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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: September ::
"My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's Adultery
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1794  Tuesday, 16 September 2003

[1]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Sep 2003 09:13:46 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1783 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

[2]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 16 Sep 2003 03:46:58 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1783 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Sep 2003 09:13:46 -0500
Subject: 14.1783 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1783 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

Bill Arnold is quite right when he notes:

>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.

Well, I was referring Arthur-Katherine-Henry, not Old
Hamlet-Gertrude-Claudius, so I wasn't concerned with the applicability
of Deuteronomy to the play. But I disagree with his succeeding
paragraph.

>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.

I am not "pondering," or don't think of myself as doing so. I am trying
to establish, as best I can (and for my own understanding), the context
of *Hamlet*. That context involved the very dangerous question of the
reigning queen's legitimacy, and of the claim of the Catholic (and
exiled) Queen of Scotland to her throne, only recently ended with that
queen's execution.  E.R. could be very touchy on personal matters, and
had at her disposal a ferocious secret police and a handy venue for
secret trial.

To my mind, any interpretation of this (or any) play has to take into
account these historical facts before it can be evaluated on its
literary / philosophical merits. This account does not necessarily have
to square with mine for me to consider it, but it has to be present. As
I hinted in my previous post, I have seen a cheap-jack work of alleged
scholarship circulating on this play that was apparently put together by
people completely ignorant of both the canonical question of incest and
scripture and the historical question of ER's legitimacy and right to
the throne. I can argue with Bill about it because he obviously does
know, though he views its importance differently, but the others aren't
worth my time.

Cheers,
 don

PS: I have a question about "primogenitor rights" as well, but let that
pass.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Sep 2003 03:46:58 +0100
Subject: 14.1783 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1783 "My crown ... and my queen" - Gertrude's
Adultery

Effectively, the Leviticus/Deuteronomy divergence is pretty-much
irrelevant for 16th/17thC Christian Western Europe -- (virtually) all
Christian states (civil law) and congregations (canon law) concurred
that the marriage of a brother to a deceased brother's wife came within
the prohibited degrees of consanguinity.

[If the original marriage was valid.  There was a way round this -- and
as usual it's the rich what gets the pleasure, it's the poor what gets
the blame: "prove" the original marriage was invalid (as Henry did, in
order to divorce Catherine, then later recanted in order to marry Anne
Boleyn) and you're quids in.]

We may find this absurd (Shaw certainly did) -- the punters at the Globe
[as Graham Hall suggests] may have found it equally absurd.  I find many
of the static and moving traffic laws of the United Kingdom today pretty
absurd, but I usually observe them, as I'm reluctant to (unnecessarily)
collect points on my driving licence.

One person who, in 1601, certainly +wouldn't+ have found this absurd was
Elizabeth I.  James VI and I, by default, concurred -- it was over 300
years before the law was repealed.  In Britain.

Indeed -- I don't think this has come up yet -- I *think* the marriage
of a godmother to a godson, or godfather to god-daughter, was equally
prohibited.  The theological justification behind this entire area was
that sacramental bonds had an equivalent status to blood ties -- your
sister-by-marriage was equally as much your sister as your
sister-by-blood.

Although *effectively* blood incest and sacramental incest did have
different resonances, even then -- contrast  /Hamlet/ to /'Tis Pity
She's A Whore/.

Divorce laws (I wonder why?) seem to have a peculiar fascination for
writers -- consider Michael Henchard's [unfounded] assumption (in Thomas
Hardy's /The Mayor of Casterbridge/) that selling his wife at auction
constituted an act of divorce.

(It's admittedly a little anachronistic to draw attention to the
Essex/Howard divorce fiasco, which took place in 1613 and also turned on
a "non-consummated marriage" {though with no incestuous overtones this
time} -- but I do rather wonder how performances of /Hamlet/ played that
year ... )

As to whether a marriage is a marriage whether or not it is consummated:
legally it is (and remains a legal obstruction) regardless.  However, as
non-consummation was one of the grounds for the *annulment* of marriages
in the 16th and 17th centuries, both Henry VIII and Frances Howard could
exploit this (legal and theological) loophole and "unmarry" -- Henry
(first) unmarrying Arthur from Catherine of Aragon, Frances Howard
unmarrying herself from Essex.

Henry later (writing-off whatever he'd paid to Pope Julius earlier)
decided that Arthur's marriage to Catherine *had* been valid, and
(regardless of the issue of his [Henry's] later [re]marriage to
Catherine -- Mary Tudor) his to Catherine was thus incestuous and as a
result invalid.  Leaving him free to marry Anne Boleyn.

One of the ostensible reasons for whose execution (Henry having by then
learned that execution was cheaper than divorce) was that she had
committed incest with her brother George.

:-(

Oh, incidentally, there's a +further+ legal spin to this -- from English
Common [sic ***] Law.  A murderer could not legitimately benefit from an
act of murder -- all else aside, Macbeth (as is Claudius) is a King No
King as he has murdered Duncan;  Claudius' marriage to Gertrude would be
[even in the narrowest terms of English Common Law] invalid, as it is
the direct consequence of an act of murder performed by Claudius.

Just a thought.

Robin Hamilton

[*** I take Common Law -- defined by tradition and precedent -- to be a
sub-set of Civil Law, which would include both Common Law and Statute
Law. If I'm wrong here, I'm sure someone will stand up to correct me.

<g>

R]

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