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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: January ::
Good Marriages in Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0010  Thursday, 7 January 2010

[1] From:   Nicholas Clary <
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     Date:   Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 10:31:44 -0500
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

[2] From:   Conrad Geller <
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     Date:   Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 11:58:22 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

[3] From:   Justin Alexander <
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     Date:   Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 14:08:57 -0600
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

[4] From:   Donald Bloom <
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     Date:   Monday, 28 Dec 2009 10:40:12 -0600
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

[5] From:   David Basch <
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     Date:   Monday, 28 Dec 2009 13:32:12 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

[6] From:   John W Kennedy <
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     Date:   Wednesday, 30 Dec 2009 00:07:30 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

[7] From:   Hardy M. Cook <
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     Date:   Thursday, January 07, 2010
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Nicholas Clary <
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Date:       Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 10:31:44 -0500
Subject: 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

John Updike's novel Gertrude and Claudius, which Jeet Heer describes as 
"a prequel to Hamlet [that tells] the story of the Prince of Denmark's 
mother and step-father in the years leading up to the play," sees this 
match as more attractive than the one that Hamlet idealizes in his 
father's marriage. Heer notes that Updike took his inspiration Kenneth 
Branagh's adaption of the play, "which Updike enjoyed." See 
http://sanseverything.wordpress.com/2008/01/19/updikes-hamlet-trilogy/.

Cheers,
Nick Clary

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Conrad Geller <
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Date:       Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 11:58:22 -0500
Subject: 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

How about the Capulets? I know Mr. Capulet is beastly to his daughter, 
but the interchange between husband and wife shows a comfortable 
relationship.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Justin Alexander <
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Date:       Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 14:08:57 -0600
Subject: 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

 >Directors take Hamlet's view surprisingly often, too. The Jude Law
 >production gives us a Gertrude who turns a cold shoulder to Claudius
 >after the closet scene, indeed shrinks away from his touch. But there's
 >nothing in the play to justify that  --  nothing to suggest that she
 >has accepted Hamlet's view of her marriage. (Naturally, he has cleft
 >her heart in twain by saying what he does; he hates her husband, he
 >doesn't understand her situation, he's so harsh and unforgiving... Isn't
 >there some relief in her 'alas, he's mad' after Hamlet sees the Ghost
 >in her room?)

This is actually one of the truly fascinating character enigmas in 
Shakespeare: There's nothing that definitively points to Gertrude 
accepting Hamlet's word. But, on the other hand, there's nothing that 
definitively points the other way, either. Either is an interesting 
choice and either is completely supported by the text.

 >The only couple I recall playing this are Julie Christie and Derek 
Jacobi in
 >the Branagh film. Their Claudius and Gertrude were clearly in love. They
 >didn't hit you in the eye with it -- nothing like the vulgar couple in 
the
 >Nicole Williamson production, who were necking in public, having
 >(foolishly, in my opinion) been directed to carry out Hamlet's fantasies.
 >Their subtle performances nevertheless let us see the gap between
 >Hamlet's perception of their relationship, and their own. Surely that's
 >more interesting, and more what the playwright intended.

However, Branagh's production does embrace the idea that Gertrude is 
persuaded (at least in part) by Hamlet in the closet sequence. The full 
text of the film reveals the true extent of just how much Hamlet tells 
her (not everything, but a lot), which helps make it clear why she would 
believe him. (Many productions cut the scene dramatically, leaving 
mostly Hamlet's relationship-oriented complaints.) And the clefting of 
Christie's soul is made very clear in a later scene when Claudius calls 
for her to come and she instead turns away, leaving Claudius heartbroken 
in her wake (which is supported quite well by the repetition in the 
text, which otherwise has no explanation).

But I do strongly agree with your assessment that, at the beginning of 
the play, they're both truly in love with each other. That's the place 
from which the clefting of Gertrude's heart (whether it happens slowly 
from the closet sequence or abruptly when she realizes who's poisoned 
her) has the most dramatic impact.

