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Gertrude And Claudius

3.53 of 5 stars 3.53  ·  rating details  ·  1,562 ratings  ·  148 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)
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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
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
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
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
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
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
Sue Whelan
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
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
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."
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.
Alison McLennan
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.
This is the first Updike book that I have read and found it to be so disappointing. I went to the library to get Rabbit, Run, but my library didn't have it, then the cover blurb of this one caught my eye. It sounded like a great plot, the events leading up to Shakespeare's Hamlet; such a scandalous story of the grand passion and intrigue leading to murder most foul! But the book failed to catch my attention. I found myself unable to concentrate on it and was very bored often reading a page over ...more
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
James Ritchie
Apr 24, 2014 James Ritchie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Updike fans, Shakespeareans
Recommended to James Ritchie by: I read all Updike
This is not my favorite Updike book nor is it my least favorite, but I enjoyed reading it and found it interesting. This is written as a prequel to Shakespeare's "Hamlet". The story follows the Queen, Gertrude, from her childhood through her marriage to Claudius at which time Hamlet agrees to return to the court at Castle Elsinore after spending many of his youthful years at Wittenberg. Updike draws from three historical texts for his story. As the story progresses through time and, consequently ...more
"J.M." "J.M."
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
Scott Williams
I found this wonderfully entertaining! Updike gives us a "prequel" to Shakespeare's Hamlet. He draws on several ancient sources to tell the love story of Gertrude and Claudius. I hadn't ever thought of Gertrude and Claudius as anything more than villains in the story but Updike makes them truly human and relatable. The first half of the book is one of the most satisfying love stories I have read (I should note that I have read very few).

This is the first of Updike's writing that I have read. It
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
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
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
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
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Quite a nice book! It does make me want to go [re]read Hamlet, with this new perspective in mind.

Several of the Goodreads reviews were quite interesting.
Updike does bring the 12c [?] characters to life. Largely showing them as creatures of their time and culture, yet also showing them to be human beings with longings and aspirations like our own.

Who can say how plausible his rendering is of two royals in the 12th century?

On the one hand, one can read texts 200, 300 years old and marvel at how si
John Updike brilliantly envisions a story for Hamlet's Gertrude. In Gertrude and Claudius, she is a human who has duties, desires, and flaws. I enjoyed seeing her in such a realistic light. I think Updike did great things for this character.

I am pleased that there was a lack of Hamlet in the novel. He is often the focus of the tragedy, and for good reason. However, taking him away allows for the other characters to bloom.

In regards to the name changes...well, I think they serve their purpose, e
I really enjoyed this book - it was a quicker read and less inflammatory than most of Updike's work that I've encountered. I really enjoyed this take on Hamlet, and enjoyed seeing the world of Hamlet mostly through Gertrude's eyes. The sensuality of the language did not fail to live up to both the origin story and Updike's own style. It is the sexiest and subtlest of his books that, again, I have encountered (I have by no means read all of his work and I'm not sure I really want to....)
Philip Lane
I was disappointed with this book from a reknowned author. Although it is an interesting idea to look into a sort of prequel to a famous pice of literature, in this case Hamlet, I am not sure he result quite lives up to expectations. The language is a bit flowery, making it tough going at times and the characters I felt were not really developed in any interesting way. I didn't feel by the end that I had any more insight into Hamlet than I could get from Shakespeare. This is of course the danger ...more
Wow, was this a difficult book to get through. I picked this up at the library in honor of John Updike who recently died. I must say I am glad I didn't purchase it!

The idea of this book is wonderful; it is the story of Hamlet's mother as she has reached womanhood and is married to Hamlet's father. The book explores what kind of a marriage they might have had and what might have driven her into the arms of his brother and how that relationship resulted in the murder of her husband.

While the plot
Cory Howell
This was really excellent, one of Updike's later novels. If you're a fan of Shakespeare's play, and have read about some of the Bard's sources, you'll find this an interesting take on the source material. It's really a sort of "prequel" to Hamlet, a novel that fills in the sketchy backgrounds of Gertrude, Claudius, and Hamlet's father. Interestingly, Updike changes the names of the main characters in each of the three sections of the book, using the names as they appear in Saxo Grammaticus in th ...more
I have not read much John Updike as could never get into the Rabbit novels, but a Goodreads friend recently read this and I was not familiar with it at all. I would probably give it 3 and a half stars. It is very clever and full of wonderful medieval details of clothing, households and food. Also, I had forgotten that Hamlet had left to go to university at Wittenberg, a place I will soon be visiting. So basically, this is the backstory of Gertude, her girlhood and somewhat dysfunctional family l ...more
Justin Lakey
I love me some Updike, and I liked how he added some background to the characters, but I didn't really like the particular background he conjured up. I believe he tried to make them more sympathetic than they seem in Shakespeare or the other works he pulls from by casting them in a modern light to a modern society. But that's what Updike does and that's why I love him. It's just in this instance I preferred the black and white without shades of gray. I mean come on, screw Claudius.
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John Hoyer Updike (born March 18, 1932 in Shillington, Pennsylvania) 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 hi ...more
More about John Updike...
Rabbit, Run (Rabbit Angstrom, #1) Rabbit at Rest (Rabbit Angstrom, #4) Rabbit Is Rich (Rabbit Angstrom, #3) Rabbit Redux (Rabbit Angstrom, #2) The Witches of Eastwick (Eastwick, #1)

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