The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1453 Thursday, 17 July 2003
From: Carol Barton <
Date: Friday, 11 Jul 2003 19:35:39 -0400
Subject: 14.1434 Re: Swear!
Comment: Re: SHK 14.1434 Re: Swear!
For Jay Feldman, in response to his comment that
"As to Gertrude's inability to see or hear the ghost I have no idea of
that cause; perhaps the ghost does not choose to further aggravate his
former wife's fighting soul. On the other hand, in the first encounter
the ghost gave Hamlet information no one else could provide and there
were witnesses to the visit. In the queen's chamber neither of these
conditions were met, perhaps indicating it was a symptom of madness, or
at the very least the result of the powerful and emotional dynamics of
Remember that the Ghost tells Hamlet, "Taint not thy mind, nor let thy
soul contrive / Against thy mother aught: leave her to heaven, / And to
those thorns that in her bosom lodge, / To prick and sting her . . ."
(1.5.85-88). His appearance would have the same effect on her that
Banquo's appearance has on Macbeth: she is not necessarily an accomplice
in her husband's murder, but clearly his "most seeming-virtuous queen"
was unfaithful to him with his brother: unlike true "virtue, as it never
will be moved, / Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven," her
"lust, though to a radiant angel link'd . . . / Sate[d] itself in
[their] celestial marriage bed, / And prey[ed] on garbage" (1.5.53-57).
That infidelity led directly to the Ghost's death, making her an
accessory before the fact to his murder whether she touched the vial of
poison or not. If you recall precedent revenge tragedies (particularly
the _Oresteia_), Gertrude's likely affirmation of her guilt upon seeing
the Ghost would require that Hamlet avenge his father's death on her as
he must on his uncle (in direct violation of the Decalogue: "Honor thy
father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the
earth")--uncomfortable for a Judeo-Christian poet to encourage,
regardless of his personal commitment to the CofE, and even
uncomfortable for Sophocles (hence the pursuit of Orestes halfway round
the globe by the Furies).
Instead, Shakespeare ties off that loose end rather neatly, by having
the victim enjoin the avenger to "leave her to heaven": Hamlet _can't_
in good faith harm a hair on Gertrude's head and be a good son to his
father. He must concentrate all of his wrath on his uncle.
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