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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: September ::
"My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's Adultery
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1770  Thursday, 11 September 2003

[1]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Sep 2003 12:23:21 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1765 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[2]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Sep 2003 06:08:32 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1765 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[3]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Sep 2003 06:35:56 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1765 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[4]     From:   David Friedberg <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Sep 2003 14:01:23 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1765 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 Sep 2003 12:23:21 +0100
Subject: 14.1765 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1765 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

David Cohen says that "given that incest involves close genetic
relation, e.g., father-daughter, mother-son, brother-sister ... there is
nothing incestuous in any alleged adulterous relationship with
Claudus".  Cohen is certainly right in the modern world (at least in
Britain), but Renaissance rules about consanguinity were a little
different, and full of ambiguity.

The point of view that Hamlet and the Ghost take in "Hamlet" was a valid
one, that marriage to another individual made their relatives your
relatives - so that your "father-in-law" became a second father to you,
your "brother-in-law" another brother.  By this standard marrying your
own brother (albeit brother by marriage), as Gertrude does, would be
incest.  The ambiguity comes from contradictory passages in the Bible
that alternately forbid and encourage men to marry their brother's widow
(the aim in the latter case being to provide children for the dead
brother, if he was childless at his death).  Henry VIII married his
brother's widow on the precedent of one such passage (but had to get
special permission - a dispensation - from the Pope, due to the
otherwise too close relationship with his brother's wife) and then
repeatedly quoted another contradictory passage when he wanted to
divorce her.

All this has been written from memory, so some of the facts and
terminology may be a bit hazy, but I think the Book of Common Prayer had
a detailed section on those who are forbidden to marry, which may be of
interest here.

As I can't lay my hand to the Book of Common Prayer immediately, and
can't remember exactly what it says, an alternative source covering this
ground is what seems to be an early-20th century legal book reprinted
online (see http://www.cin.org/users/james/ebooks/nullity/null_5.htm)
which has a section on "Where the parties were not free to marry each
other", and discusses first consanguinity (blood-relations of the kind
that David Cohen considers incest) and then affinity (relations by
marriage, also apparently considered an incestuous impediment to
marriage in this text).

The section on affinity reads:

***

By marriage (consummated or not) each partner becomes related to the
other's blood-relations, though of course the relations of one are not
related to the relations of the other. But the impediment of affinity
(New York law knows nothing of it) is absolute only in the line of
ascent and descent: a man cannot marry his dead wife's mother or
grandmother or her daughter or grand-daughter. In the collateral line
the impediment extends only as far as first cousins--a man cannot marry
his dead wife's sister, aunt, niece, or first cousin. (All these
impediments are listed for the man, they apply to the same degrees of
relationship for the woman.)

For both blood-relationship and relationship by marriage, dispensations
can be obtained. In the direct line of consanguinity they are never
granted; a dispensation for the marriage of an uncle and niece would be
granted only for very strong reasons. Dispensations are granted from the
impediment of affinity in the collateral line, but rarely in the direct
line--if a man wanted to marry his dead wife's daughter by a previous
marriage, for instance.

The impediment of affinity gave rise to the most important nullity case
in English history. Henry VIII, whatever his limitations as a theologian
may have been, was not so ill- instructed as to think that he could
secure a divorce. What he sought was a decree of nullity, on the ground
that he had married his deceased brother's wife, Katherine of Aragon.[6]
Pope Julius II had given a dispensation for Henry's marriage. There was
a good deal of argument, of which the relevance is not obvious (since
affinity arises from marriage whether consummated or not) as to whether
the marriage with Arthur had ever been consummated--Katherine said it
had not. In any case Henry saw that his only chance was to show that
Julius II's dispensation did not remedy the impediment. His first idea
was to deny the Pope's power to give a dispensation in such a case. The
Church can legislate on marriage, provided the God- given nature of
marriage is not infringed; the Pope can dispense, therefore, from any
impediment that is not of divine institution. To show that Julius had no
power to grant this dispensation, Henry would have had to show that
marriage with a deceased brother's wife was contrary to divine law.
Obviously it is not; and his only hope, therefore, was to show that the
dispensation was invalid, through some irregularity of form. This too
failed. How Henry to cut that small knot cut a greater one the whole
world knows.

***

Interestingly another section on this list of reasons that people should
not be able to marry each other, describes "Crimen" - a confusing Latin
term that they refuse to translate, since any translation would
apparently be misleading.  The upshot of this obstacle is that if one
party has united with another to plot against the life of their husband
or wife, any subsequent marriage between the plotters would not be
allowed.  This might be of great importance if, as some people suspect,
Gertrude was involved in the plot to kill her husband, although I see no
evidence for this within the play myself.

Thomas Larque.
"Shakespeare and His Critics"
http://shakespearean.org.uk

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 Sep 2003 06:08:32 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 14.1765 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1765 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

Abigail Quart writes, "BTW, isn't it cute how Ghosty doesn't have a
problem appearing to the soldiers, and Horatio as well as Hamlet, but
Gertrude? Nuh uh again."

