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The amused play of her mouth and eyes, the casual music of her considerate voice, a glimpse of her bare feet and rosy morning languor were to him amorous nutrition enough: at this delicate stage the image of more would have revolted him.... What we love, he understood from the poetry of Provence, where his restless freelancing had more than once taken him, is less the gift bestowed, the moon-mottled nakedness and wet-socketed submission, than the Heavenly graciousness of bestowal.Subtract the poetry (and leave in the wet-socket business) and we're not too far from Rabbit Angstrom. As in the bulk of his fiction--and most conspicuously in the underrated In the Beauty of the Lilies--Updike sacrifices artistic firepower when he goes archaic on us. That explains why Gertrude and Claudius gets off to a wobbly start, with the author's medieval diction careening all over the page. But once his narrative gets up to speed, Updike dispenses one brilliant bit of perception after another. Note, for example, Ophelia's teeth, "given an almost infantile roundness by her low, palely pink gums, and tilted very slightly inward, so her smile imparted a glimmering impression of coyness, with even something light-heartedly wanton about it." Who else could make mere dentition such a window into the soul?
Gertrude and Claudius also amounts to a running theological argument, in which men constantly impale themselves on metaphysical principle while the adulterous queen is willing "to accept the world at face value, as a miracle daily renewed." (That would explain Gertrude's snap diagnosis of her neurotic son: "Too much German philosophy.") A superlative satellite to Shakespeare's creation, Updike's novel is likely to retain a kind of subordinate rank, even within his own capacious body of work. Still, it's packed with enough post-Elizabethan insight about men and women, parents and children, to suggest that the play's not the thing--not always, anyway. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Best book ever. A must read if you are reading or seeing Hamlet.Published 1 month ago by Elizabeth Frist
Loved it. This prequel gave me a much better insight to the characters.Published 1 month ago by Don Arkangel
I am a big fan of Updike. My husband is a professor of Literature who has imparted to me a love of Shakespeare. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Mildred E. Kaye
If you are a fan of Shakespeare's plays you will enjoy reading this book. It is interesting as a possible history of what happened before the Hamlet play. Read morePublished 23 months ago by rose weaver
I'm coming back to Shakespeare years after I received a degree in English, plagued anew by the mysteries of Hamlet -- one of the most notorious of them being Gertrude's decision to... Read morePublished on January 8, 2012 by Amazon Customer
The book is an interesting attempt to supply the background material, or the prologue to Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Read morePublished on August 13, 2009 by D. E. W. Turner
My answer to the question "do we need a prequel to Hamlet?" would have been absolutely not, before reading Updike's novel. I have changed my mind. Read morePublished on March 21, 2009 by Massimo Pigliucci
Hamlet is not the central character in this novel by the prolific Updike. In most of the book, he is off at Wittenberg. We learn that Amleth was not a happy child. Read morePublished on January 28, 2009 by CRT
'Gertrude and Claudius' is the only Updike novel I've ever read, so I came to it with no preconceptions about his work. Read morePublished on November 3, 2008 by Silver Whistle