The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0601  Monday, 14 December 2009

From:       Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Saturday, 12 Dec 2009 01:33:20 -0500
Subject: 20.0594 Jude Law Hamlet
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0594 Jude Law Hamlet

I disagree with that part of Aaron Azlant's analysis which contends that 
Claudius is an alcoholic. I know that it is a common view, and the lines 
Aaron cites are consistent with it. But they are equally consistent with 
a man who enjoys his drink, in line with the custom of the country, but 
is not overwhelmed by it. Of all the major characters in the play 
(Horatio excepted, is he is regarded as a major character), Claudius is 
the only one who has his wits about him at all times, even, I would 
argue, at the end of The Mousetrap performance.

There is one character who I think should be seen as an alcoholic: 
Gertrude. Consider that drunkenness explains much of her conduct, or 
lack thereof. Most especially, consider Hamlet's diatribe against drink, 
  a Danish custom of which he disapproves even though he is both "native 
here*AND* to the manner born." The lawyer in me demands that we give 
significance to both statements; there is no reason to think they are 
redundant. So, if Hamlet is "born" to alcoholism, who is his alcoholic 
parent?  There is no reason to think that he regards Hamlet pere as 
having been a drunk, and unless he believes (along with T. Hawkes) that 
he is the bastard son of Claudius, the election must light on Gertrude.

A performance along these lines adds an extra dimension to the play. 
Most significantly, there is a wrenching poignancy to this exchange in V.ii:

     Ger: The Queen carouses to thy fortune, Hamlet.
     Ham: Good madam!
     Clau:                       Gertrude, do not drink!
     Ger:  I will my lord; I pray you pardon me.

Played with understanding, we can imagine Gertrude hearing her husband's 
demand as one of hundreds he has made along the same lines, and her 
fatal response as her typical reaction.

I saw a production in London many years ago which adopted this 
interpretation of the role, and it worked very well. Gertrude was 
rarely, if ever, without a glass of wine, and in the scene in which she 
describes Ophelia's death, she is constantly filling and refilling a 
goblet from a pitcher she carries. That perhaps explains how she "knew" 
the manner of Ophelia's death and did nothing to forestall it.

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