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Gertrude and Claudius (2000)

by John Updike

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1,1091918,115 (3.55)47
Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:

Gertrude and Claudius are the “villains” of Hamlet: he the killer of Hamlet’s father and usurper of the Danish throne, she his lusty consort, who marries Claudius before her late husband’s body is cold. But in this imaginative “prequel” to the play, John Updike makes a case for the royal couple that Shakespeare only hinted at. Gertrude and Claudius are seen afresh against a background of fond intentions and family dysfunction, on a stage darkened by the ominous shadow of a sullen, erratic, disaffected prince. “I hoped to keep the texture light,” Updike said of this novel, “to move from the mists of Scandinavian legend into the daylight atmosphere of the Globe. I sought to narrate the romance that preceded the tragedy.”

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» See also 47 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Wow! Bought this book for 50 cents at St Vinnies just because it was by John Updike and I liked his poetry but I was not enthusiastic about it being a Shakespeare derivative. It anything but a derivative. From the first pages I was hooked. Such beautiful writing. It was like travelling though the illustrations of an illuminated manuscript. I kept reading out passages to my wife. Nothing less than a treat. ( )
  simonpockley | Feb 25, 2024 |
I registered a book at BookCrossing.com!
http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/12083001 ( )
  Kiri | Dec 24, 2023 |
This is the story of what happened before Hamlet. As a teenage princess Gerutha argues with her father against her upcoming wedding to the much older soldier Horwendil, an argument she loses. The result of this marriage is a boy whom Gerutha never feels very motherly towards, claiming the child is cold to her. All the while, her brother-in-law has been circling Gerutha, desperately in love.

This is the second Updike I've read, having read The Centaur many years ago and liked it. I can't say that I liked this one though. Gerutha's own life wasn't explored, she is shown only in connection to the men in her life, and because of that, her portrayal is sexualized much of the time, while her role as mother to Hamlet is thin in the story, he actually figures little.
I got the feeling pretty quickly that Updike was a guy who liked the sound of his own voice. The sentences are packed with as many descriptors as could be jammed in, making for heavy paragraphs. ( )
  mstrust | Mar 16, 2022 |
A prequel to Shakespeare's play, "Hamlet".
  waltser1 | Mar 12, 2020 |
John Updike chose to carry out a difficult task. He imagined and created the complex (?) relationship between Gertrude and Claudius before the climax of the events that consist Shakespeare’s masterpiece. One could say that this is an attempt of a prequel to ''Hamlet'' and as such it has the quality of the majority of prequels and sequels in Literature and in Cinema. It falls frightfully short.

Even as I’m writing this review, I am unable to understand how I feel about this book. It left me completely indifferent, it didn't create any feelings in me, any images in my mind. I cannot say I hated it because hate needs a whole array of feelings to be invoked and those were simply absent here. Updike’s writing was completely empty, devoid of any warmth and soul, any real sentiment that would be required when an author is dealing -or messing with- the task to breathe new life to the Bard’s larger than life characters.

If I want to be honest, I need to say that I never considered Gertrude a villain. However, neither she nor Claudius are particularly interesting characters. Naturally, Hamlet erases all, but Laertes, Ophelia, Horatio are people I would like to read more about. So are Gertrude and Claudius. I’ve often wondered about the marriage between Hamlet’s parents. Was it happy? Was Gertrude aware of her brother-in-law’s intentions? These are questions that have been plaguing scholars for centuries. Updike presents his own vision, which I won't spoil here, and it is quite plausible. The problem is that it’s inconsistent with the characters he reconstructed. He managed to turn the infamous couple into a snooze-fest, people who speak like automatons, without any substance. They’re not even archetypes, they’re plain air.There is nothing they offer to the reader. Even Polonius- who’s named Corambis here after the version of the Bad Folio- becomes more boring than our familiar Shakespearean councillor. Well, at least that’s an achievement there for you…

Where is Hamlet, you may ask? Hamlet is completely absent for the majority of the narration and thank Jesus and Mr. Wednesday and all the Old Gods and the New for that, because who knows what treatment would be in store for our beloved, melancholic, black clad Prince of Denmark?In the few lines that are uttered by Gertrude, Hamlet isn’t positively portrayed. Yes, Updike creates the Queen as an unloving, cold mother whose only thoughts are how to fall in bed with her husband’s brother. Forgive me, but I have lost count on how many times I have read ''Hamlet'' and I’ve never thought that she was distant, devoid of maternal feelings.

Many of the excellent reviewers here have already mentioned the writing issues so I won’t bore you further. Updike attempted to create a kind of pseudo-medieval language. In my opinion,it didn’t work to the advantage of the story. It was exactly this issue that made every interaction so dry it was almost unbearable. The fact that Claudius uses the word ‘’connoisseur’’ or speaks Italian and Spanish interrupting his speech was something I couldn't take seriously. Not to mention, that the writer had the audacity to insert quotes from Shakespeare's play in the dialogues.

Updike is an author I wasn’t familiar with before I read ‘’Gertrude and Claudius’’ and I don’t intend to try my luck with any other book of his. In our times,we have experienced examples of re-imagining Shakespeare with beautiful results. Unfortunately, this novel wasn't true to the Bard and to the nature of his characters. It wasn’t even respectful. Perhaps, Hamlet and his troubled family should be left alone by now...No need to torture them more... ( )
1 vote AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:

Gertrude and Claudius are the “villains” of Hamlet: he the killer of Hamlet’s father and usurper of the Danish throne, she his lusty consort, who marries Claudius before her late husband’s body is cold. But in this imaginative “prequel” to the play, John Updike makes a case for the royal couple that Shakespeare only hinted at. Gertrude and Claudius are seen afresh against a background of fond intentions and family dysfunction, on a stage darkened by the ominous shadow of a sullen, erratic, disaffected prince. “I hoped to keep the texture light,” Updike said of this novel, “to move from the mists of Scandinavian legend into the daylight atmosphere of the Globe. I sought to narrate the romance that preceded the tragedy.”

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