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Gertrude

Adelman, Janet. “Man and Wife Is One Flesh: Hamlet and the Confrontation with the Maternal Body.” Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare’s Plays, Hamlet to The Tempest. By Adelman. New York: Routledge, 1992. 11-37.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / HAMLET / PSYCHOANALYTIC

This monograph chapter argues that Hamlet “redefines the son’s position between two fathers by relocating it in relation to an indiscriminately sexual maternal body that threatens to annihilate the distinction between the fathers and hence problematizes the son’s paternal identification” (14-15). Hamlet “rewrites the story of Cain and Abel as the story of Adam and Eve, relocating masculine identity in the presence of the adulterating female” (30). Gertrude “plays out the role of the missing Eve: her body is the garden in which her husband dies, her sexuality the poisonous weeds that kill him, and poison the world—and the self—for her son” (30). The absence of the father combined with the presence of the “engulfing mother” awakens “all the fears incident to the primary mother-child bond” (30). The solution is for Hamlet to remake his mother “in the image of Virgin Mother who could guarantee his father’s purity, and his own, repairing the boundaries of his selfhood” (31). In the closet scene, Hamlet attempts “to remake his mother pure by divorcing her from her sexuality” (32-33). Although Gertrude “remains relatively opaque, more a screen for Hamlet’s fantasies about her than a fully developed character in her own right,” the son “at least believes that she has returned to him as the mother he can call ‘good lady’ (3.4.182)” (34). As a result, Hamlet achieves “a new calm and self-possession” but at a high price: “for the parents lost to him at the beginning of the play can be restored only insofar as they are entirely separated from their sexual bodies. This is a pyrrhic solution to the problems of embodiedness and familial identity . . .” (35).

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Aguirre, Manuel. “Life, Crown, and Queen: Gertrude and the Theme of Sovereignty.” Review of English Studies 47 (1996): 163-74.

GERTRUDE / MYTHIC CRITICISM / NEW HISTORICISM

This article seeks “to explore Renaissance changes in the application of a traditional literary metaphor,” sovereignty, by focusing on “the mythical status of Gertrude and, beyond this, to explore the role, and the fate, of myth in Hamlet” (163). Evidence in Celtic, Greek, and Germanic myths, including The Odyssey, demonstrates consistent attachment of significance to the symbols of cup, water, and cloth—commonly associated with female sovereigns. The (re)appearance of these elements in Hamlet creates intriguing parallels and suggests that Gertrude, not Claudius, possesses sole authority to choose the new king. Some myths offer a defense of the charges against Gertrude (e.g., adultery). For example, in myth there appears a tendency to connect sovereignty with marriage/sexual union. Such myths afford an explanation for the immediacy and compression of wedding and coronation in Hamlet 1.2, which conflicts with the modern perspective of chronological order. While “the queen is the life is the crown” through validating traditional myth (169), the increasing realism of the Renaissance causes a loss of meaning and thus a crux in the play: Hamlet, a “realist,” views the Queen’s marriage to Claudius as stripped of symbolic meaning, as only adultery (171). Subsequently, Hamlet “presents the conflict itself between the old and new as embodied in a modern hero’s confrontation with an ancient myth” (174).

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Bergoffen, Debra B. “Mourning, Woman, and the Phallus: Lacan’s Hamlet.” Cultural Semiosis: Tracing the Signifier. Ed. Hugh J. Silverman. Continental Philosophy VI. New York: Routledge, 1998. 140-53.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / PSYCHOANALYTIC

