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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: January ::
Claiudius' Incestuous Marriage
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0115  Thursday, 23 January 2003

From:           David Friedberg <
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Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jan 2003 21:51:53 -0500
Subject:        Claiudius' Incestuous Marriage

Dear Colleagues,

I may have commented before that I doubted the Bible forbade the
marriage of a man with his dead brother's widow, and posited that the
proscription that is the underpinning of the story of Hamlet is to be
found in the Book of Common Prayer.  This Anglican document was
formulated with the story of the marriages and annulments of Henry VIII
in mind.  Such remarriage was not prohibited as far as I know in the
laws of Denmark or the laws of the Lutheran Church, but of course Hamlet
is a play about England in the seventeenth century, is it not?

I checked out the scriptures and found the following, courtesy of the
Landover Baptist Church:

Genesis 38:7-10

"And Er, Judah's first born, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and
the Lord slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's
wife and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that
the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto
his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he
should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased
the Lord: wherefore he slew him also"

Deuteronomy 25:5-10

"If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the
wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger; her husband's
brother shall go in unto her . . . And if the man like not to take his
brother's wife . . . then his brother's wife shall come unto him in the
presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot and spit in
his face . . . And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him
that hath his shoe loosed"

It is quite clear to me that Claudius was quite innocent in this matter,
behaving as the Lord wished.  I don't know if WS would have commented if
Claudius like Onan had spilled his seed on the ground.

As for Gertrude, I am not so sure. Her o'erhasty remarriage had
certainly saved the shoes with which he followed my poor father's body
etc etc  Even more thrift Horatio

David Friedberg

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