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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Psychology of Gertrude
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0026  Tuesday, 6 January 2004

[1]     From:   Hardy M. Cook <
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        Date:   Tuesday, January 06, 2004
        Subj:   Correction

[2]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Monday, 5 Jan 2004 07:57:26 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.2473 Psychology of Gertrude

[3]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Monday, 5 Jan 2004 10:31:24 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.2473 Psychology of Gertrude

[4]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Monday, 5 Jan 2004 17:49:28 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2473 Psychology of Gertrude

[5]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Monday, 5 Jan 2004 20:17:30 -0600
        Subj:   Re: Psychology of Gertrude

[6]     From:   Tony Burton <
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 >
        Date:   Monday, January 05, 2004 1:43 PM
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2473 Psychology of Gertrude


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:           Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Subject:        Correction

Yet another apology. Yesterday, I did not format correctly Frank
Whigham's posting in the Psychology of Gertrude thread. Below is the
text as it should have appeared.

From:           Frank Whigham <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 02 Jan 2004 17:33:35 -0600
Subject: 14.2466 Psychology of Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2466 Psychology of Gertrude

 >Though some have tried hard to defend Gertrude's virtues, it's perfectly
 >clear from the text that she had intercourse with Claudius while she was
 >married to Old Hamlet.

 >The Ghost describes Claudius as "that incestuous, that adulterate beast"
 >(1.5.42). Now, one may commit incest with a dead brother's wife (viz.
 >Henry VIII's troubled conscience) ... but one cannot commit adultery
 >with a brother's wife unless the brother is still alive (or at least
 >unburied). A wife's marriage to her husband does not end until the
 >husband is buried (whereas the husband's marriage to the wife ends at
 >the moment of her death).

Not quite perfectly clear, it seems to me.

(1) What we would regard as fetishistic husbandly possessiveness was
pretty common at the time. I see no reason to think that the sometimes
weirdly narcissistic ghost might not regard Gertrude's remarriage to
anyone as betrayal of her obligation to him, never mind to his brother.
To see their marriage as betraying him may be technically illogical
(since he is dead), but it fits easily with the cuckoldry fetish then so
common (and so present in the younger Hamlet's makeup).

(2) To deflect the blame for sexual betrayal onto the third party, and
away from the (here, nominally) betraying spouse, is an emotional
commonplace. One's own choice of the betraying spouse is thus not
brought into question.

(3) I've always wondered about the idea that "adulterate" might intermix
with some of the meanings we attach to "promiscuous": i.e., mixings. OED
has ("of things") "corrupted by base intermixture."

(4) Had Shakespeare wanted to be clear about the adultery, he could
easily have been so; he chose not to (witness the long-standing
debates). The epistemological obscurities are surely part of his aims,
whatever those might be.

(5) On the other hand, how this issue relates to Gertrude's sense of her
own "black and grained spots" is a very interesting matter. What exactly
might she mean by the phrase?

Frank Whigham

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Monday, 5 Jan 2004 07:57:26 -0600
Subject: 14.2473 Psychology of Gertrude
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.2473 Psychology of Gertrude

Dana Wilson writes,

"Obviously, actors become actors because they have gigantic egos and
they always want the best lines and the most lines, and they go out and
get their parts by any means necessary . . ."

I find this not only not obvious, but not true. Actors become actors
because they have a gift for it, and this gift drives them. Not only are
other performing artists (like musicians, singers and dancers) much the
same in this "driven-ness," but creative artists as well. And, like all
artists, they are very vulnerable on the matter of their art. Being so,
they want approval -- applause, money, billing, the best parts.

Now it is true that some of them have "gigantic egos" but then so do
some computer geeks and car salesmen and everybody else. It is more
noticeable among performing artists because the more successful they
become the more vulnerable they are, but the more successful they are,
the more noticeable what they do. Nevertheless, even among the prima
donnas, most, if not all, of what seems to be egotism, is really
insecurity and the fear of failure.

Cheers,
don

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Monday, 5 Jan 2004 10:31:24 -0500
Subject: 14.2473 Psychology of Gertrude
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.2473 Psychology of Gertrude

"Black and grained spots"?? The widow married her husband's brother
within four months of the funeral. Her mourning was, shall we say,
truncated? For a conventional girl, and Gertrude never seems anything
else, that's a pretty black and grained set of damned spots.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Monday, 5 Jan 2004 17:49:28 -0800
Subject: 14.2473 Psychology of Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2473 Psychology of Gertrude

Susan St. John <
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 > wrote,

 >I can easily imagine Claudius and Gertrude in a similar sort of scene as
 >that between RIII and Anne, perhaps without quite so much hatred on
 >Gertrude's part.

