Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike

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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.”


About John Updike

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John Updike was born in Shillington, Pennsylvania, in 1932. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954 and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and the William Dean Howells Medal. In 2007 he received the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. John Updike died in January 2009.
Published June 15, 2001 by Random House. 224 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Gertrude and Claudius

The New York Times

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She in an unbelted gown not so long it hid the bareness of her feet, a pink bareness implying an entire body flushed still with the languid heat of sleep just shaken off, pink on the sides and white in the toes and at her bare heels thickened to a tallowy tint.'' John Updike with his familiar foo...

Feb 27 2000 | Read Full Review of Gertrude and Claudius

Publishers Weekly

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Updike also credits her with the metaphor for Shakespeare's seven stages of man: ""We begin small, wax great, and shrivel, she thought."" Claudius here is not an evil plotter, but a man driven to desperation when the king discovers the illicit liaison.

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Entertainment Weekly

Court intrigue follows from animal instinct in Gertrude and Claudius, John Updike's 19th novel -- a prologue to ''Hamlet'' that reimagines how things went rotten in Denmark.

Mar 08 2000 | Read Full Review of Gertrude and Claudius


Instead of fussing with a clever plot that dovetails with the Bard's, Updike tells a simple love story and offers brilliantly nuanced portraits of two characters Shakespeare merely sketched—Queen Gertrude (Prince Hamlet's mom) and King Claudius (Hamlet's uncle turned wicked stepfather).

Apr 10 2000 | Read Full Review of Gertrude and Claudius

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