Concurring with “Lacan’s notions of the phallus, jouissance, the symbolic, the imaginary, and the signifying chain” (140), this article suggests that Gertrude demonstrates “the way woman’s complicity is essential to the patriarchal order as she provides a glimpse of a woman who steps outside its parameters” (141). In the role of mourning, woman represents “the invisible medium through whom the phallus passes” (144). But Gertrude substitutes “marriage nuptials for mourning rituals”; her marriage to Claudius “violates the father who has not been properly remembered, and it violates the son who is denied his legacy” (146). Gertrude’s “refusal to mourn brings back the ghost and fuels its impossible request: that the son do what the mother will not, legitimize the father” (146). But Hamlet, a male bound by patriarchal laws, cannot perform the “social act” of mourning, as he and Laertes prove at Ophelia’s burial (141). And, as long as Gertrude “confers legitimacy on Claudius, Hamlet’s action is barred” (149). The son begins the process of “re-inserting his mother into the patriarchal phallic order” in the closet scene by accusing her “of being too old to love,” by de-legitimizing her “mode of otherness” (149). Gertrude, in death, finally frees Hamlet to act by being unable to mourn Claudius, but her absence means no mourning and, hence, no mediation for the transference of power: “in the absence of women, Denmark comes under the rule of its enemy,” Fortinbras (151-52). “Rejecting the role of passive mediator Gertrude plays the game of jouissance” (153). Yes, Gertrude is destroyed as a result, but she succeeds “in exposing the myth of the male phallus” and “provides us with a glimpse of a signifier placed outside the patriarchal structure of silenced mourning women” (153).

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Fienberg, Nona. "Jephthah's Daughter: The Parts Ophelia Plays." Old Testament Women in Western Literature. Ed. Raymond-Jean Frontain and Jan Wojcit. Conway: UCA, 1991. 128-43.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA / THEOLOGICAL

This essay explores "cultural resonances between the politically unstable time of Judges in Israel's history, the political confusion in Hamlet's Denmark, and the anxiety over succession in late-Elizabethan England" (133). While Jephthah's daughter and Ophelia share similarities, they also differ in an important way: the unnamed daughter is an obedient sacrifice, and Ophelia "develops from her status as a victim" to "an author of a potentially different story, a woman's story" (133-34). Ophelia comes to realize her subversive potential and, in a commanding oration about the weakening of Hamlet's "noble mind," laments the lose of her own political ambitions (135). But her madness empowers her with liberties, such as demanding a meeting with Gertrude. Once granted entrance, "she, like a wandering player, comes to hold a mirror up to the court" (136). Gone is her submissive voice, replaced by "a range of voices" (137). Ophelia now "commands attention" (137). Interestingly, her invasion of the court parallels Laertes' rebellious entrance: they have "competing political claims, his assertive and explicit, hers subversive and encoded in mad woman's language" (137). Because her songs "introduce the protesting voice of oppressed women in society" through the veils of a ballad culture, Ophelia is not understood by her male audience; but her "rebellion against the double standard and its oppression of women arouses fear in Gertrude, who understands" (138). When the Queen reports Ophelia's drowning, she insists "on her time and the attention of the plotting men" (138). Her description portrays "a woman who draws her understanding of her world from women's culture" (139). The Queen, "perhaps like Jephthah's daughter's maiden friends, returned from temporary exile to interpret the meaning of the sacrificed daughter's life" (140).

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Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. “Mouse and Mousetrap in Hamlet.” Shakespeare-Jahrbuch 135 (1999): 77- 92.

CLAUDIUS / GERTRUDE / HAMLET / MOUSETRAP / NEW HISTORICISM / PROVERBS / RHETORICAL

Expanding on John Doebler’s work, this essay explores the plethora of connotations of mouse and mousetrap. In relation to Gertrude, the mouse reference in the closet scene could be “a term of endearment” or a pejorative reference to a lustful person (79). Historically, mouse is also connected with “the devil’s entrapment of human lust with the mousetrap” (80); hence, Hamlet’s diction suggests that he perceives Gertrude “at once as the snare that catches the devil Claudius (and the son Hamlet?) in lust, and snared herself in the same devil’s mousetrap” (82). With Claudius, the mouse implies “destructive and lascivious impulses” (84). Hamlet also is associated with the mouse in his role as mouser or metaphorical cat. For example, the “cat-like, teasing method in Hamlet’s madness” appears in his dialogue with Claudius immediately prior to the start of The Mousetrap (88). The mousetrap trope becomes “part of a pattern of images in Hamlet that poises the clarity of poetic justice against a universe of dark of unknowing,” as “the trapper must himself die to purify a diseased kingdom” (91).