I can also imagine Ophelia consoling Hamlet in his grief, one thing
leading another, and nature taking its course....

Frank Whigham <
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 > wrote,

 >(3) I've always wondered about the idea that "adulterate" might intermix
 >with some of the meanings we attach to "promiscuous": i.e., mixings. OED
 >has ("of things") "corrupted by base intermixture."

This connects nicely with the "dram of eale" passage, only 100 lines
distant.

Steve
http://princehamlet.com

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Monday, 5 Jan 2004 20:17:30 -0600
Subject:        Re: Psychology of Gertrude

 >In response to David Cohen's comment, Richard of Gloucester demonstrates
 >a good deal of loving respect and grief for his father, Richard Duke of
 >York--perhaps sufficient to qualify as idealization.  Note 3 Henry VI,
 >2.1.10-20 (ending "Methinks 'tis prize enough to be his son"). In the
 >same scene, see Richard's speeches at 79-88 and 91-94; in 3.2, his lines
 >at 114-16; in 2.4, lines 1-4; in 2.6, lines 46-51.  Even in Richard III,
 >he speaks in the same tonalities in 1.3, 173-180, and even for a moment
 >during the wooing of Lady Anne--1.2.151-66.  On the other hand, he
 >doesn't get along that well with his mother.
 >
 >Tom Pendleton

Yes, I have gone back to those lines, and you are right. Richard's
comments do suggest idealization, if not idolatry-not mere self-serving
hyperbole. Still, don't you agree that, aside from Hamlet and Richard,
there is precious little of this sort of thing in Shakespeare-the sort
of thing that isn't perfunctory (idealizing comments about Edward III),
personal (love expressed by Prince Hal for his dying father; by
Cymbeline's adopted boys for their adopted father Belarius), or
political (the Bastard of King John).  Where else?

David Cohen

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Monday, January 05, 2004 1:43 PM
Subject: 14.2473 Psychology of Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2473 Psychology of Gertrude

The discussion of Gertrude's problematic adultery with Claudius during
King Hamlet's life is, in my humble opinion, contaminated with modern
attitudes, preoccupations, and narrowly literal reading habits that do
not ring true.  Surely, an Elizabethan/Jacobean audience would have
understood adultery far more flexibly than we know it -- I'm thinking of
the familiar legal context, as a ground for divorce -- so as to embrace
the specifically Christian new testament biblical sense of Matthew, v,
28: "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed
adultery already in his heart."  The book of Matthew was among the more
frequently visited subjects of chapter-by-chapter close scrutiny,
expatiation, and moralization in weekly sermons throughout England.

And for the Elizabethan scholarly, Lactantius (Inst. Div.) held that
"The mind is guilty of adultery even if it merely pictures to itself a
vision of carnal pleasure."

In other words, "adulterate" served to express the idea that Claudius
had planned for some time before he murdered his brother, to wed and bed
Gertrude.  And that is very much the point of my articles in The
Shakespeare Bulletin a few years back, of Hamlet's "prophetic soul"
remark, and why his explanation of the plot of The Murder of Gonzago
included the murtderer getting the love of his victim's widow.  The
point being that the murderer's (Claudius's) motive was the economic one
of acquiring his victim's property, and an essential element for his
plan was to marry the widow.  Thus, the ghost's charge of adultery was a
way of saying the whole catastrophe (to Hamlet) -- father's death and
mother's remarriage -- was envisioned by CLaudius well before the
events, and carried out in accordance with that preconceived vision.
And of course, the fact that Claudius's driving motive was economic does
not in any way negate the possibility of his having had lustful
intentiions toward Gertrude, although it certainly  diminishes their
primacy.  (He tells Laertes he loves her, but we don't have to believe
his words, given the circumstances under which they were spoken.)

I see nothing in the text of Hamlet to justify the suggestion that
Gertrude and Claudius were married (and presumably enjoying sexual
intimacies) before the old king was buried.  If anything, Hamlet's
remark that the funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the
marriage tables suggests that events unfolded the other way round, as if
Shakespeare arranged the sequence of events so as to exclude rather than
imply any suspicion of irregularity on that score.  Not knowing about
the adultery-if sex-before-burial rule, I accept the fact of its
accuracy and applicability to sovereigns, for the purpose of this
discussion.

Tony Burton

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