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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: January ::
Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0150  Wednesday, 29 January 2003

[1]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 09:46:06 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0142 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

[2]     From:   Martin Steward <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 16:52:53 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0142 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

[3]     From:   David Friedberg <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 14:59:54 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0118 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 09:46:06 -0500
Subject: 14.0142 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0142 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

Robin Hamilton <
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 > writes,

>Isn't there an elision here?  I thought the deceased-husband's-brother
>prohibition was canon law (both Catholic and Protestant) while
>no-profit-from-murder was (English) common law.

To quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia (old, public-domain edition):

One murdering a spouse to marry another cannot contract marriage with
this other;

*(1) when there was co-operation in the murder for the purpose of this
marriage,

*(2) when, without co-operation in the murder, adultery was committed by
them, and the murder committed for the sole purpose of their contracting
marriage.

("Sole purpose" is a little iffy in Claudius' case, as he also obtains
the crown, but I wouldn't want to be his lawyer.)

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 16:52:53 -0000
Subject: 14.0142 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0142 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

>But Claudius's brother did not die without a child, so this Scripture
>cannot be used as an attempt to justify Claudius's marriage.
>
>John Perry

Good point, considering that the eponymous protagonist in this play is
the child in question and that he spends a lot of time mortifying
(linguistically at any rate) his "too too sallied flesh".

martin

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Friedberg <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 14:59:54 -0500
Subject: 14.0118 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0118 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

Dear Colleagues

My rather light hearted comment drew a virtual avalanche of replies, all
of which I have read with delight

Many of the points made have were glancingly addressed in my preamble
and postamble

My comments are about the Biblical proscription and definition of incest
I really do not believe that Claudius is innocent of murder or
fratricide or regicide.  But remember he never had his day in Court (I
mean the US kind!) and never had the chance to hire Mr. Johnnie
Cochrane  But I will agree that Claudius had no legal right to the
throne, the electoral college notwithstanding

Did the laws of England, Denmark, Lutheranism or Catholicism apply or
was Hamlet C of E?

The Clown discusses the laws of Suicide very learnedly.  If you check
http://www.sourcetext.com/lawlibrary/guernsey/00.htm et seqq you will
find a great and illustrative treatise that Ophelia's burial was a
commentary on the Laws of England at the turn of the seventeenth century

Isn't et seqq a wonderfully academic abbreviation worthy of any
reference library?

In the absence of any clearer direction in the text I will believe that
Hamlet is set in England Wouldn't you agree?

I will try to respond to other points brought up

Edward Brown <
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 > writes,

>But see Leviticus 18:16 -- "Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of they
>brother's wife..." and Leviticus 20:21-- "And if a man shall take his
>brother's wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother's
>nakedness; they shall be childless." The latter verse was frequently
>cited by Henry himself as moving him to question the validity of his
>marriage to Katherine.

And

Don Bloom <
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 > writes,

>David Friedberg offers some worthy comments on the Gertrude-Claudius
>alliance but has left out the most important part.
>
>Thus saith Leviticus 20, 21:  " 'If a man marries his brother's wife, it
>is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be
>childless."
>
>If he will look up the Divorce Question, he will find that the Leviticus
>scripture had determinative importance to it, and that it led directly
>to the Reformation in England and the reign of Elizabeth I.

Well, Yes, Edward Brown, and Don Bloom, but "Uncovering the nakedness"
is not only sexual intercourse. And it refers to a wife of a living
brother.  To my mind it includes all forms of lewd and lascivious
behavior, from peeping up a skirt on up. Its an odd penalty, too.  They
shall be childless.  Can this not mean that any offspring shall be
legally regarded as those of the woman's husband?  It can be argued, as
I am doing that this segment does not refer to a widow  Claudius
certainly did dishonor his brother.  You and I as men of the world may
be quite sure that Gertrude bedded both brothers during Hamlet's
lifetime, but the text maddenly does not fully confirm this. We only
have the word of the Ghost, and his nature is always in doubt

Yes, Henry did plead this verse. But he and Catherine of Aragon had at
least two live born sons, both named Henry and entitled Duke of
Cornwall, as well as Mary who became Queen  He had to argue both sides
of the wager as it were, to be permitted to marry Arthur's widow and
then to be rid of the same woman.

