The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0273 Wednesday, 4 April 2007
 From: Jeffrey Jordan <
Date: Monday, 2 Apr 2007 15:08:40 -0500
Subj: Re: SHK 18.0264 Gertrude done her in?
 From: Cheryl Newton <
Date: Monday, 02 Apr 2007 16:30:00 -0400
Subj: Tending Ophelia
From: Jeffrey Jordan <
Date: Monday, 2 Apr 2007 15:08:40 -0500
Subject: 18.0264 Gertrude done her in?
Comment: Re: SHK 18.0264 Gertrude done her in?
>Jeffrey Jordan points out, agreeing with Hardy that
>>Gertrude is not even
>>Gertrude's is a facet of the Bard's imagination.
>However, he spends a great deal of his time discussing off-stage
>happenings as if they involved real people ...
The reason I took that approach, was on the specific point of
challenging those who think there's something "suspicious" about what
Shakespeare had his Gertrude say. In fact, there is not. The Bard's
'scenario' works, and works quite well, in the context of his times, and
the circumstances of the play. There's no good reason to question it.
>>The reason why Gertrude's speech exists in the play is to
>>inform the audience of the fact of the Ophelia character's
>he points out that there's a dramaturgical reason for some sort of
>speech or scene-the audience needs information. He could press the
>point further, though, by asking why the playwright wants Gertrude
>to be the informer, and why he (Shakespeare) has her speak those
>particular words-all, perhaps, ultimately unknowable, but all
>aspects of the dramaturgy of the play.
The obvious reason he used Gertrude is that she's the only woman
character available. That does narrow it down a little. Why do people
try to make such a huge mystery out of this? Gertrude is
*the*only*woman*character*available. That's the quick answer, and it's
right, of course. You imply it's "unknowable." Aren't people even
reading the character list for the play? Gertrude is "it," guys.
If you want more than that, I can give you more, though. Queen Gertrude
is symbolically appropriate to report Ophelia's death, because Queen
Gertrude is associated with St Gertrude of Nivelles, who is a patron of
the recently dead. The association of the Queen Gertrude character with
St Gertrude of N is intentional, from Shakespeare. It runs through the
This is what makes Hamlet's "rat" and "mouse" bits so appropriate when
he says them in Gertrude's Closet. St Gertrude of N is a patron against
rats and mice, and is typically depicted in artwork in association with
rats and mice. Further, a mouse is the first animal mentioned in the
play, and there's the 'Mousetrap' play, and so on.
St Gertrude of N is also a patron of gardeners. Notice that in the
Closet Scene Hamlet tells Gertrude not to put compost on the weeds.
And there's a Gardening concept, or motif, that runs through the play.
St Gertrude of N is also a patron of pilgrims. Notice that in Ophelia's
first "mad" appearance, she's looking for Gertrude, and the first thing
Ophelia does when she speaks to Gertrude is to sing a song cast in terms
of a pilgrimage.
It's a fair bet that the reason the Bard kept the Queen's name from the
old Amleth story was that he could use it as a nice touch in undertone,
for various concepts in the play. The recently dead. Mice. Gardening.
Pilgrims/travelers. All of that goes along with "Gertrude."
The feast day for St Gertrude of N is the same as the feast day for
Saint Patrick, March 17. Yes it is, by Saint Patrick, Horatio.
Shakespeare used Gertrude to report Ophelia's death because
1. She's the only woman character available, and
2. "Gertrude" is appropriate because St Gertrude of Nivelles, with whom
Gertrude is intentionally associated in the play, is a patron of the
Thus, "Gertrude," whose former husband recently died, reports the recent
death of Ophelia. (And the death of Polonius occurs in "Gertrude's"
room, while she's right there.)
There are some genuine mysteries the Bard included in the play, but this
isn't one of them. (Hamlet's nightmare IS one, and you're supposed to
figure that out. "Bad dreams." But not Gertrude & Ophelia.)
This is not proof Shakespeare was Catholic, by the way. St Gertrude of
Nivelles had a significant following in Europe in those days. She
wasn't at the level of St Francis, or St Benedict, etc, but she was
pretty well known. He could have known about her without being
Catholic. (St Gertrude of N is not to be confused with St Gertrude "The
Great.") Being Catholic would have helped, but was hardly mandatory,
for knowing about her.
