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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Psychology of Gertrude
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2461  Thursday, 1 January 2004

[1]     From:   Bill Lloyd <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Dec 2003 09:07:10 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude

[2]     From:   Stephen C. Rose <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Dec 2003 07:06:56 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude

[3]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Dec 2003 11:59:46 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude

[4]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Dec 2003 12:07:56 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude

[5]     From:   Greg McSweeney <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Dec 2003 15:21:39 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Lloyd <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Dec 2003 09:07:10 EST
Subject: 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude

I believe that an FA Crit is someone who has been trained at Sweet Fanny
Adams College which is located in picturesque Nuffingham. There students
learn FA about anything.

It is only an inference from the text, and not a necessary one, that
Hamlet be referring to miniatures of his father and his uncle. It has
also been staged with large portraits of each on the chamber wall-- I
believe there's an engraving of Betterton gesturing at such. Or Hamlet
could be conjuring up images for Gertude's mind's eye-- Look on this [a
gesture to the left], and on this [a gesture to the right], which would
tie in with the hallucinatory nature of his supposed madness.

Bill Lloyd

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen C. Rose <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Dec 2003 07:06:56 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude

Annalisa is apposite I think.

The elder H is a successful warmonger and Claudius is crafty, murderous
and dissembling. Hamlet is most correct when he is trashing Denmark and
the fickleness of smiles.

I cannot believe that Gertrude was not attracted to Claudius prior to
the murder of the elder H. Nor even that C. was not merely ratcheting up
his hierarchical status but gaining a "legit" lover and helper.

It seems to me that G and C operate in synch and with great sympatico
style.  And that they are both worthy of Hamlet's scorn.

It is hard for me to tell if she is being honest with H in the
post-Polonius scene or simply creating some wiggle room to avoid being
similarly iced.

Finally, I believe C's brief final warning to G is perhaps the only
sincere caring note in his otherwise duplicitous dealings.

(I suppose his prayerful interlude will be cited as true penitence, but
I prefer to think of it as Shakespeare's acknowledgement that even
consummate criminals can have moments of self-transcendence.)

All the above subject to change! Best, S

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Dec 2003 11:59:46 -0600
Subject: 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude

 >Gertrude's fertility is a one-time wonder.

Ha!  Great line, even more so when you understand the behavior-genetic
psychology that it represents.

David Cohen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Dec 2003 12:07:56 -0600
Subject: 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude

 >. . . I'm no psychology expert (and I'm not
 >sure what FA Crits are, those who give critiques of the fine arts?) but
 >it seems obvious to me that a son would idolize his father . . .

I'm a psychologist and I doubt most sons-especially sons in this day and
age-idolize their father, if your criterion for idolatry is H's level of
idealization, which is a bit much.  Even in the plays, where is such
idealization: in Hotspur, in Prince Hal, even in Richard (III)
Gloucester?  Incidentally, I agree with you on this: "Just for the
record, I don't think G was in on the murder, nor do I believe she was
unfaithful to King Hamlet...but after he was dead she willingly turned
to the big strong man who was there to take charge, as he swept her off
in a haze of newly awakened sensuality, lust and passion!"

David Cohen

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Greg McSweeney <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Dec 2003 15:21:39 -0500
Subject: 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2455 Psychology of Gertrude

I teach _ Hamlet_ whenever I get the chance, and I'm always surprised
that on first reading, many students assume that Gertrude and Claudius
were engaged in an illicit affair before King Hamlet's death, and that
she was complicit in the King's murder. This is either not textual or at
worst ambiguous, and I see her marriage to Claudius as thematic or
structural, rather than part of the literal narrative. (The Fool's
disappearance from _Lear_ is similarly unexplained and dissatisfying,
and I think for the same reason.)

King Hamlet was a warrior; his solution to problems of foreign policy
was to assemble an army and attack. But just as his son is emblematic of
the modern intellect, so is Claudius; they both represent a break with
the pre-Renaissance model that the dead king embodied. In this sense,
Hamlet and his uncle are much more aligned than is the prince with his
father. The language of the play denies us a categorical answer to
Gertrude's culpability either in the murder or in the illicitness of her
relationship with Claudius; since Shakespeare created this ambiguity, we
must assume that he intended it. Therefore, our attention is diverted
from the literal to the symbolic: Gertrude is a transitional character.
She has been queen to a warlike, even tribal king, and now must fulfill
the same function in a marriage to a new kind of ruler, a master of
rhetoric whose triumphs result not from physical invasions, but rather
from relegating his dirty work to ambassadors and agents on a diplomatic
level--just as his nephew/son does.  This contributes to the Oedipal
reading of the play: the son is so unlike his father that the rivalry
simply never surfaced, but with the advent of the uncle as father, the
rivalry is between kind and kind, and can't be avoided.

Gertrude is unfairly accused, I think, of bovine docility, and any
murderous complicity on her part is simply unsupported in the text. She
doesn't fare well as a character because all we know of her is both
situationally and verbally local--she has no philosophical or universal
context. The worst that could be said of her, and even that
anachronistically, is that she lives in denial. Her first husband (we
assume he was the first) was a man of an age that is passing away; her
current husband is current in every sense: intellectual, sly,
articulate, and diplomatic--almost the doppelganger of her son. She
exists so that the closet scene can exist, so that we can enjoy the
irony of Hamlet extolling the virtues of his father while indicting the
man he so closely resembles.  Her motive for marrying Claudius is
structurally and thematically irrelevant, and so Shakespeare--with the
taste and concision of his maturity--rightly neglects to make it explicit.

Greg McSweeney

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