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Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. “Wormwood, Wormwood.” Deutsche Shakespeare—Gesellschaft West: Jahrbuch [no vol. #] (1993): 150-62.

CLAUDIUS / GERTRUDE / HAMLET / THEOLOGICAL

This study comments on Hamlet’s reference to “Wormwood, Wormwood” in The Mousetrap scene (3.2.173) with the belief that “Herbal, literary and theological uses provide unexpectedly suggestive contexts for expanding our sense of Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius within this highly charged dramatic moment, and in the larger play” (150). Theological connotations of the word suggest, among other things, mortification, meaning that Hamlet’s words “refer to the salutary contrition and confession Hamlet expects the Player-Queen’s words to induce in his mother” (151). Persistently lacking contrition in the closet scene, Gertrude receives a continued, intensified dose of “wormwood,” administered by Hamlet (152). Also relevant to Gertrude, wormwood is biblically associated with harlotry and punishment/judgement (153). In Romeo and Juliet, wormwood is described as “the bitter herb used in weaning a child from his mother’s breast” (154); hence, the implication in Hamlet is that the mother/son relationship alters. The herb was also used as a purgative medicine (156), an antidote (159), an air freshener (160), and a “deterrent to mice and rats” (160). All of these possibilities develop linguistic references, themes, and motifs in the play. For example, the last suggests that Hamlet’s wormwood “might at once expel the mouse-like lust in his too-lascivious mother and deter the object of her lust, the devilish, mouse-like king Claudius, thus killing two mice with one trap (161). Perhaps no audience member could hold all of “these theological and pharmaceutical associations in a kaleidoscopic response to one allusion,” but the theatrical experience improves in relation to the degree of knowledge (161-62). And “this learning impresses us with the unfathomable complexity of Hamlet’s mind and his heart” (162).

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Jardine, Lisa. “‘No offence i’ th’ world’: Hamlet and Unlawful Marriage.” Uses of History: Marxism, Postmodernism and the Renaissance. Ed. Francis Barker, Peter Hume, and Margaret Iverson. Essex Symposia: Literature/Politics/Theory. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1991. 123-39. [Reprinted in David Scott Kastan’s Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1995).]

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / NEW HISTORICISM

While distinguishing its approach from “retrospective critical activity” (126), this essay sets out “to provide a historical account which restores agency to groups hitherto marginalised or left out of what counts as historical explanation—non-élite men and all women” (125). In Hamlet, Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius appears “unlawful” by the early modern period’s standards, and “it deprives Hamlet of his lawful succession” (130). Gertrude “has participated in the remarriage—has (literally) alienated her son, and Old Hamlet’s name” (135). In denying Gertrude exoneration, “we have recovered the guilt surrounding her as a condition of her oppression”: “women are not permanently in the object position, they are subjects. To be always object and victim is not the material reality of woman’s existence, nor is it her lived experience” (135).

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Kusunoki, Akiko. “‘Oh most pernicious woman’: Gertrude in the Light of Ideas on Remarriage in Early Seventeenth-Century England.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 169-84.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / NEW HISTORICISM

Contending that Shakespeare’s original audience would have viewed the Queen as “a potent figure in her flouting of patriarchal dictates through her remarriage,” this reading of Hamlet “examines the significance of the representation of Gertrude in the context of society’s changing attitudes towards a widow’s remarriage in early seventeenth-century England” (170). Gertrude’s remarriage “demonstrates an interesting possibility of female agency” that contributes to the undermining of residual cultural values in the play (173). Religious and literary sources of the Elizabethan period (e.g., Characters, The Widow’s Tears) reflect “dominant sentiments against a widow’s remarriage,” but historical research shows the social reality that upper class widows often remarried (175). Their independence and ability to choose a new mate “presented a contradiction to patriarchal ideology” and “posed a radical threat to the existing social structure” (176). But changing attitudes were also emerging during this period: Puritans started to argue the benefits of a widow’s remarrying, and Montaigne’s Essays proposed an “utterly realistic understanding of human nature”—particularly of female sexuality (179-80). In this light, the marriage between Claudius and Gertrude “might not have seemed to some members of the Elizabethan audience particularly reprehensible” (179). Although Hamlet succeeds in desexualizing his mother in the closet scene, Gertrude maintains her own authority by continuing to love Claudius while denying his order not to drink from the chalice (180). Her “attitude to her remarriage points to the emergent forces in the changing attitude towards female sexuality in early seventeenth-century England” (180).