And it's also the place where Claudius' arc is, in my opinion, most 
compelling: Claudius wants to take his brother's identity: He wants the 
crown, he wants his wife, and he even wants his son. And slowly, one by 
one, he's forced to sacrifice each to keep the others until, finally, 
he's left with nothing at all.

Justin Alexander
American Shakespeare Repertory
http://www.american-shakespeare.com

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Donald Bloom <
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Date:       Monday, 28 Dec 2009 10:40:12 -0600
Subject: 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

Lynn Brenner (q.v.) comments on the critics who describe the Macbeths as 
"having the best marriage in the plays," and goes on to wonder if 
"anyone [has] ever nominated Claudius and Gertrude as runners-up?"

Not knowing which critics she is basing her comments on, I don't know 
whom I am agreeing or disagreeing with, or about what. But I would not 
hold up the Macbeths as an ideal marriage. The problem, of course, is 
defining what set of standards you are using to judge a marriage. That 
is, if you use as a defining characteristic of a good marriage that the 
partners provide mutual support in attaining a common goal, does it 
matter if the goal is evil? Does it matter if one partner is the more 
fully committed to the evil and has to browbeat the other into going 
along at the crisis? Does it matter that they end up with one a fringe 
psychopath and the other a clinically depressed suicide?

Similar questions could be asked about Brenner's nominees, although you 
would first have to agree on what were the facts about the marriage, 
always a difficult matter, and perhaps impossible if you dismiss out of 
hand all of Hamlet's statements about it. We have, for example, no 
information about her marriage to his father except his memories, a few 
hints from the ghost (whose reliability and, indeed, reality have been 
questioned), and her responses to his tirade during the Bedroom Scene. 
We do have (as Brenner points out) the intensity of Claudius's passion 
for her, but the question remains if, as with the Macbeths, the result 
of that passion is a vicious murder.

[The tragedy of Gertrude has, obviously much potential. Where is 
Sophocles when we need him?]

As always, the most determinative factor in our interpretation of the 
facts, and even in our ability to see the facts, resides in our 
predispositions. If you dislike Hamlet (and a fair number do), then you 
will distrust everything he says, and be inclined to exonerate those 
whom he attacks. If you like him (as I do), then will you will generally 
trust what he says and hate those whom he hates for their murderousness 
and corruption. (Such a view does not preclude the recognition that 
before the end he becomes rather like his enemy, a saddening fact of the 
tragedy.)

Again, while my predisposition in regard to the comedies tends to be 
highly romantic, causing me to dislike and reject interpretations 
(written or staged) that make them dark, cynical and morally ambiguous, 
my attitude toward the tragedies is very different. Neither the 
intensity of the love that any two people may have for each other, nor 
any result in apparently happy marriage, affects my judgment of their 
moral stature. The essential fact for me is that Claudius is a vicious 
killer; how much he loves Gertrude makes no difference.

Gertrude is merely weak, a woman who dishonors her dead husband and 
blinds herself to the possibility that her second husband murdered her 
first. She acts not only emotionally but thoughtlessly: not stupidly, 
that is, but without using such brainpower as she has. She accepts a 
line of little resistance and pays a heavy price for it. How much she 
may love Claudius is likewise irrelevant.

I realize that my position here is highly moralistic, but that is the 
point at which I start all consideration of tragedy. Who does what to 
whom? How? Why? The rest can then be fit in and argued over.

Cheers,
don

PS. An exemplary case is that of "Julius Caesar." The essential fact is 
that a group of aristocrats butcher an unarmed and unsuspecting man, who 
is the good friend and mentor of one of them. Now you may accept the 
idea that they were protecting the ancient liberties of the Roman 
republic, and that this murder was justified and necessary. Or you may 
instead hold that they were protecting the ancient privileges of a 
corrupt, tyrannical and despicable aristocracy, and had no justification 
except greed for the power they were losing. Now whether or not you 
accept political assassination as justifiable, and, if so, when, the 
situation of the friend is different from those who are merely jealous 
enemies of the murdered man, since he also violates the sanctity of his 
friendship and the trust that accompanies it. The question is very 
interesting, but can't be discussed clearly until the facts about 
murder, justifiable homicide, politics and friendship are agreed on.

