The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1739 Friday, 5 September 2003
Date: Thursday, 4 Sep 2003 15:24:41 +0100
Subject: "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's Adultery
I have always believed (and wanted to believe) that Gertrude was not
guilty of adultery during the old King's life. All the arguments that I
have read to the contrary seemed to be based mostly around the Ghost's
use of the word "adulterate". In response to which I have always assumed
that if Gertrude were guilty (and Hamlet suspected her of so) Hamlet
would've made more of an issue of it throughout the play and especially
in the closet scene (phrases like "why, she would hang on him as if
increase of appetite had grown" seem to imply that she was as
subserviently and exclusively faithful to old Hamlet as she is to
But in the prayer scene, Claudius says that he killed his brother for
two reasons: the crown and the queen. If half of the reason for the
murder was that he would marry Gertrude it seems to me that it would be
unlikely that Claudius would do such an terrible thing unless he had at
the least a strong belief that Gertrude would be willing. It is not as
though Gertrude came as a bonus to his throne, he has clearly stated
that he planned to have her. Although I am aware that Gertrude is a
weak character who could be easily persuaded, it stills seems unlikely
that Claudius would be willing to risk so much on that assumption.
So I am forced to confront the fact that, even if Gertrude didn't
actually have sex with Claudius in the old king's lifetime, he must've
had some reasons for believing that he would get her after the murder.
I am new to the critics of Hamlet - does anyone know if this has been
commented on before?
Also, leaving aside the prize of Gertrude and looking just at the
throne... Claudius managed to get crowned, but he had two claims: his
relationship to the previous king and his current marriage to the Queen.
I am aware that the society that they are living in is a sort of
Denmark/England cross and not entirely clear as to the election process,
but it makes sense that with two different claims to the throne Claudius
has a better chance to steal it from Hamlet, than if he were simply the
Old King's brother.
If this is so, and Claudius had been depending on the second claim
occasioned by marrying Gertrude, it seems even more reason to believe
that he knew he could win her hand, as his entire reasoning for
murdering depended on it.
Does anyone know if this has been discussed before and what I can read
to further look at the logic of the election process?
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