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Loberg, Harmonie. “Queen Gertrude: Monarch, Mother, Murderer.” Atenea 24.1 (June 2004): 59-71.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / OPHELIA’S MURDER(ER)

Using behavioral research and feminist theory, this article proposes that Queen Gertrude is involved in Ophelia’s mysterious “drowning.” It discusses strategies of human aggression (e.g., indirect, verbal), debunks resilient sex/gender stereotypes (e.g., the weaker sex), and uncovers textual evidence (e.g., Gertrude’s dying with all of the play’s male murderers, her marital and psychological union with King Claudius, the suspicious drowning report scene). While arguing the Queen’s guilt, this study also maintains that Gertrude is innocence of accusations that a “lustful libido” motivates her hasty marriage to Claudius (63); “rather, the need to secure her roles as monarch, mother, and wife seems the primary catalyst in her decision” (63-64). Unfortunately, Ophelia poses a threat “to of the Queen’s roles. Her presence destabilizes the social order of the caste system, and ‘her father’s death’ is a catalyst for the political revolt against the throne (emphasis added 4.5.77). Ophelia also endangers the Queen’s title of mother with the potential of Hamlet’s yet-unborn child” (67). “The Queen’s hostility towards Ophelia initially appears through sophisticated strategies of aggression, but the increasing dangers force stronger defenses. Whether resulting from physical action or ethical stagnation, the Queen is culpable in the death of Ophelia” (68). After challenging the dogma used to exonerate Gertrude (e.g., genre definitions, suicide preference, lack of confession), this article asks, “are we capable of evaluating the evidence against Gertrude without being influenced by her sex/gender? Can we escape stereotypes and social myths? Are we ready to acknowledge the awesome paradox of femaleness: the simultaneous potential for birth and death?” (70).

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O’Brien, Ellen J. “Mapping the Role: Criticism and the Construction of Shakespearean Character.” Shakespearean Illuminations: Essays in Honor of Marvin Rosenberg. Ed. Jay L. Halio and Hugh Richmond. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1998. 13-32.

GERTRUDE

To gain an improved understanding of Gertrude’s potentiality, this essay relies on “role-criticism,” “a more open-ended and more self-conscious approach to the production of meaning than traditional character criticism” (19). Patterns and shifts present important indications in this approach, as the closet scene demonstrates: all of the Queen’s habits of behavior and speech change around this scene (21). For example, she begins to use language that shifts responsibility (e.g., Ophelia is not responsible for her drowning—“an envious sliver” and clothes are to blame) (22); and her entrances/exits no longer coincide with those of Claudius (23). While the overriding implication is that Gertrude shifts her devotion from her husband to her son, many maintain that Gertrude’s “obsession” with the King remains intact after the closet scene because the Queen physically defends him from Laertes (24). But the context of mob rioting implies “a moment when political forces rather than individual subjectivities are being embodied on the stage” (27). Although “it is important to include the anomalous moments in our mapping of the role, it does not follow that they should be regarded as the key to the construction of character” because “mapping is perhaps most valuable as a means of discouraging closure on ‘character’” (28).

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Ouditt, Sharon. "Explaining Woman's Frailty: Feminist Readings of Gertrude." Hamlet. Ed. Peter J. Smith and Nigel Wood. Theory in Practice. Buckingham: Open UP, 1996. 83-107.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE

After discussing the premises of (and problems within) feminism, this essay examines three feminist perspectives of Gertrude and "the interpretive possibilities that they present": Rebecca Smith's "A Heart Cleft in Twain," an example of "reading as a woman"; Jaqueline Rose's "Sexuality in the Reading of Shakespeare: Hamlet and Measure for Measure," an example of psychoanalytic criticism; and Lisa Jardine's Still Harping on Daughters an example of materialistic, feminist criticism (87). Each perspective is summarized, highlighting strengths and weaknesses, and is used as a launching pad for broader discussions. For example, Smith's article suffers from its passé political agenda, which views Gertrude as a nurturing-non-fictional-persona and raises questions about textual gaps being filled by critics/audiences/readers with ulterior motives; but it also leads to questions of Gertrude's guilt. Together, the three representatives "form part of a changing cultural and critical history" and reflect the "continuing project" of feminism (105).

