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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: September ::
"My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's Adultery
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1783  Monday, 15 September 2003

[1]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Sep 2003 12:18:32 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[2]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Sep 2003 14:20:19 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[3]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Sep 2003 06:50:02 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[4]     From:   Mel Leventhal <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Sep 2003 10:44:53 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's Adulter

[5]     From:   John Ramsay <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Sep 2003 11:52:07 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1770 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[6]     From:   Graham Hall <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Sep 2003 17:39:45 +0000
        Subj:   Hamlet Houghmagandie

[7]     From:   Tom Pendleton <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Sep 2003 14:30:07 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[8]     From:   C. David Frankel <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Sep 2003 17:38:42 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[9]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Sep 2003 20:31:10 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1770 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[10]    From:   John V. Knapp <
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        Date:   Saturday, 13 Sep 2003 09:45:25 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Response to Re: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" -
Gertrude's Adultery


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Sep 2003 12:18:32 +0100
Subject: 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

>Thomas Larque in his otherwise very lucid explication of the divorce (or
>rather nullity) crisis, says rather flatly

>. . .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.

Don Bloom kindly credits me with work that is beyond my own skill, but
since he has some criticisms to make of the account of Henry VIII's
attempts to annul his marriage which I posted, it may be that I should
be relieved to be able to confirm that I didn't write it.  As I said in
my original posting, this section was taken from an early-20th century
legal book posted on the web.  This book was apparently written by an
expert in modern law, which might explain any lapse that Don found in
his understanding of Renaissance history or the nature of (in this case
contradictory) Biblical injunctions.

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

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Sep 2003 14:20:19 +0100
Subject: 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

As a slight addition to this topic, the marriages of Henry VIII and
Claudius aren't entirely parallel.  The marriage of Catherine to Arthur
was (retrospectively) annulled on the grounds of non-consummation, thus
allowing Henry to marry Catherine.  As the presence of Hamlet on-stage
demonstrates the consummation of his father's marriage, even this paltry
justification wouldn't apply to Claudius.

The issue wasn't *entirely* uncontentious when /Hamlet/ was staged -- to
put it shortly, if Claudius' marriage to Gertrude is anything other than
incestuous, then Elizabeth is illegitimate and has no right to the
throne.  While we can't be *entirely* certain how most of the
Elizabethan audience would have viewed the question, Elizabeth, at
least, would have been rooting for Hamlet.

Important for our sense of the play, it matters whether Hamlet is right
in viewing his mother's remarriage as incestuous, or whether the bulk of
the other characters are right in ignoring it.  Even leaving aside Saxo
Grammaticus, both canon and civil law of virtually all Catholic and
Protestant countries in the 16/17th centuries defined the marriage of a
brother to his deceased brother's wife as incestuous.  (I say "virtually
all", as one of the posts to this thread suggests that this wasn't true
of Lutheran congregations.)

Marriage to your dead brother's wife only became legal (in English civil
law) in [I think] 1906 -- one of Bernard Shaw's plays turns on how it
was legal earlier in Australia.  I can't think off-hand which one, but
it had something to do with gunpowder.

Saxo Grammaticus was an eleventh-century Icelandic bishop, and I suspect
that the still harping on incest that Clifford Stetner points to
reflects Saxo's own (11thC Catholic) views, rather than his
source-text.  While we can't go behind Saxo's Latin in terms of the
Amleth story, it *is* possible to juxtapose Saxo's version of the
Starkather tale with earlier ones (/Vikar's Saga/).  Extrapolating from
this, Saxo rewrote his material pretty considerably.

Old Hamlet is certainly a poor lorn Catholic in the play, but this has
nothing to do with incest and everything to do with purgatory -- a
dramatic necessity.

I wrote about this and related issues at greater length but with no more
scholarly acuity in "The Instability of /Hamlet/" (/Critical Survey/ 3
[1991], pp. 170-177).  I owe it to the journal's careful and anonymous
Reader of my text that I added a footnote focusing on the Henry
VIII/Claudius parallel.  I was accused (oh the shame, the chagrin!) of
getting this wrong.  I didn't -- I'd simply not dealt with it.  But it
*is* pertinent, and tacky as it is, my article is marginally less tacky
with the footnote added.  For which (to whomsoever) much thanks.

