Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Gertrude And Claudius” as Want to Read:
Gertrude And Claudius
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Gertrude And Claudius

3.53  ·  Rating Details ·  1,734 Ratings  ·  171 Reviews
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 prel ...more
Published (first published January 1st 2000)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Gertrude And Claudius, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Gertrude And Claudius

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Sep 29, 2009 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Entering Kornborg Castle in Denmark requires the visitor to not only approach the castle on foot, but to also cross two moats. It is after the first moat, the one with the swans, that Kornborg's purpose becomes manifest. It is quite clear that the purpose of the structure is not to be a castle but to be a fortress and to enforce the collection of sound duties for which it was built. The harsh fact of warfare greets the visitor with an absence. There was a beautiful fountain until the Swedes inva ...more
Jan 05, 2014 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
It makes me smile when I read through some of the reviews for this book. People take a personal affront from Updike for even using beloved Hamlet as a backdrop. The ludicrously pretentious comments on the language, and motivations of characters.
Like all Updike novels, it is written beautifully. Never at any moment did Updike even attempt to sound like Shakespeare. How could he?
Really, I would recommend this book for people who haven't read Hamlet, or at least people not in love with it.
I have
Dec 03, 2016 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: heartstopping
In grade 11 English, I read Hamlet for the first time. Back then, Shakespeare wasn't an author I independently found brilliant -- he was just a guy I felt I had to love (you know that kid -- the one who loves English class and passionately devotes themselves to the classics because they don't have their own taste yet? that was meee). Still: I had my favourites. And I remember, vividly, reading Hamlet and watching Kenneth Branagh's adaptation in my last November of high school ---- and falling, s ...more
Aug 28, 2011 Rebecca rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
Gerutha marries Horwendil and has son Hamleth but falls in love with her husband's brother Feng. I mean, Geruthe/Horvendile/Hamblet/Fengon. I mean, Gertrude/Hamlet/Hamlet/Claudius. Why do their names keep switching, again?

I hadn't meant to go on a Hamlet fanfic kick, I swear. I'd only wanted to try reading Updike for the sake of being well-read. But the library only had the most recent Rabbit book. So I grabbed this one instead. Oy. I can't decide if this lets me off the hook from ever reading U
Sep 28, 2016 Collin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: shakespeare, adult
So much... unnecessary sex... SO MUCH.

Eh. Bland, unengaging, too straightforward and unsurprising to warrant any kind of emotion. It's basically every "bored housewife living in the lap of luxury hates her legitimate marriage and has an affair with the dangerous hotter guy" story, except Gertrude is even more annoying because she just flip-flops between the two men. When your female lead's most important attributes include "cares most for whatever man is in front of her," you've got a problem.

Bob Peru
Sep 25, 2016 Bob Peru rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the prequel to "hamlet". cleverly done. superb as is updike's way.
Aug 23, 2011 Erin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was surprisingly not impressed with this book. John Updike is generally creative and descriptive, but this book seemed to me a collection of cliches about medieval Denmark: the woman who feels trapped by her role, the younger brother jealous of the successful older one (they're even dark and blond, respectively), the novelty of objects from far-away countries, the isolation of royalty who are closest to their personal servants, tiresome elderly advisers - the list goes on. I had expected him t ...more
Feb 25, 2014 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I feel like by not loving a John Updike book I will need to turn in my "literary snob" card.'s true.

I found this book rather boring and inane. I found the main character, Gertrude (called by her more original name Gerutha, to be annoying, simpering, and just dumb. I didn't like any of the characters, at all. Doesn't help that from the get go you know she sleeps with her husband's brother--generally not a likable thing to do.

This is what I hate about reading books that I know the plot o
"J.M." "J.M."
Jan 01, 2014 "J.M." "J.M." rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who hasn't been forced to read Hamlet before they were "ready" for it? Even in college I wasn't ready, so I got back to Shakespeare years later and I still felt bedeviled by its mysteries -- one of the most notorious being Gertrude's decision to marry Claudius. I was pleased, a bit tickled, to find out that none other than John Updike had written a fanfic prequel on that very topic. Of course being Updike it was entertaining, intelligent, and beautifully written. Heck, I also found it persuasive ...more
Faith Bradham
3 1/2 stars