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Pennington, Michael. Hamlet: A User’s Guide. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.

CLAUDIUS / GERTRUDE / GHOST / HAMLET / HORATIO / OPHELIA / PERFORMANCE / POLONIUS

Framed by introductory and concluding chapters that narrate personal experience as well as insight, this monograph “is only in the slightest sense a history of productions”—“really imitating a rehearsal” (22). The first chapter focuses on the action by following the script “line by line” in the style of “a naive telling of the story” which can “often provoke a discovery” (22). As in “most productions,” the “script” is an “accumulated version”: a combination of elements “from the Second Quarto and the Folio and any number of later versions, with occasional mischievous forays into the First (‘Bad’) Quarto” (24). Act and scene designations are replaced by days to avoid confusion and “to draw attention to the fact that, while five separate days of action are presented, Shakespeare’s manipulation of ‘double time’ is so skilled that you can believe that several months have passed by between the beginning and the end” (23). The chapter on Hamlet’s characters comes second because one should not “make assumptions about character until the action proves them” (22). Characters are approached in groups, such as “The Royal Triangle” (Claudius/the Ghost/Gertrude) and “The Commoners” (players/gravediggers/priest). Then attention shifts to Hamlet. After discussing the demands of casting and rehearsing the role of Hamlet, the second chapter describes the excitement of opening night and the energizing relationship an actor shares with the audience. Although challenging, playing the role of Hamlet “will verify you: you will never be quite the same again” (193).

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Ratcliffe, Stephen. “What Doesn’t Happen in Hamlet: The Queen’s Speech.” Exemplaria 10 (1998): 123-44.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / GERTRUDE / OPHELIA'S MURDER(ER)

With a concentrated focus on Gertrude’s report of Ophelia’s drowning, this article explores “how something that doesn’t happen in Hamlet happens, how action that takes place off stage happens in the words the play uses to perform it” (125). The underlying hypothesis is that the drowning report suggests Gertrude’s involvement with Ophelia’s murder. Every word of the speech receives meticulous dissection and analysis—from the opening word there, which directs the audience’s attention to the play’s exterior, to the last word, as Ophelia vanishes in a “muddy death.” Plural meanings implied by audible homonyms and stark shifts in verbal descriptions appear when the progression of the lines is slowed to a snail’s pace. As each studied word provides suggestion and direction to the audience, a case against the Queen builds. For example, ‘the language of flowers’ used by Gertrude in the drowning report and by Ophelia in her madness creates “a relationship that in effect places them in close proximity” to each other, as the first is the speaker and the latter becomes “the object of her gaze, the person she herself [Gertrude] watched beside the stream” (130-31). Although the critic humbly acknowledges the inability to prove (or disprove) speculations about off stage events, a singular certainty remains: Gertrude, as the reporter of Ophelia’s demise, “removes her—in effect kills her—from the play” (144). Ophelia’s death provides a paradigm of all off stage events, in “a world of words” called the theater (144).

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Roberts, Katherine. “The Wandering Womb: Classical Medical Theory and the Formation of Female Characters in Hamlet.” Classical and Modern Literature: A Quarterly 15 (1995): 223-32.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA