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Basch <
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Date:       Monday, 28 Dec 2009 13:32:12 -0500
Subject: 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

Lynn Brenner makes some astute observations about successful marriages 
in Shakespeare's work, particularly, the apparently splendid 
relationship that Claudius and Gertrude enjoy.

I take note of this because, as Lynn focuses on their marriage, the 
character of Hamlet emerges here in higher relief than in other 
situations.  Hamlet shows by his reactions he is a person who is 
altogether over righteous.  He is straitlaced and proper to a fault, as 
he describes the love of Gertrude and Claudius from his eyes, that of a 
priggish, stunted adolescent, as Lynn observes.

This situation is important in revealing Hamlet's character flaw of 
"over righteousnes" that interferes with his capacity to act with wisdom 
to the opportunities and dangers that confront him. Thus, his perpetual 
over righteousness gets the better of him in wanting the perfect 
punishment for Claudius. He therefore fails to act when he has the 
opportunity to mete out justice to Claudius, enabling Claudius to live 
and turn the tables on him.

My view of this play has been that Shakespeare is dramatizing the 
precepts of the Bible's Ecclesiastes. Hamlet's character is an 
illustration of how the over righteousness that Ecclesiastes warns of 
leads Hamlet to his destruction, just as Ecclesiastes predicts.

We can see further illustrations of the precepts of Ecclesiastes in the 
insights on the marriage that Lynn brings. Ecclesiastes 7:26 observes, 
"And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and 
nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; 
but the sinner shall be taken by her." (By the by, this is not applied 
to "all women" but to certain women.)

If we apply this teaching to the play, Gertrude is cast as one who, 
though married to King Hamlet, had been carelessly flirtatious with 
Claudius. She has encouraged his attentions as a recreation and a relief 
from the cool relationship that she has with the remote, older king. The 
attentions she received are reward enough for her and, undoubtedly, not 
meant to be harmful as she thoughtlessly indulges herself in receiving them.

But when this ingredient is added to the temptations already in orbit in 
the life of Claudius, it becomes an explosive mixture. Claudius, a 
sinner, is already violating the Tenth Commandment not to covet. He 
covets his brother's throne and the power and perqs it offers. Gertrude 
adds to the irresistible spice. From this is born in Claudius's sinful 
heart a plot to put King Hamlet out of the way. Not only does it get 
Claudius the woman that has ensnared his heart but she is also the means 
for him to attain the throne ahead of young Hamlet. The play opens with 
a display of Claudius's triumph, his gusto in wielding power with 
Gertrude by his side.

Claudius had gotten away with the perfect crime, that is, except for the 
intercession of heaven via the ghost of King Hamlet. Through this 
visitation, Shakespeare allows for the operations of the supernatural in 
human affairs. These are forces regularly debunked by rationalist minds 
but yet, since these factors are reported on by witnesses, some reliable 
and some not, they remain nettlesome, ambiguous factors. At least, 
intimations of such supernatural things do happen in various 
ways-coincidences, signs, dreams, hallucinations, etc.-to a point that, 
though ambiguous, they become part of the thread of existence. This is 
part of the world of the play, as Hamlet wrestles with the meaning of 
his father's ghostly visitation.

The play reverberates with themes of the working of universal justice as 
this is "roughly" applied to the fate of the characters in the play. 
Justice is seen to be "roughly" enacted because innocent Ophelia is a 
victim of the machinations of others. But, then, this too happens in 
accordance with Ecclesiastes, who ruefully notes in 8:14 that in this 
life "there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of 
the wicked."

David Basch

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       John W Kennedy <
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Date:       Wednesday, 30 Dec 2009 00:07:30 -0500
Subject: 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

Lynn Brenner <
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 >

 >The Macbeths are often described as having the best marriage in the plays.

Some argue for (saving the spat over Anne's marriage) the Pages.

 >Directors take Hamlet's view surprisingly often, too. The Jude Law 
production
 >gives us a Gertrude who turns a cold shoulder to Claudius after the 
closet
 >scene, indeed shrinks away from his touch.