This Hamlet prequel is carefully and delicately crafted, and I loved Updike's portrayal of the characters. Since I'm in a Hamlet seminar, we've been playing around with the circumstances surrounding King Hamlet's death, and I'm fond of this version - that Claudius and Gertrude loved each other well before the murder. Updike made Claudius exactly as he should be - sexy and only as villainous as he needs to be. Gertrude was a bit too passive and lovable for my taste, as I've always thou
Sue Whelan
Apr 18, 2011 Sue Whelan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i was looking for something different than the modern novels i usually read and found it. i dont really know the story of Hamlet so was not preoccupied with the trajectory of the characters but was intrigued that this was a prequel to the famous Shakespeare story. the characters in this northern european kingdom, transitioning from paganism to christianity, are not fully developed and are more like actors on a stage (fittingly). Updike's beautiful prose evokes a tragic castle in a far away time ...more
Terri Chapman
It was great to truly understand the story of Hamlet finally. This book is great for those of us who cannot get a good grasp of the big picture when reading Shakespeare. I can appreciate the beautiful sounds of an opera without ever acquiring or processing any details of the story. This was like havng that opera sung in plain English. I didn't really get Updike's names-changing thing. Altough there is an explanation in the editor's notes of the edition that I read, it was a thin one that I didn' ...more
Oct 28, 2007 Jet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: randomfancies
If you have ever read Updike, his plots are seldom far from his penchant adultery/struggle between moral confines and open sexuality. Which is why you don't read Updike for his plots - you read him almost entirely for his style. He's a wordsmith, who takes time with every turn of phrasing. It makes him a tiresome read for any but those who appreciate linguistic play just for its cleverness. Presumptuous, but still, well deserving of its accolades.
Tamara Agvanian
Mar 10, 2016 Tamara Agvanian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dazzling backstory to the Hamlet play
Bill FromPA
Gertrude and Claudius is John Updike’s “prequel” to Hamlet, telling the life story of Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, daughter of a Danish King and wife to two others, Hamlet’s father and uncle. From the first pages, I was aware that I was in the hands of a master of prose. The story is elegantly told, in third person, primarily from Gertrude’s point of view, and Updike delineates her character and nature expertly, an intelligent and self-aware woman necessarily confined within certain social and p ...more
Kim Shively
Dec 11, 2016 Kim Shively rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a great idea - give Claudius and especially Gertrude a voice. Updike clearly did some serious research for this book, and I appreciate telling an alternative story. Some of it seemed a little overwrought, but it was certainly an absorbing story, especially for those who know the Shakespeare play.
Christian Schwoerke
This short novel serves as a prolegomenon to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, an interpretation and distillation of three distinct historical documents covering the lives and events that lead up to the play’s first scene. Updike does not deal with the matter in his usual lapidary fashion, giving vital shape to the minutiae surrounding the characters. Instead there is a sparer prose that calls on archaic language and vocabulary to name the accountrements of the period. For instance, to speak of the bandolin ...more
Ron Charles
America's senior writers are ignoring the counsel of Polonius: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be."

William Safire recently took a steamy page from American history for his "Scandalmonger," a Clintonesque story about the sex scandals that rocked the Jefferson administration and barred Hamilton from the presidency (reviewed Jan. 20).

Joyce Carol Oates is using the life of Marilyn Monroe for an upcoming novel called "Blonde."

And now John Updike has appropriated the old Scandinavian legend about a p
J. Dolan
Dec 15, 2016 J. Dolan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From conception to close, this is pure Updike. And though his writing was up to his usual unparalleled standards, it's not this I refer to. Who but this master of his craft would have the chutzpah, the ambition to presume to write a prequel to that sacrosanct pillar of the Western canon, Hamlet?
Does he pull it off? Is his effort worthy of the Bard? That is for you to judge, and I highly recommend you allow yourself the opportunity. As for me, immediately after finishing Mr. Updike's Gertrude, I
Sep 30, 2016 Ci rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read-books
*** Re-reading Notes 2016
I recall the distant memory of reading this book in 2011 but remembered only the intriguing arch of the story. In "Hamlet" we see the world from this grieving prince's view; in "Gertrude and Claudius", we see the prequel through the other viewpoint. The morality in "Hamlet" is turned into a radical skepticism, challenging the "good vs. evil" in reframing the question into a sequence of unavoidable circumstances that clashed in the end. Updike also achieved a tone and sty
May 23, 2010 Ruth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
214 pages. Donated 2010 May.

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 stepfath
Sylvia Nazareth
Dec 16, 2016 Sylvia Nazareth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Não dou cinco estrelas pras 200 pgs de livro porque são:

40 páginas de: será que isso vai ser bom mesmo?
depois 30 páginas de: tá ficando bom, tá ficando bom!
depois 30 páginas de: tava tão legal, pra que ficar tão arrastado de novo?
no final 100 páginas de: ai meu deus gertrudes, sua maravilhosa!