This essay approaches wombsickness (a.k.a. hysteria) as a “condition, described early in patriarchal Western culture, [which] has been a literary motif from classical to modern literature” (223). Evidence spanning from Greek medical theories to the doctrines of sixteenth-century physicians testifies to the belief that the female womb has physiological needs (e.g., sexual intercourse); left unmet, these demands result in hysteria. Simultaneously, stringent social codes of the Renaissance restricted female sexuality. A patriarchal culture defined women—socially and medically—by their relationships to men. Ophelia and Gertrude suffer classic symptoms of wombsickness. As a young girl of marriageable age and emotional instability, Ophelia is a prime candidate for wombsickness. She has been mentally and physically preparing herself for marriage/sex with Hamlet; but in the loss of all male figures to guide and support her, Ophelia becomes “completely vulnerable to her own femaleness” (229). Gertrude also suffers symptoms of hysteria, according to Hamlet’s account of “a woman whose physiology apparently required frequent intercourse” (230). In the absence of her original husband to sate and govern her sexual energies, Gertrude is easily seduced, and her disorderly behavior damages the society. As “her natural guardian,” Hamlet must intervene to “constrain her”—hence the closet scene (231). While Gertrude properly responds to his chastising by transferring her allegiance from Claudius to Hamlet, and in a sense recovering from her wombsickness, it is too late to prevent the destruction of the throne’s inhabitants. This article makes no definitive claims about Shakespeare’s intentions but notes that Renaissance literature “reflects and reinforces” previously developed concepts of women, bringing “those concepts into the twentieth century” (232).

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Ronk, Martha C. “Representations of Ophelia.” Criticism 36 (1994): 21-43.

ART / GERTRUDE / NEW HISTORICISM / OPHELIA / PSYCHOANALYTIC

Perceiving Ophelia as a mix of emblem and the projection of others, this dense article sets out to discover what Ophelia’s “representation represents” by focusing on the report of her drowning (23). Emblematic and allegorical characteristics of the speech reveal some insight into Ophelia—the means particular to a historical period when “the emblematic was a received mode of perceiving the world” (27). But like emblem books of the period, the combination of the visual and verbal still leaves much unarticulated. Another component in the speech is the speaker, Queen Gertrude, who becomes an appropriate substitute for Ophelia based on their shared gender and roles within the patriarchy. While Gertrude offers a “dispassionate description” of the drowning (29), she also becomes linked to Ophelia’s passive volition. The questioning of Gertrude’s involvement in Ophelia’s death (and Hamlet Sr.’s) provides reiteration of an insistent question within the play: “what it means not to know what is going on” (31). As Gertrude “leisurely relates” Ophelia’s demise, this ekphrastic moment presents a brief “stillness” within the play before the plot rushes to tragic fulfillment (32). The resulting ramifications elicit contemplation from the audience and move Ophelia “out of narrative and into some ‘cosmic order’” (34). As emblem (and myth) Ophelia possesses the capacity to arouse fear, referring to Freud’s “The Uncanny.” Her “ekphrastic presence” implies “the impossibility of more than seeing what the viewer ‘could not have seen’ . . . to an audience intent on viewing what is not there” (38).

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Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of Hamlet. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1992.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / CLAUDIUS / GERTRUDE / GHOST / HAMLET / HORATIO / LAERTES / OPHELIA / PERFORMANCE / POLONIUS

Combining literary scholarship with interpretive performances, this monograph promises "a way to listen to and grasp the complex tones of Hamlet and the other characters" (x). Chapters follow the chronological order of the play, pausing to "discuss the important characters as they appear" (12). For example, the first chapter explores the opening scene's setting and events, as well as the variations staged in performances; the examination of this scene is briefly suspended for chapters on Horatio and the Ghost but continues in chapter four. This monograph clarifies dilemmas and indicates "the choices that have been made by actors and critics," but its actor-readers must decide for themselves (xi): "I believe this book will demonstrate that each actor-reader of you who engages with Hamlet's polyphony will uniquely experience the tones that fit your own polyphony" (x).

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Shand, G. B. “Realising Gertrude: The Suicide Option.” Elizabethan Theatre XIII. Ed. A. L. Magnusson and C. E. McGee. Toronto: Meany, 1994. 95-118.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / PERFORMANCE

