Troy Patterson
March 10, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

Gertrude And Claudius

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
John Updike
publisher
Knopf
genre
History, Fiction

We gave it a B-

Court intrigue follows from animal instinct in John Updike’s 19th novel Gertrude and Claudius, a prologue to Hamlet that reimagines how things went rotten in Denmark. We meet Gertrude, the prince’s rosy mum, as a submissive teen virgin, a ruler bound by bloodlines to marry King Hamlet. Years pass, and fixated on the ”thrilling freedom” of his brother, Claudius, she plunges into infidelity, thus treason, inspiring murder most foul. Updike is powerfully alert to the rhetorical schemes of persuasion and self-deception, but there’s something deadeningly rhetorical about his whole project. It’s as if this master stylist has, for exercise, simply pumped his old themes through a Bardolatrous time machine. The result is a highly intelligent romance novel. B-

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