Hamlet’s Hereditary Queen
Performing Shakespeare's Silent Female Power
by Kerrie Roberts. Pub. Routledge 2023.
HHQ makes the academic case that Gertrude may very well be the blood royal queen in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and that she could certainly be performed as such in a modern production. This choice adds interest and power and solves many of the confusing elements in productions. The book makes use of early modern history, the source material Shakespeare used, and the evidence in the text itself.
The basic claim is so simple that some time is spent in the book analysing some of the complexities of the standard interpretation and the patterns of misogyny revealed in that. I also examine the role of the acting process as I used it, and relevance of the life experience of the older woman, especially the complexities of female leadership in a misogynist society, but also the challenges of dealing with a difficult son.
The book comes as a hardback, a paperback or an eBook.
Where to get Hamlet’s Hereditary Queen
- The publisher: Routledge
- Amazon: Kindle, paperback and hardback
- Your favourite bookseller
- Your local library will get it in for you
- Note: Routledge eBook, Kindle, Kobo include free samples.
Hamlet’s Hereditary Queen (and Gertrude’s Hamlet) began in 2007 ...
...when I played Gertrude in several scenes. She did not make sense. I had seen many productions, and the play was confusing, often tedious, and seemed to be mainly aimed at experts, which can’t have been the case for Shakespeare at the Globe. The commentary seemed endlessly speculative about the minutiae of Hamlet’s own psychology, in ways which were impossible to convey on stage. Engaging the audience seemed to be largely dependent on casting a star. But playing Gertrude myself got me hooked.
Gertrude is Hamlet’s main interest and motivation in the play. She is also the main interest and motivation of both her husbands. Given that she was written in Elizabethan England, the reason for this should leap to the eye.
In production she is usually portrayed as a largely token mother, sometimes with a love affair with Claudius. Since Freud, her importance to all three main male characters is often read as all three wanting to have sex with her. But she is 50 years old. Not one of them talks of her appearance or her charm. Nor are we told about her family background.
Her key scene, with Hamlet, takes 15 minutes in the middle of the play. It starts with Hamlet committing his first murder. His tedious lecturing of Gertrude for having had the temerity to marry Claudius takes place over the freshly-killed and still bleeding corpse of the old counsellor Polonius, whose only offence was to listen concealed behind the curtain. She is trapped in a room with a corpse and its unrepentant murderer. She is afraid he will kill her as well.
Hamlet pays no attention to the corpse until the end of the scene. He seems to believe that the issue is her sinfulness, not the murder he has just committed.
The lightbulb moment came a year later. On p 398-399 of Yale professor Harold Bloom’s 1998 book, Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human, he says, incidentally, that in Shakespeare’s source myths,
The heroic Horwendil [old Hamlet], having slain the King of Norway in single combat, wins Gerutha, the daughter of the King of Denmark, who bears him Amleth.
Denmark is Gertrude’s. Her father was King Rorik of Denmark. Hamlet senior and Claudius are her consorts.
Things started to fall into place.
All Shakespeare’s tragedies are primarily about leadership. If Gertrude is the blood royal queen, Hamlet is about female leadership. Gertrude was a version of Elizabeth I. An Elizabeth who had been married off young to a hero, and was not permitted to rule herself.
It was time this woman’s point of view was voiced.
Gertrude’s Hamlet is a play that re-writes Shakespeare’s Hamlet from the point of view of Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, Queen of Denmark in her own right, not merely the king’s wife. She is played by 3 actresses, as Queen, Mother and Woman
Performing Shakespeare's Hamlet & Gertrude's Hamlet
Productions of either Gertrude’s Hamlet or Shakespeare’s Hamlet featuring Gertrude as the blood royal queen can be publicised through this website. I am keen to hear how they go, and I am available to help. Ideas for scenes will be posted here.