Hamlet has invoked the dreadful possibility of murder by then, and 
reminded her of her incest. At that particular point, I would expect her 
to be a little shy of Claudius. I agree with your general point, but I 
don't see how she can completely reject Hamlet's words while her ears 
are burning with them without seeming unnecessarily unsympathetic -- 
which will throw off her later scenes. Nay, worse, it makes her lines in 
the closet scene seem hypocritical. Let her go back to Claudius later, 
by all means, but do not let her be unmoved.

[7]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:       Thursday, January 07, 2010
Subject: 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0624 Good Marriages in Shakespeare

When I taught Senior Seminar, I tried to give my students a sense how 
they might go about writing a theory-based seminar paper, in the hopes 
of trying to prepare any who might go on to graduate school in English.

What I would do would be to either begin with a work the student enjoyed 
and then through questioning try to determine a theoretical framework 
that might be used as a perspective from which to "read" the "text". Or 
I would begin with a theoretical approach and find a text appropriate to 
that sort of investigation.

I would encourage students then to develop a "checklist" from the 
theoretical perspective that could be used as the basis for reading 
their text. After these steps, the seminar paper would practically write 
itself:

What evidence is found in the text for points 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of 
the checklist?

What point has the most evidence and why?

What point the least or none and why?

The introduction would setup and justify the theoretical approach as a 
means for "reading" the "text."

The conclusions could be based upon any of the above, suggesting 
possibilities for further avenues of study. Often discussions of points 
for which no evidence could be found would lead to the most fruitful 
conclusions, conclusions that would go far past Q.E.D. restatements of 
what they had already said and that would be several or many paragraphs 
long since these conclusions would be investigations themselves into the 
reasons for which "this text" from "this period" would not have anything 
to say about particular points from "this selected theoretical checklist."

I was proud of my approach because it encouraged students to "read" a 
"text" from a perspective rather than to recycle what others had said 
previously. Thus, as a "reading" rather than an "interpretation", they 
were often writing their first genuinely "original" paper, in that it 
was offering a READING of a TEXT (in most cases, a reading that had 
never been attempted previousl) and not attempting to justify itself as 
"the one and only" INTERPRETATION of a "literary work's" MEANING. 
Furthermore, its introduction could often run as much as 20, 30, or 40 
percent of the entire paper's length, setting up the theoretical 
underpinnings of the approach, at times not even mentioning the title of 
the "text" until the checklist had been developed and used as the basis 
for the thesis statement, which was simply

OPEN THESIS: "ABC" is a legitimate way to read this text because . . .  or

CLOSED THESIS: "ABC" is a legitimate way to read this text using these 
[include points from checklist] because . . .

This long recitation is prologue to mentioning that one of the most 
interesting papers I received following this method was about the 
Macbeth's marriage that used for its checklist the EIGHT Characteristics 
of a Good Modern Marriage based upon Dr. Phil's or Dr. Ruth's or Judge 
Wapner's or some other "pop" psychological/cultural handbook to a good 
or happy modern marriage.

What great fun I had leading my students through the steps of this 
approach, using as outrageous a source for their checklist as could be 
justified.

Hardy M. Cook, Ph.D.
Professor of English (Retired)

* Oh, what a brilliant teacher I sometimes could be and how much I,  at 
times, miss teaching, especially when I had the opportunity to introduce 
bright majors to such methods and approaches, rather than to being 
forced to teach service courses like Technical Communications, which I 
could make about as much fun as possible with such a subject -- I just, 
however, could no longer put up with grading all of the assignments that 
I would make in these service courses as I was suffering from 
excruciating chronic pain and with a mind being whose short-term memory 
was being rotted away by the strongest pain medications that were 
available.

PS: If anyone is interested in trying this approach, somewhere I have a 
more detailed description of what I did that I would be glad, if I can 
find it, to send to anyone who writes me at 
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  a copy 
-- During my four decades of teaching, I developed some really terrific 
materials that I feel are a shame to let go to waste. I had better stop 
here before I make a cheap shot about teachers who have never gotten 
over teaching as they had been taught by those using the methodology of 
the New Critics.

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