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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: January ::
Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0127  Monday, 27 January 2003

[1]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Friday, 24 Jan 2003 11:02:06 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0118 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

[2]     From:   John Ramsay <
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        Date:   Friday, 24 Jan 2003 11:54:16 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0115 Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

[3]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Friday, 24 Jan 2003 12:03:45 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0118 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

[4]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Friday, 24 Jan 2003 11:31:00 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0118 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 24 Jan 2003 11:02:06 -0500
Subject: 14.0118 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0118 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

L. Swilley <
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 > writes,

>Have I missed something here?  Claudius' marriage to his brother's wife
>is forbidden above all by the fact of his having killed her husband to
>marry her. (That was part of his motive for the murder is stated in
>Claudius' confessional soliloquy.)  That being the motive for the
>murder, marriage with this widow can never be either licit or valid.

Yes, this is also true (though it is a point of canon law that most
people are unaware of).

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Ramsay <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 24 Jan 2003 11:54:16 -0500
Subject: 14.0115 Claudius' Incestuous Marriage
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0115 Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

>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

Henry VIII's marriage/divorce with his brother's widow is covered in the
play/movie 'A Man for All Seasons.'

Includes the two contradictory biblical passages, Deuteronomy 25 and
Leviticus 18, and the fact that the Pope gave Henry a dispensation to
marry, but then Henry wanted to dispense with the dispensation.

John Ramsay

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 24 Jan 2003 12:03:45 -0500
Subject: 14.0118 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0118 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

January 23 was rich in postings that must surely have explained to the
satisfaction of any academic committee or appellate court judge, why
Claudius's marriage to Gertrude was culpable, and what might be said in
justification or excuse.  (All have rightly ignored the ghost's view of
the matter; it is a viewpoint to be weighed and a complication, not a
solution to the problem.) Yet as readers, we must be prepared to
understand even those plays that support a point of view that violates
religious doctrine or statutory law, or shocks the sensibilities of its
original audience.  Outside authority does not necessarily reflect the
values of the play.

But audience understanding and reaction aside -- admittedly a
fascinating study and a very large "aside" -- the most convincing
opinion on the rightness of the marriage comes from Claudius himself
who, sensing clearly the failure of his act 3, scene 3 attempt to pray
for forgiveness, declares that forgiveness would require him to undo or
surrender the benefits obtained by his crime: "My crown, mine own
ambition, and my queen."  The marriage is, therefore, "wrong" and even
sinful within the moral world of the play.

The play, I submit, embodies a morality that precedes all those moral
expressions which are merely secular or sectarian.  It is gratifying of
course, if your religion and your laws -- or a play you happen to be
studying -- all support the moral views you hold, but a society
organized to embody and enforce the views of some will surely offend
against the views of others.  And the tragic effect of a play so
organized will be unintelligible (as "Hamlet" is not) to those who hold
to different views.

One familiar aspect of Shakespeare's greatness is that his world
transcends the narrow confines of political borders and confessions of
faith.  "Hamlet" makes it clear to heathens and anarchists alike that
this particular marriage is wrong, whether or not they know of or care
about either incest or the Judaeo-Christian bible.

Tony B

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 24 Jan 2003 11:31:00 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 14.0118 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0118 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

   Claudius: Thy loving father, Hamlet.

   Hamlet: My mother: father and mother is man and
   wife, man and wife is one flesh, and so, my mother.
   (IV. iii. 47-49).

If man and wife is considered one flesh in the union of marriage, then
to sleep with your brother's wife is incest. Since Hamlet's cover is
blown, he feels free to openly tell the King his sins and that he can
seek Polonius in the other place himself. As many of the diligent posts
have said, the views of incest and marital proprieties have changed
dramatically over the past 4 centuries. Even in our age, marrying your
brother's wife so quickly after his sudden death would be pretty shifty.

Brian Willis

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