So, what is your point here?  Are we to guess?  Grebanier covered this
extensively.  Are you suggesting more "feminist spin" and we should
interpret the Ghost of Hamlet's father a sexist, who only appears to
men?

Have you seen the movie "E.T."?  Do you have a problem with a drama
which has an other-worldly character?  The ghost is in the play for
precisely the reasons Hamlet the character outlines in his opening
speech about good and bad spirits.  It is a foil to Claudius, the
character who took him out of the play in a secret-murder scene before
the action of the play unfolds.

I wonder why you still gloss over and ignore the canonical theme of the
play, to kill is a bad thing and to set it right is a good thing.  This
question of law and order in western culture goes back to canonical law
which underpins judicial law, and the kingship issues of Elizabethan
times.

Hamlet is not a modern feminist play you can play around with.  If you
wish to make sense of the play, stop being so glib.  Or write a book
called Treason with a conservative feminist spin.

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 10 Sep 2003 06:35:56 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 14.1765 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1765 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

Colin Cox writes, "Neither Hamlet nor Malcolm, upon the deaths of their
respective fathers, are automatic choices for the throne.  Shakespeare
very clearly points this out in Macbeth by having Duncan declare Malcolm
the Prince of Cumberland and having Macbeth realize at that moment he is
going to have to take the throne by force.  Hamlet's agony over the
rapid marriage of his mother is as much to do with his lost opportunity
for election to the throne as it is for any grieving over his dad."

I have no doubt I am focusing on the grand theme of Hamlet and Macbeth
when I compare them.  I am focused upon the opening speech of Hamlet on
the role of the Ghost, and the ultimate question underlying this play
and Macbeth later.  And that is that Claudius erred when he took the
throne by force and Macbeth erred when he decided with Lady Macbeth, in
front of the audience, that, in order to become king, he would, as you
put it, "have to take the throne by force."

My point: Will S made it abundantly clear to Elizabethans, that the act
of using force to become king by killing a king was bad, and the spirit
of Claudius and the spirit of Macbeth were doomed when their bodies
turned to dust, in the vernacular of the spiritual view underlying both
plays, by their respective treacherous acts.  Treason is not a good
thing, in Will S's eyes.

In my reading of both plays: the question of what happens to good and
bad spirits trumps other themes in the play as the ultimate moral an
audience member would take away from his night in the theatre.  The
discussion in the coffee houses and the pubs afterward would be, what
did you think of the play?  And the final resolve of most viewers would
be that even though The Good Prince died, at least The Evil Usurper was
off the throne, and Right was returned to the Kingdom.

In other words: the State trumps the Citizens, every time; people come
and go, but the citizens expect and hope their state survives and their
descendants have a better life because of their sacrifices.  At least
that seems to be the major theme of most Will S plays.

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Friedberg <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 Sep 2003 14:01:23 -0400
Subject: 14.1765 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1765 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

Abigail Quart wrote:

Incest is adultery? Sorry. She's getting it on with his brother! And
she's enjoying it! And he's only been dead for four months and, did he
mention, his brother murdered him? She's having a good time with his
murderer! She's a widow! She's supposed to enter a convent (a real one,
not a whorehouse) and spend her days in perpetual prayer for his soul
which she would do if she really cared. Instead she's getting "pricked."

Dear Abigail is in a white heat at David's remarks  on adultery. Sounds
almost Biblical.

In a calmer mood she would have known that it was more like four weeks
than four months when Gertrude wed Claudius.  And that there was a
murder.  Hamlet was primarily upset by the rapidity of the marriage,
only secondarily by her lasciviousness.  Many young men resent their
parents sexuality.  Hamlet seems prurient about his mother's foreplay
with Claudius.

And why should she not enjoy it with either brother, in or out of either
marriage? She is not a Victorian woman!

Let me add that a convent is a place for nuns and always has been, but a
nunnery truly was an Elizabethan slang whorehouse.

And by the way, remember the o'erhasty marriage?  That o'er is a pun on
whore, which was pronounced the same.

Others have commented upon the incest. I tried to discuss this earlier
this year but was shot down by Bill Arnold who [sic]ed me for leaving
out full stops. Screwing your brother's wife is both adultery and incest
while your brother is alive.  Marrying your brothers widow is regarded
as incest in the play by characters named Hamlet but not by others.  It
would have been considered incest by Shakespeare's audience. It was
against ecclesiastical law, but that is Law of Man and not Law of God,
and so could be put aside by man..

In 1660 under Archbishop Parker the book of Common Prayer was made the
law of England, and such a marriage is forbidden because of the earlier
goings on with Arthur, Henry and Catherine of Aragon, and other little
things that led to the separation of the Church of England from the
Church of Rome.. So that marriage is incestuous in the United Kingdom,
but not in any of the United States nor in the Lutheran system nor
remarkably in Denmark.  True incest like mother/son or brother/sister
does bad things to the germ  line, but this one does not.

Remember it is also illegal to marry your widow's sister.

Alas poor Ghost.  He seems to be the only Catholic in a stage full of
Lutherans.  And he was the Catholic King of a Lutheran country at that.

David Friedberg

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