As to the Divorce Question I believe that the determination had more to
do with international and papal politics than to an exact exegesis of
the original Hebrew and/or Aramaic

Carol Barton <
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 > writes,

>David, this is a gross misinterpretation of the scriptures you have
>read.  Claudius is his brother's MURDERER----and part of his motive is
>appropriating his brother's queen---this is both quite different from
>the Biblical injunction that a younger brother should marry his elder's
>widow, and quite different from Henry's situation, in that Arthur's
>illness lent credibility to Catherine's claim to virginity ---to
>unconsummated marriage--despite her husband's rumored and rather cadlike
>boast, when asked the morning after how the wedding night had gone, that
>he had "been in Spain." (She was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella,
>of Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria fame . . . a Spaniard.)
>
>Here, for example is the text of Leviticus 20.21: "And if a man shall
>take his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his
>brother's nakedness; they shall be childless" (A.V.)
>
>And here is a gloss of Deuteronomy 25:5-10, from _The Interpreter's
>One-Volume Commentary on the Bible_ as follows:
>
>"Levirate Marriage. When a married man dies without a son, the
>*husband's brother* (_levir_ in Latin -- the word 'levirate' has nothing
>to do with 'Levite'!) living on the same estate is expected to marry the
>widow. The *first son* born of the union is to take the *name* of the
>deceased man; any further offspring are presumably reckoned to the
>living brother . . . . [And therefore the firstborn son of Er would have
>"counted" as the son of Onan, per the quotation you cite below from
>Genesis 38.] The aim of levirate marriage was not primarily to provide
>for the widow since other means were available for that purpose, but
>rather (a) to secure the survival of the deceased's line (the only form
>of immortality known to ancient Israel) and (b) to keep in the family
>estate property which might otherwise be sold to pay debts. This is the
>only biblical stipulation of the practice, but it is presupposed in the
>account of Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38), and the story of Ruth and Boaz is
>based on an extension of it to the nearest consenting relative when no
>brother is available (Ruth 4:1-8) . . . ."
>
>Thus (as the colleague with whom I originally discussed this remarked)
>what had been an obligation for Jews became a sin for Christians.
>
>Hamlet is at least a pseudo-Christian (in that he is not Jewish, though
>he is not quite Catholic, and certainly not seventeenth-century C of E,
>either).
>
>No, Hamlet is NOT a play about the seventeenth century. Please check any
>standard collection (Arden or otherwise) for Shakespeare's sources.
>Saying he staged it because it had resonances for the seventeenth
>century (as Hamlet stages the Mousetrap because it contains parallels to
>what has gone on in the Danish court) is NOT the same thing as saying it
>is "about" either the court of Elizabeth I, or the court of James I.
>
>I print your whole post below because there is a good deal here that
>needs correction. I'd suggest a visit to your local reference librarian
>as soon as you can make one.

Carol I loved you post, but perhaps your reference to "Get thee to a
reference library" is a bit out of date!  With what I have in my own
study together with the internet I have access to a great deal if
information, perhaps more that in most reference libraries, at least
such as still exist. Your comment is unkind as my preambles have
suggested that  I am aware of many of the points that you raise and
disagree.  Allow me please to disagree without saying it is ignorance on
my part.

While on Levirate marriage let me quote myself from a different Board.
There is an orthodox Jewish custom of Gelitse and Get.

"Currently when an Orthodox widow wishes to remarry she may find that
she has to obtain permission from her late husband's brother  She has to
obtain a Jewish divorce or Get from a man she has never been married to,
in a process called gelitse. Otherwise her second marriage may not be
recognized by Halachic rabbis, and her children of the second marriage
will be mamserim or illegitimate and unable to inherit.  Reform,
Conservative, and Liberal Congregations may ignore this matter, but you
never know when the demands of more strict Orthodoxy may surface
Several women of my acquaintance have paid off their ex brother in laws
for a legal remarriage.  This really has nothing much to do with Hamlet,
but its fascinating where apparently idle speculation can lead."

John W. Kennedy <
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 > writes,

> Christianity has never accepted the Levirate Law (as it is known).  For
>that matter, it has customarily been discouraged within Judaism for a
>very long time.

Not so

Martin Steward <
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 > writes,

>But of course, there is the small matter of "Thou shalt not pour poison
>into thy brother's ear". It's difficult to justify this murderous
>covetousness (of one's brother's wife and throne) retrospectively in
>this way. That's like asking to be excused from the charge of murder
>because one gave one's victim a scripturally-endorsed Christian burial.

Touche

But no one to my knowledge has ever commented that no such poison was
known to the Elizabethans  Hardly known to us either, but perhaps
Botulinus toxin may do the trick

David

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