690 Succession
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2690 Succession

Primogentiure requires succession by the eldest male child; younger
brothers are passed over in favour of that child's eldest male child. Of
course, it's not always as straightforward as this. Problems can arise
if their are no male progeny, for example - as was the case for Edward
VI. Then you get a "succession crisis" - broody Mary, etc. On what
grounds did either Mary Tudor or Elizabeth (illegitimate daughter of
Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn) succeed to the throne? Not through
primogenture, that's for sure. But then, Henry VII's accession after
Bosworth had very little to do with the concept as traditionally
defined, either. One of the reasons Shakespeare and other c.1600
playwrights were so interested by the concept was that the Tudors had
right royally screwed it up. So, Claudius becomes King through a mini
coup d'etat, and then legitimizes his position by marrying Gertrude. In
legal terms, this marriage does not make him King, but possession is
nine-tenths of the law. Henry VII got the throne in the same way,
legitimizing his claim by marrying Elizabeth of York soon afterwards.
James I, who was proud of his demonstably ancient lineage (the fashion
for genealogy returned with a vengeance during the reings of the first
Stuarts, with every man and his dog tracing his family back to Noah and
Abraham) restored some of the proper dignity to the concept; as did the
promising figure of his eldest son, Prince Henry. It was unfortunate
that he died so young, before he could succeed. Because he had not been
crowned, when James died in 1625, Charles was the eldest surviving son
and so he succeeded; this meant that all those people who so admired
Henry suddenly went off the idea of primogeniture again, eventually
choosing to chop off poor Charles's head. Charles's nemesis, Lord
Protector Oliver Cromwell, was urged to take on the office of King, but
refused; the assumption was that this would create a new royal dynasty
of Cromwells - and indeed, on his death in 1658 his son Richard became
Lord Protector for a couple of years before the short-lived republic
came to a halt with the restoration of Charles II; he was Charles I's
eldest son, and the official period of his reign is calculated, not from
1660, but from the death of his father in January 1649. Less than 30
years later, however, primogeniture is messed about with again in order
to boot out James II in favour of the Dutchman William of Orange
(through some genealogical sophistry on the part of the Convention
Parliament...).

So, in conclusion, I'm afraid there is no "obvious answer" to all this,
unless you count the one which says that the law is what the powerful
say it is - I'm not sure if that's "Shakespearean", exactly, but it is
certainly very "Tudor".

English politics, eh? But then, on what possible grounds did George W.
Bush get to be President of the United States of America...?

Yours by the grace of God,
m

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