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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: September ::
"My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's Adultery
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1748  Monday, 8 September 2003

[1]     From:   Jeremy Fiebig <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Sep 2003 08:44:39 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[2]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Sep 2003 14:29:53 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's Adultery

[3]     From:   David Friedberg <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Sep 2003 11:03:02 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[4]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Sep 2003 11:35:35 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[5]     From:   Tom Pendleton <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Sep 2003 15:21:25 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[6]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Sunday, 7 Sep 2003 04:50:36 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jeremy Fiebig <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Sep 2003 08:44:39 -0400
Subject: 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

Emma:

A minor point.  You say:

>But in the prayer scene, Claudius says that he killed his brother for
>two reasons: the crown and the queen.

In fact, Claudius says, "My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen..."
his "effects" for which he committed the murder of the elder Hamlet.
Absent from your desire that Gertrude was faithful to Hamlet, which is
more likely (if either)?  That Claudius wanted to become king because of
jealousy ("crown"?), because of his own "ambition" or because he loved
Gertrude and the kingship was a necessary burden of that love?

Jeremy Fiebig

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Sep 2003 14:29:53 +0100
Subject: "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's Adultery
Comment:        SHK 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's Adultery

"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."

Most of the problems that Emma Cooper struggles with would not be
problems if she gave up the peculiar notion that Shakespeare wrote plays
by 1) devising characters of psychological super-realism and then 2)
setting them free on a stage to see how they would react.

I should imagine that most writers start by having some kind of theme or
idea that they want to explore, and then build their story and its
characters around that idea.

Like lots of Shakespeare's plays, Hamlet deals with the themes of
political power and family relationships; and as so often, those plays
and their characters are presented in such a way as to emphasize the
meeting points of those themes.

Given this perspective on the play, it would be difficult to imagine how
the character of Claudius could conceive of having the crown without
also having its queen. In so many ways, the play insistently suggests
that it is important that we recognise that the two are as one, and ask
ourselves what this is supposed to mean.

All attempts to explain that meaning through the "psychology" of the
characters or wholly-imagined "back stories" miss the point. That's why
they cause exegetical problems - neither Shakespeare nor the context in
which he lived would have anticipated such odd approaches to his work.
Of course, this is not to say that those problems might not be
interesting in themselves - "Where are the peasants in King Lear?" etc.

An analogy:

It wouldn't serve much purpose to respond to Solomon's solution to the
problem of one baby and two prostitutes by pointing out that his bluff
might easily have been called by the deceitful prostitute's acting more
sensibly than she did. Exhaustive investigation into how he could have
known that she wouldn't act in this way (and thereby make him look
stupid) would, I suspect, reveal very little of any substance.

"Does anyone know if this has been discussed before and what I can read
to further look at the logic of the election process?"

The issue was discussed quite extensively on SHAKSPER last year - so the
archive would be an easy starting point.

m

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Friedberg <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Sep 2003 11:03:02 -0400
Subject: 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

No Emma, I am sorry but this is Victorian thinking, not Elizabethan. In
Victoria's day they thought that respectable married ladies don't have a
bit on the side; in the reign of either Elizabeth they know/knew that
they might.

There are many phrases in that first speech of the Ghost that emphasize
that Old Hamlet knew of Gertrude's adultery.  That is assuming that the
Ghost is the soul of the old King.

Time is of the essence, as comments like <Brief let me be> [ he aint
brief] and <the glowworm shows the matin to be nigh.>  He has come to
impart something extra.  Some  real news to his son, who he thinks may
need an extra little spur.

Line 113 tells us what his son thought of the message

 Ham.  O most pernicious woman!

Line 113 shows that Gertrude's adultery during her husband's lifetime
was news to Hamlet.  He already knew the marriage was incestuous, by the
Canon law and by the Book of Common Prayer of 1660, if not by Danish nor
American law.

Cheers,
David Friedberg

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Sep 2003 11:35:35 EDT
Subject: 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

Dear Emma,

You'll note that the Ghost not only refers to Claudius as "incestuous,"
but also as "adulterate" (1.5.41). Under the rules of affinity, one
could commit incest with a deceased brother's wife. But one can only
commit adultery with her during the life of her husband; according to
the OT, a husband's marriage to his wife ends at the moment of her
death; a wife's marriage to her husband ends at the moment he's buried.

So, Gertrude is unequivocally guilty of having sexual relations with
Claudius before the burial of Old Hamlet and, I think it likely, during
his lifetime. Indeed, she had sexual relations with Old Hamlet before
she married him. Which is why Hamlet is illegitimate and did not succeed
to the crown at the moment of Old Hamlet's death; illegitimates could
not inherit or succeed.

Hope this helps.

Steve

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Pendleton <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Sep 2003 15:21:25 -0400
Subject: 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

I don't think Gertrude's hanging on King Hamlet means subservience and
fidelity; the text relates it to sexual appetite, and curiously make the
old king a sex object like Cleopatra, who also makes hungry where most
she satisfies.

One would guess that Claudius's attaining the crown had to be helped by
his marriage to Gertrude, but the play clearly makes the Danish monarchy
elective, not hereditary. Presumably, Claudius would have been a natural
candidate, and beyond this, we hear nothing about why he, not his
nephew, succeeded.  Hamlet himself raises the issue only in the last
scene, and I suspect it didn't occur as an issue to Shakespeare until
then.

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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 >
Date:           Sunday, 7 Sep 2003 04:50:36 -0400
Subject: 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1739 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

I dealt with your question in my short play, Unforced Accord, which is
the proposal scene between Claudius and Gertrude.

I agree that Gertrude never committed adultery. She was consumed with
guilt for merely violating custom by her "o'erhasty marriage." And the
ghost never had the guts to outright accuse her, vindictive ass that he
was. My opinion is that if he coulda, he woulda.

So what did Claudius mean by "my crown, mine own ambition, and my
queen"? My approach was to ask, Why now? He had been the king's brother
for how long? Loved the queen, how long?

Shakespeare plays with the multiple meanings of the verbs to act, to do,
to play throughout Hamlet. Critics are always consumed with why Hamlet
took so long to act. But Claudius?

The aethling system, as I vaguely understand it, was that a leader was
chosen, elected, from among the aethlings, nobles. The virtue of it was
that this guaranteed that the king had the support of the majority of
the nobles he ruled. Primogeniture, which threw the kingship to the
eldest son, or daughter in default of a son, left kingdoms open to minor
or idiot rule and resulting civil war.

There was no way Claudius could be totally sure of his election unless
he was involved in a conspiracy, and there is absolutely no evidence of
that.

But what would happen if he waited? Hamlet would be old enough to rule.
Hamlet was at university. Bookish. Untried. Young.

In Unforced Accord, Claudius wins the election because of the war
threatening on the border. He wins Gertrude, who knew he was in love
with her, because her choices as a widow are so bleak. The Gertrude we
meet at the beginning of Hamlet is a woman pretending, acting, as if
nothing has changed. Her life is going on exactly as before. She isn't
even in mourning though her first husband is only four months dead.

So the answer is that Claudius couldn't be sure of the kingship OR the
queen. He took a risk because the moment had come when he must act or
lose any hope at all.

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