"Gertrude" is a name from Old High German, by the way, and the "Ger-"
part means "spear." In the Q2 printing, 1604-5, in the Closet Scene,
the name in speech prefixes is printed as "Ger." There's a way to read
that as "Spear," part of the Bard's name. Just a bit of Shakespeare
trivia, for those who like it.
Want to know about Ophelia's flowers, too? It is not "unknowable."
In addition to the practicality of willow twigs to make wreaths, the
willow is a "sad" tree, symbolically. It symbolizes the sadness of
The crowflower is also known as Ragged Robin. "Robin" is Ophelia's
nickname for Hamlet. ("Bonnie sweet *Robin* is all my joy.") In
folklore, a crowflower under the pillow at night will cause one to
dream of his/her future mate. The crowflower tells us that Ophelia went
to "sleep" dreaming of her Robin, and if they had lived, Hamlet and
Ophelia would have married.
The nettle symbolizes slander, and bad luck, especially for a woman.
This tells us that Ophelia is "slandered" (as a suicide, by the sexton
Clown) and that she fell by bad luck.
The daisy traditionally symbolizes innocence and loyalty in love. The
daisy is a "sun" flower, also, which symbolizes heaven. It tells us
Ophelia goes to Heaven. Traditionally, if a fellow asked a lady for her
hand, she would symbolize affirmation by wearing a crown wreath of
daisies. Ophelia's crown wreath of daisies was especially for Hamlet,
her Robin, meaning that if given the chance, she would marry him. In
that way, the daisy confirms the crowflower meaning.
The long purple is the early purple orchid, also called 'dead man's
fingers.' The more usual modern alternate is 'dead man's hand.'
Shakespeare used the plural, men's, however. That is not an accident or
mistake. There are two relevant dead men in the play at this point, the
Ghost and Polonius. We're told that the hands of the Ghost and Polonius
pulled Ophelia down to her death, figuratively speaking. The early
purple orchid has rich symbolism that relates to the play, including
cuckoldry, reference to satyrs, etc, and it would take a long essay to
cover it. The early purple orchid is also known as the Devil's hand.
That's a little something about who, or what, the Ghost is, for those
who know enough about flowers.
The sexton Clown's suicide bit about Ophelia is "slander." Gertrude
reports the facts of Ophelia's death. Then we get to see this "good
Christian" clown spreading defamatory gossip on something of which he's
really totally ignorant. It would be nice if people would get that,
because it's still so relevant today. A loudmouthed "good Christian"
preaching and spreading false gossip against his neighbor, on a subject
he doesn't really know anything about. That's what's actually happening
in the play, and if you want "Shakespeare relevance," there it is. If
people would only understand it. Met any "good Christians" lately?
Want to know a hidden joke in the play? It's where the sexton tells the
other fellow to bring him a stoup of liquor. "Stoup doesn't only mean
"cup," it also has the definition of a basin for holy water. It's a
good bet Shakespeare knew that. With that knowledge of the word
"stoup," the sexton can be understood to be telling the fellow to bring
him a holy water basin full of liquor. The sexton can be understood as
saying, go into the church, dump the holy water out of the basin, and
bring me the basin filled with liquor, instead.
[Editor's Note: I have a difficult time following the above. Members
should make a concerted effort to be as direct and to the point as
possible. Just because a thread mentions Hamlet is not an invitation to
explore innumerable hidden meanings of one's pet theory of the play.
Further, my remarks about Gertrude's not being a person were intended to
convey my dissatisfaction with the direction the thread had taken and to
act as a implied plea that the thread should come to an end. If
discussion is not more focused, I will have to refuse to post any more
on the topic. -HMC]
From: Cheryl Newton <
Date: Monday, 02 Apr 2007 16:30:00 -0400
Subject: Tending Ophelia
From Jeffery Jordan:
> It would not have been realistic,
>in those days, to have an unrelated man, such as Horatio, supervising
>Ophelia. That was not done.
Claudius to Horatio, as Ophelia exits after her first mad scene: "Follow
her close. Give her good watch, I pray you."
Branagh then has Horatio called away from his caretaking duties to
receive Hamlet's letter. Depending how far we want to stretch the
thread, Horatio's carelessness could have lead to Ophelia's death.
In Campbell Scott's cut, Horatio is sent off to tend to Ophelia, & when
he and Hamlet happen upon the funeral, Horatio is obviously anxious
about her death. How do you tell your best friend, "Sorry, chum, but I
was the one who turned her lose."
From first scene to last scene Horatio defines the scope of the play.
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