Oh, "adultery" -- I haven't checked this through, but I suspect that in
1600, "adultery" (like "sodomitical acts") had a wider reference than
today: *any* proscribed sexual activity, whether fornication, adultery,
incest or buggery, would fall within the sixteenth century semantic
remit of adultery/sodomitical activities.

Robin Hamilton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Sep 2003 06:50:02 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

Don Bloom, "The problem is not that Leviticus is not clear, but that so
is Deuteronomy 25, 5: "When brothers reside together, and one of them
dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married
outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to
her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband's
brother to her . . ."

Excuse me?  Deuteronomy, C 25, V 5, is very clear: in the KJV, it reads,
"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 take her to him to wife, and perform
the duty of an husband's brother unto her." And V 6: "And it shall be,
*that* the first-born which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his
brother *which* is dead...."

The point of the rest of the passage has a lot to do with heredity, as
this portion evokes.  But reread that first sentence and apply it to
Hamlet the play, and there is no doubt that the prohibition is set in
stone!  Hamlet is the child of the deceased father, and therefore the
what-to-do "if" he has no child does not apply.  And there is no doubt
that the passage invokes the primogenitor right of the eldest child, as
well.

It is nice to bring in history, and ponder how the theme might be
applied to Queen Elizabeth I's reign, but now you are outside the bounds
of the play Hamlet and in the intentionality of Will S as the
playwright.  In other words: because Hamlet the child existed--if
canonical law from Deuteronomy were invoked, and I am not saying it
should be or would have been by the audience in terms of the play --then
Claudius was barred from taking Gertrude as his Queen.  And Hamlet had
primogenitor rights to the throne, in accordance with canonical law as
expressed in this passage.

Of course Claudius had no respect for canonical law anyway, as the
lawless brother murdered his own sibling to gain something that was not
rightfully his by the law of the land and divine scripture.  And he
broke Divine law, one of the ten commandments, when he decided to kill
for ill-gotten gain.

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

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mel Leventhal
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Date:           Friday, 12 Sep 2003 10:44:53 EDT
Subject: 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

Re: "Incest"

The definition of incest, in the context under discussion, appears in
scholarly editions of Hamlet as a footnote to the text. See, for
example, both the Oxford and the Arden editions.

Mel Leventhal

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Ramsay <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Sep 2003 11:52:07 -0400
Subject: 14.1770 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1770 "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.

That's the explanation for 'incest' that I've lived with ever since I
first taught 'Hamlet', 'bout 35 years ago.

It's also referred to in IV-2 when Hamlet mockingly calls Claudius his
mother on the grounds that: 'Father and mother is man and wife, man and
wife is one flesh...'

If Shakespeare really did write everything with the
approval/suggestions/commands of Elizabeth I in mind (see 'Shakespeare
in Love', Shaw's 'Dark Lady') it is worth recalling that she was the
daughter of Ann Boleyn, Henry VIII's wife immediately after the
'incestuous' 1st marriage to his brother's widow, and at one time
declared illegitimate by Catholic authorities.

John Ramsay

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Hall <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Sep 2003 17:39:45 +0000
Subject:        Hamlet Houghmagandie

The depth of research about the extra-curricular activities of Gertrude
and Claudius has reached heights of truly breath taking inspiration. But
are we reaching altitudes where dear old "Elsie" Knight once hinted that
drama ceases to flourish? Elizabeth's courtiers, already cultivating the
future King's Men's patron and his court, would hardly have reeled at
the thought of a little bit of incestuous Danish hanky-panky. Doubtless
they had been legless enough times together in the Court of the Dane to
realize that the odd bit of Viking blood still galvanized Scandinavian
attitudes to life. And what of the penny stinkards?  Ecclesiastical
historicists, Danish scholars, Bible bashers and 16th century pedants
with a penchant for adulterous matters aside, an audience containing a
proportion of those who were down for a day at the stews, and some who
spent the odd afternoon sluicing their neighbour's wife, watching a play
about murder, mayhem, madness, suicide and spirits would undoubtedly
have found the addition of adultery/incest much to their liking and
would have queried its probity no more than the coast of Bohemia. The
Master Playwright knew this. Sex sells.... and illicit sex sells better.
Surely as a dramatist he was just adding some spice to his attempt to
bring home the bacon. The question as to its authenticity could wait
another century or two for the minutia sifters. Tomorrow was for bear
baiting and the execution of another damned traitor.

