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Gertrude and Claudius Study Guide & Plot Summary

This Study Guide consists of approximately 81 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Gertrude and Claudius.
This section contains 776 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our Gertrude and Claudius Study Guide

Gertrude and Claudius Summary & Study Guide Description

Gertrude and Claudius Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Related Titles and a Free Quiz on Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike.

Plot Summary

This story is a prequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet. The King of Denmark marries his bright, lively daughter to the beefy, self-righteous Horwendil the Jute. She wants more from a husband than to be his political prize, but she knows her duty and submits to the marriage. Horwendil becomes King, when her father dies. She bears him a son, Amleth/Hamlet. She is a gracious and dutiful Queen and tries to love her husband and son, who are both remote. She feels empty, that her life is passing her by.

At forty-seven, Gertrude is seduced into a passionate affair by the King's brother, Feng/Claudius, who has loved her devotedly for many years. The King discovers the affair and confronts Claudius. Claudius, threatened with estrangement from Gertrude, conspires with Corambus/Polonius to murder the King. He and Gertrude marry. Claudius wants Hamlet at Elsinore, but Gertrude thinks him a danger to her husband. Claudius prevails. The story ends, as Hamlet agrees to remain at the castle, while a contented King Claudius thinks that he has gotten away with it and all will be well.

Gerutha/Gertrude is a bright, sunny girl of sixteen, daughter of Rorik, King of Denmark, and a mother who died many years ago. Her father has betrothed her to Horwendil/Claudius the Jute, a beefy, self-satisfied warrior, co-governor of Jutland (with his absentee brother, Feng/Claudius). Rorik loves his daughter deeply, as she loves him, and believes that Horwendil will make her happy. He also believes that Horwendil will make Denmark a fine king after him. She objects to being the plunder with which Horwendil is rewarded, thinks he loves her for what she is, not who she is, and that he could love any other woman in her place.

Although she resists, she knows her duty and marries Horwendil. They return to his manor after the wedding celebration. She undresses by the fire in their bedchamber, aroused by her nakedness in front of him. He has fallen asleep, however, and they don't consummate their marriage until the morning. She feels snubbed from the night before, however, and that snub will fester for many years to come, a symbol of all the ways he does not see her. Gerutha is a good and compliant wife, gracious and clever. She is soon pregnant. As the baby grows inside her, illness grows inside her father. He is dead, even before her son is born. She plans to name him for her father, but her husband names him "Amleth" to commemorate a military victory.

In due time, the four provincial assemblies confirm Horwendil as King. Amleth is a cranky, sickly baby. Gerutha's milk is sour to him, and he takes no comfort from her. He becomes a sickly boy, who argues with everyone, makes everything a joke, and who enjoys the company of only Yorik, the disreputable jester. He is very much his father's son, Jutish, gloomy and abstracted, with a nobleman's affected manners. Gerutha longs to bear more children but cannot. Amleth and his father spend much time together. Gerutha tries to love her husband and son, but they are remote. She feels empty and that life is passing her by.

Her husband's brother, Feng, returns from his adventures on behalf of the Holy Roman Emperor, when she is thirty-five. They spend much time together in conversation. She has always thought him more attractive and more interesting than his brother. He tells her wonderful stories and, most importantly, he listens to her and takes her seriously. He takes leave of her, and the story becomes his, as well as hers, as the reader learns of the obsessive love he holds for her. He knows that staying and being with her would hurt his brother. He would never harm his brother and leaves Denmark again. Amleth leaves the next year, off to Wittenberg to continue his education.

When Feng returns, he declares his love for Geruthe. She is swept away by his passion and asks Corambis/Polonius for use of his lakeside lodge for a rendezvous with Feng. They prove to be an excellent match, and Geruthe feels that he has given her back to herself. The King discovers the affair and confronts Feng. Feng, threatened with estrangement from Geruthe, conspires with Polonius to murder the King in a way that suggests a natural death. Feng is crowned King Claudius. He convinces Gertrude to marry him, despite her husband's very recent death. Claudius wants Prince Hamlet at Elsinore, but Gertrude thinks he's a danger to her husband. Claudius prevails. The story ends, as Hamlet agrees to remain at the castle, while a contented King Claudius thinks that he has gotten away with it, and that all will be well.

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This section contains 776 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our Gertrude and Claudius Study Guide
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Gertrude and Claudius from BookRags and Gale's For Students Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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