Why Shakespeare Will Always be Important

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I openly admit to the fact that I find the task of reading Shakespeare to be a challenging and tedious one. Just the fact that I would refer to reading Shakespeare as a “task” illustrates my lack of enthusiasm for attempting to tackle one of his works. However, despite the fact that a Shakespearean play would not be my first choice when curling up on the couch for some rainy day reading, I still value the works of Shakespeare and recognize their everlasting importance. Shakespeare wrote his works hundreds of years ago and yet he still remains a household name. While the language may scare some readers away, the content is what keeps the majority coming back. This is because no matter how much time has gone by, themes of forbidden and passionate love, jealousy, murder and betrayal are always going to be relevant and entertaining. Shakespeare may have taken inspiration from or adapted other works, but he is still considered a literary pioneer for incorporating these and other themes into his works. His stories were complex with intricate plots that enthralled viewers and readers as they unraveled. Ever since their publications, Shakespeare’s works have been adapted to be made more applicable to the “current” time, whatever that may be. A key example of this would be the famous Romeo and Juliet adaptation of the late 1950s, West Side Story. This week in my Theater Appreciation class, our homework was to view this film. It was while I was watching this movie that I really recognized the fact that Shakespearean themes have been relevant and can always be made relevant no matter what time period we are in. This is because Shakespearean themes relate to universal human experiences that will exist as long as there are families, lovers, friendships, and other types of relationships. 

Weekly Blog: Olivier’s Gertrude

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In preparation for the upcoming project, I thought that this week I would blog about my character, Queen Gertrude, as she was depicted in Olivier’s famous adaptation of Hamlet. Gertrude was played by the beautiful and then thirty year old Eileen Herlie, who embodied the beauty and youthfulness that the character of Gertrude has in Shakespeare’s original play. Casted in the role of Hamlet, her son, was the director Olivier, who was actually over 10 years older than Herlie. The decision to cast a mother as younger than her son actually makes sense in this particular story for a number of reasons. Gertrude is a character that possesses many stereotypical feminine qualities. She is weak, easily swayed and deceived, easily controlled, tender, loving, and extremely naïve. She might as well be younger than her son, who is just one of the many characters in the play who have power over her. This casting decision also makes sense if one chooses to believe that Hamlet has an Oedipus complex, as the article by Earnest Jones suggests. In Olivier’s adaptation, Hamlet and his mother often partake in prolonged kisses that hint something more than mere motherly affection. Additionally, during the scene in which Hamlet and the Queen are talking in her chambers, Olivier had the two quarrelling in a somewhat sexual way on her bed. The decision to cast Herlie makes this Oedipus suggestion more obvious than if Gertrude was played by an older, more withered woman. In the original text, Hamlet describes his mother as innocent and being deceived by her uncle. This view also suggests that perhaps Shakespeare had intended for Hamlet’s actions to be due to his repressed desire for her. While we may never know of Shakespeare’s intention or of Hamlet’s true feelings, we do know that Gertrude must be depicted in this light for a reason. 

Hamlet Character Analysis: Gertrude

  • From the text: In Act 1, scene 2 the character of Gertrude was introduced in the play Hamlet. It is told that she was the wife of the newly deceased King Hamlet and is therefore the Queen of Denmark. Only less than 2 months after her beloved husband’s death, Gertrude has married his brother, Claudius. During this time, some saw a marriage like this to be incestuous. One of the people who views their marriage in this light is young Prince Hamlet, who looks down on his uncle/stepfather. As a result, Hamlet is very disgusted with his mother for marrying Claudius. Gertrude seems a little naive and acts not how a widow in today’s society would act so shortly after the death of her husband if she truly loved him. In Act 1, scene 2, lines 70-75 she tells Prince Hamlet to stop grieving and accept that death is a part of life. She seems to truly care about her son, but will push him to support the new King. In Act 1, scene 5, the ghost of the King tells Hamlet that he should not harm the Queen who was virtuous in their marriage and was simply tricked and seduced by Claudius into marriage, but that when the truth is revealed she will understand her mistake and be overcome with guilt. This shows that the Queen is a good person, but is perhaps afraid of being alone or possesses weak, “feminine” characteristics. In Act 3, scene 4 we get to hear more dialogue from Gertrude as she beckons Hamlet to her chambers to talk. She originally plans to harshly criticize her son for his behavior, but Hamlet takes control of the situation, once again showing Gertrude’s weak or submissive tendencies.

 

  • I think that the character of Gertrude is probably in somewhere in her 40s. Because she is the Queen of Denmark, she is very wealthy and therefore dresses in the finest clothing and is probably very beautiful. If she was a 21st Century woman she would probably be dressed by famous designers and be very dolled up and beautiful for an “older” woman. This character strikes me as very feminine, naive and submissive. She seems to do what is expected of her, or give into whimsical fantasies. She trusts her new husband blindly when in reality she is sleeping with the enemy, the one who killed her true love, the king. In today’s world, Gertrude would probably watch television shows and read books about romance, or maybe she would watch the Real Housewives series. She would be a housewife who would not have to do any work because of her wealth, and is viewed almost as a child, with little power. Even her son has power over her and criticizes her actions. Her parenting style is therefore caring, but lacking in authority. She is someone who cares a lot about her reputation and the reputation of her family. For fun, she would probably shop and do whatever it is that her husband wanted to do. She seems very eager to please and very loyal. Because of her status in a world with many commoners, she probably has very few true friends. This is another thing that keeps her tied to her husband. Despite the fact that a lot of people would probably be miserable in a life like this, I feel that she is probably content.