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Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike
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Gertrude and Claudius (2000)

by John Updike

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Wonderful. ( )
  Athenable | Jan 10, 2014 |
I wish I was more familiar with Shakespeare beyond what was required reading in high school (Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar). I also wish Hamlet was one of the plays I had read, because I know I would have appreciated Updike's "Gertrude and Claudius" much more if I was familiar with the Hamlet story line. I liked how Updike attempted to adjust his language to that of the Shakespearean era. But, I couldn't get into this volume as much as I have of his other books I've read -- and I really did want to get into it because I really admire Updike. Props to him for trying something different, though. And maybe, just maybe, someday I'll take a class in Shakespeare (I'm currently a college student, second time around, so it could happen) and then re-read this novel. ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Sep 18, 2013 |
John Updike is a well-respected author, and some of his works I hold in high regard. Gertrude and Claudius is not one of them, unfortunately.

Where to begin? The sentences were confusingly long - so much so that I lost my place within sentences and had to start over, find the subject, and re-read the sentence a few times to get the whole thing. That was really annoying as a reader. I'm sure it was an authorial choice, but there comes a point in my reading when I don't care that the author has a purpose for such ridiculously long sentences. Perhaps as someone with an MA in English, I should've languished in the thrill of those sentences and allowed myself to be drawn into the style... or something. It just didn't work out for me with this book.

I liked the premise of the story, that there was a relationship between Gertrude and Claudius before the opening of Hamlet that helps make sense of Gertrude's seeming heartlessness or husband-jumping. I liked getting to know Geruthe (Gertrude) from the time she was young. But her story bored me after a while. I was getting too much detail without any forward progression, which just didn't suit me right now.

Additionally, I found some of the language jarring. Some of the phrasing about the affair between Fengon (Claudius) and Geruthe was very subtle and inoffensive. However, at times, the author just said things in too plain a fashion right after using an overly flowery metaphor to get at something carnal. The two didn't fit together. You don't describe "fire in her loins" and "throbbing manhood" and then say "balls" in the next sentence. Nope. Just doesn't work.

I'm sure there was a purpose for the bird motif or thread that was pulling throughout the books - something to do with Geruthe's caged nature or something - but I wasn't taken in by it enough to want to find out why the birds were consistently repeated.

Overall, I just didn't like it. I wanted it to be a lot better than it was, and I felt disappointed. I'm glad to be finished with it. ( )
  Esquiress | Mar 25, 2013 |
Updike has for many years been one of my favorite contemporary writers. Gertrude and Claudius is a prequel, of sorts, to Shakespeare's "Hamlet" which is a tantalizing idea in itself. Updike has, by inference rather than direct use of the character, drawn a portrait of Hamlet that may surprise readers. HIs treatment of the lovers, Gertrude and Claudius and those who surround them, is sympathetic and Gertrude (or Gerutha) is treated with special kindness. Updike always seems to love his women characters more than his men. The books is a treat, especially for those who are familiar with Shakespeare's play. ( )
  turtlesleap | Jul 2, 2012 |
Updike takes the familiar Hamlet tale from the point of view of his parents, particularly his mother, weaving together legends from several regions into a fascinating story. I've never been able to view Hamlet quite the same way again; it put a whole new face on the play for me. ( )
  quantum_flapdoodle | May 9, 2011 |
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To Martha / De dezir mos cors no fina / vas selha ren qu'ieu pus am
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The king was irate.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0449006972, Paperback)

Borrowing a phrase from Hamlet for the title of his 1999 nonfiction collection, John Updike may perhaps have been dropping hints about his fictional work in progress. He has, in any case, now delivered Gertrude and Claudius--and his variation on what is arguably the Bard's greatest hit sits very handsomely in the Shakespearean shadows. As its title suggests, this is a prelude to the actual play, focusing not on the sulky star but on his mother and fratricidal stepfather (think of it as a Danish, death-struck version of The Parent Trap). Updike's great achievement here is to turn our customary sympathies on their heads. This time around, Gertrude is a decent, long-suffering wife, whose consciousness happens to be raised to the boiling point by her sexy brother-in-law. And Claudius, too, seems half a victim of this fatal attraction, with a strong neo-Platonic accent to his lust:
The amused play of her mouth and eyes, the casual music of her considerate voice, a glimpse of her bare feet and rosy morning languor were to him amorous nutrition enough: at this delicate stage the image of more would have revolted him.... What we love, he understood from the poetry of Provence, where his restless freelancing had more than once taken him, is less the gift bestowed, the moon-mottled nakedness and wet-socketed submission, than the Heavenly graciousness of bestowal.
Subtract the poetry (and leave in the wet-socket business) and we're not too far from Rabbit Angstrom. As in the bulk of his fiction--and most conspicuously in the underrated In the Beauty of the Lilies--Updike sacrifices artistic firepower when he goes archaic on us. That explains why Gertrude and Claudius gets off to a wobbly start, with the author's medieval diction careening all over the page. But once his narrative gets up to speed, Updike dispenses one brilliant bit of perception after another. Note, for example, Ophelia's teeth, "given an almost infantile roundness by her low, palely pink gums, and tilted very slightly inward, so her smile imparted a glimmering impression of coyness, with even something light-heartedly wanton about it." Who else could make mere dentition such a window into the soul?

Gertrude and Claudius also amounts to a running theological argument, in which men constantly impale themselves on metaphysical principle while the adulterous queen is willing "to accept the world at face value, as a miracle daily renewed." (That would explain Gertrude's snap diagnosis of her neurotic son: "Too much German philosophy.") A superlative satellite to Shakespeare's creation, Updike's novel is likely to retain a kind of subordinate rank, even within his own capacious body of work. Still, it's packed with enough post-Elizabethan insight about men and women, parents and children, to suggest that the play's not the thing--not always, anyway. --James Marcus

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:23:25 -0400)

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"Tells the story of Claudius and Gertrude, King and Queen of Denmark before the action of Shakespeare's Hamlet begins"--Jacket.

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