Deu um sentido ao fato do Cláudio ter assassinado o rei, porém rolaram uns incômodos em mim por causa de uns comentários machistas dele pra Geruthe. Mas aí também pedir um personagem desconstruidão já era e
Joakim Ruud
My first book by John Updike, and I gather not the most conventional starting point to his bibliography! This is a prequel to Hamlet, and as such it focuses on the love triangle between Gertrude, the king, and his brother; and ends with the king dead and the brother taking both throne and queen. That can't possibly be a spoiler, right? That's how the play Hamlet starts off!

The novel is strictly structured into three chapters. Each chapter even starts with the same sentence: "The king was irate."
Jul 22, 2014 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was an absolute joy! A sumptuous feast of language! I took so many notes that I had to buy the book so that I could mark my favorite passages like this one from page 13: "...lifting the circular pale wafer toward the circular white-glazed window high above the altar (so that she thought of the Eucharist as eating sky) and this one "Being in the chapel frighten her, as if her young body were a sin, to be avenged some day, pierced from underneath even as she sipped the rasping wine, the ...more
Dec 24, 2011 Nelson rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Why should this be regarded any differently than the many Austen fanbooks written as continuations of Pride and Prejudice? A few reasons. First, the fanbooks often make a virtue of imitating Austen's style. The embedded bits of Shakespeare here make Updike's prose seem pallid or overwrought by turns. Shakespeare's compression and vigor make prose attempts seem woefully inadequate, particularly when the prose is attempting to limn the edges of characters so fully developed in Shakespeare's longes ...more
American Maid
Jun 15, 2016 American Maid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The language of Updike's prose in this "prequel" to Shakespeare's Hamlet made this an entertaining read, as does his differing characterization of these characters who are often labeled as scheming and evil.

This book lays the groundwork for the action of the play, Hamlet. But it gives us a much fuller characterization of both Gertrude and Claudius as possibly more victims of circumstance rather than straight-up power-hungry, scheming bad-guys.

Updike presents Gertrude as a woman who has given he
Good things about this book:
- Very, VERY nicely written
- Names are interesting and accurate to ancient Scandinavian culture, I believe: Gerutha, Horwendil, Amleth, Feng, etc.
- Characters all have extremely distinct voices and personalities
- Lots of research clearly went into this book -- direct names are brought up, ages and timelines are distinctly considered, etc.
- This book provides a very interesting perspective that I had never considered when first reading Shakespeare's Hamlet. Now, I will
Alison McLennan
Aug 06, 2016 Alison McLennan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book because I'm interested in the peripheral characters in Hamlet, in particular Ophelia. Unfortunately, there wasn't much about Ophelia in this novel except that she was a beautiful, sweet, airhead. I found the 'back-story' of Gertrude and Claudius fascinating.

I also like to read anything by Updike simply for the prose. I know it is good for me to read this kind of prose and yet my mind has to adjust the same way the tongue adjusts to eating kale chips when it prefers potato.
Julie Bettina
Nov 03, 2015 Julie Bettina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pensum
(some minor spoilers)

Shakespeare's Hamlet clearly presents Old Hamlet as a godlike creature, Claudius as the devil, Gertrude as a fool and Hamlet as the tragic hero. Updike's backdrop story Gertrude and Claudius begs to differ.

We meet Gertrude prior to her marriage with Hamlet's father. Young and headstrong, but obliging to her father, she accepts her fate and marries a man who will be good for Denmark. She thinks herself happy, until she meets her husband's brother. The book is divided in three
Read this as prep for my AP English class, as the kids are required to read a modern/different take on the classic in addition to the play itself. And. . . welllllll. . . . it was interesting in concept, but my! It dragged. Part of the problem with retellings is that WE KNOW ALREADY!!!!! so the only thrill is watching an old story unfold. Updike makes this a prequel, filled with impressive details of Danish court life, etc, but he also perpetrates sentences like "Gertrude kept brushing out her h ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Shakespeare the Thinker
  • Preston Falls
  • Roscoe
  • The Carbon Diaries 2017 (Carbon Diaries, #2)
  • The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation
  • The Puttermesser Papers
  • Nothing Like the Sun
  • Hamlet in Purgatory
  • Shakespeare of London
  • Versailles
  • Hamlet: Poem Unlimited
  • The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street
  • The Age of Shakespeare (Modern Library Chronicles)
  • The Late Mr. Shakespeare
  • The Globe Guide to Shakespeare
  • Judge On Trial
  • Le voyageur sans bagage
  • Wartime Lies
John Hoyer Updike was an American writer. Updike's most famous work is his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and Rabbit Remembered). Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest both won Pulitzer Prizes for Updike. Describing his subject as "the American small town, Protestant middle class," Updike is well known for his careful craftsmanship and prolific writing, havin ...more
More about John Updike...

Share This Book