Gertrude and Claudius
By John Updike
(Random House Trade Paperbacks, Paperback, 9780449006979, 224pp.)
Publication Date: July 3, 2001
Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover
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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.”
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.
“Shakespeare’s plays have had many offshoots. Gertrude and Claudius, though, stands in a class of its own: a superlative homage from one imaginative veteran to another.”—The Sunday Times (London)
“[A] pearl of a book . . . a game for real stakes . . . Updike has used Shakespeare to write a free-standing, pleasurable, and wonderfully dexterous novel about three figures in complex interplay.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A living, powerfully physical work . . . Updike is a superbly skillful writer.”—The Wall Street Journal