This article uses an “actorly exploration” of Hamlet “to account for how an apparent subtextual subversion of the script [Gertrude’s conscious act of suicide] might actually have its birth not in wilful actorly or directorly self-indulgence, but in close and honest realisation of the textual evidence” (99). Gertrude exists in a male-dominated world, where she is commanded by males and offered no privacy. Her limited ability to speak does not reflect ignorance, as several critics have contended, but the Renaissance’s expectations of the female gender. These social constraints produce in Gertrude “an impacted condition, a state of painfully ingrown pressure to react” (106). Meanwhile, an astute Gertrude begins to recognize her sin in an incestuous marriage, as well as her inadvertent responsibility for the murder of Hamlet, Sr. and all subsequent events (e.g., Polonius’ death, Ophelia’s madness). The Mousetrap guarantees consequential guilt, which appears evident in the closet scene. While Polonius’ murder suggests her association between guilt and death, Gertrude’s description of Ophelia’s drowning marks a personal desire for death. This alert Gertrude cannot miss the development of an alliance between Claudius and Laertes, the charge of murderer-with-poison against the King, the tension among the males, nor the tainted cup offered to Hamlet during the duel. She consciously drinks the poisoned wine after having been “denied virtually any other independent action from the beginning of the play” (118).

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Stanton, Kay. "Hamlet's Whores." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 167-88.

FEMINISM / GERTRUDE / HAMLET / LAERTES / OPHELIA

This interpretation explores all the variations of whore-dom in Hamlet. The women are not the only ones prostituted. Like Ophelia, Hamlet is "'whored' by the father": "The older generation incestuously prostitutes the innocence of the younger" (169). Further examples include Polonius prostituting Laertes and Reynaldo with plans of spying and Claudius, the "symbolic father," similarly misusing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (169). But the victims are not entirely innocent either. Hamlet "whores" the theater and its actors--"his great love"--by perverting artistic purpose and integrity (173), and the play-within-the-play "whores him as he has whored it, making him no longer one of the innocent, but one of the 'guilty creatures' at and in the play" (185). Laertes misuses his favorite pastime, fencing, to destroy his perceived enemy (180). The duel, "a gruesome perversion of the sex act" complete with phalluses and pudendum (181), leaves a dying Hamlet to whore Horatio, Fortinbras to whore Hamlet's story, and a new "bawd" to reestablish the patriarchy (182). Because these males insist on a binary opposition between genders, ever fearing womanly characteristics within themselves, they project their "whorishness" onto female targets, covering over masculine violence (178). The closet scene exemplifies this technique: after Hamlet murders Polonius, Gertrude's "supposed sin is made to overshadow his actual sin and somehow to justify it" (179). Only in death does Ophelia escape the whore image, but she becomes the "worshipped Madonna as Hamlet and Laertes can then safely whore their own self-constructed images of pure love for her as rationale for violence against each other" (179). The whoring consumes the play, as Hamlet "'whores' Hamlet the prince to be the organ for its art" (183).

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Uéno, Yoshiko. “Three Gertrude’s: Text and Subtext.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 155-68.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / GERTRUDE / MYTHIC CRITICISM / NEW HISTORICISM

This essay examines “ambiguities inherent in Hamlet, or gaps between the text and subtext, with special attention to Gertrude’s representation” (156). Rather than possessing autonomy, the Queen exists only in relation to Claudius and Hamlet; she also refuses to choose between the two men, revealing “her malleability” (158). Hence, the lack of critical appreciation of Gertrude seems understandable. Although the closet scene should offer the greatest opportunity for insight into Gertrude’s character, it leaves too many unanswered questions: does she know of Claudius’ involvement in Hamlet, Sr.’s death? Is she guilty of infidelity with Claudius before this murder? Further uncertainties are raised by the scene’s presentation of two Gertrudes: “Gertrude herself and the Gertrude seen from Hamlet’s perspective” (161). Such confusion leads today’s audiences to share in Hamlet’s confrontation “with the disintegration of reality” (162). But the original audience at the Globe may have had the advantages of after-images, preconceived notions of Hamlet informed by myth and legend. A survey of plausible literary sources (e.g., Historiae Danicae, Agamemnon, Histoires tragiques), with emphasis on the evolving “transformations of Gertrude,” presents “a wide range of variants” that Elizabethan audiences may have drawn on to resolve the ambiguities struggled with today (166).

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This website is for educational purposes.
All information Copyright © 2002-2007 Harmonie Blankenship
Contact the author at h.blankenship@hamlethaven.com