Yours,
Graham Hall

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Pendleton <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Sep 2003 14:30:07 -0400
Subject: 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

The matter of incest has been well covered I think, but a brief
observation: if Henry VIII's marriage to Katherine of Aragon wasn't
incestuous, Elizabeth was a bastard (as she was proclaimed from time to
time as the winds changed).

David Freiberg seems to want Polonius to be at least an accessory after
the fact of King Hamlet's murder.  But it doesn't look that way in the
text.  In 3.1 after Polonius's comment on sugaring over the devil
himself, Claudius has what all editors I think call an aside in which he
acknowledges his guilt.  And in 3.3, Polonius stops by on his way to
Gertrude's closet and exits just before Claudius's soliloquy in which he
tries unsuccessfully to repent his crime.  When Claudius acknowledges
his guilt, it is always in private, and in these two instances in
private from Polonius.  If Shakespeare wanted us to infer Polonius's
involvement, he did a poor job of it.

Tom Pendleton

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           C. David Frankel <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Sep 2003 17:38:42 -0400
Subject: 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

Don Bloom states:

>At the risk of an accusation of picking nits (ugly concept that), I would say that Leviticus
>18, 16 pretty clearly forbids marrying your sister-in-law: "You shall not uncover the nakedness >of your brother's wife; it is your brother's nakedness." At least, that is how it is
>customarily been interpreted, and how it served as the basis for 16th Century Anglican incest >proscriptions.

Doesn't this apply when the brothers are both alive? Marrying the widow
of your brother surely is a different situation.

cdf

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Sep 2003 20:31:10 -0400
Subject: 14.1770 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1770 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

A few years ago, two colleagues (John Leonard and Richard Shulman) and I
explored this issue. The results were as follows:

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 is glossed by _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....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 what had been an obligation for Jews became a sin for Christians.

Leviticus 20.21 enjoins an obligation that is directly opposite to that
enjoined by Deuteronomy. : "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.)

This is the text that posed an obstacle to Henry's first marriage. This
is the text that required the Papal dispensation. This is the text that
Henry came to believe had cast a blight on his supposedly incestuous
marriage (even after the birth of Princess Mary which, strictly
speaking, should have proved that the marriage was not "childless").

I re-quote an abridged version of Thomas Larque's message here so that
my response makes sense:

<snip>
 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.
<snip>

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.

Best,

Carol Barton

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John V. Knapp <
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Date:           Saturday, 13 Sep 2003 09:45:25 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Re: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" -
Comment:        Response to Re: SHK 14.1777 "My crown ... and my queen" -
Gertrude's Adultery

Geralyn --

And I thought love conquered all?  Here's a little bit of bad verse that
poses the central problem.

On marrying one's widow's sister

I fell in love while up above
With my widow's sister, Geralyn.
She was sweet, and I in love
And had no thoughts of sin.

But it was odd as I touched her bod,
For she could feel not me.
And though I cried across to God
He coldly said, "Listen thee"!

"I am good and do as I please;
I can smite thee sound and turn mouse to Moose.
But wanting me to help part her knees
I just can't do.  Why not call Zeus?"

So there I was, with love to win,
But unfelt, and unable to get her attention.
And then here comes ANOTHER Geralyn,
Rehearsing my grevious plight, so to mention

That though *I* stand up ramrod straight
She don't feel a thing!
Listen, SHAKSPER folk, standing at the pearly gate;
Loving her when you are dead ain't gonna make her sing.

You need not worry about Claudius's sin,
And all such mundane, nay bootless issues.
You may be up, but she is down, and less she's a ghastly twin,
Love is love, below or above, only when you touch her tissues.

Cheers,
JVK

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