Although Updike has from time to time been charged with being a misogynist blessed with a graceful style by critics of various persuasions, the first characteristic one observes about this novel is the sequence in which the characters' names appear in the title. By contrast, Shakespeare's three plays, named after joint protagonists, consistently exhibit a patriarchal priority characteristic of his age (Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida, Antony and Cleopatra)., Updike's title, however, gives the privileged position to the woman who drives the male characters in Hamlet: the mother upon whom Hamlet obsesses; the wife Claudius genuinely adores, to the degree that he endangers his throne to keep her beloved son nearby; and the widow whom the Ghost (an ectoplasmic inconsistency that overwhelms young Hamlet) tells young Hamlet to spare while wreaking vengeance on her lover. Although she is the center of three men's universe in the play, Shakespeare's Gertrude is hard to comprehend fully. Is she complicit in her husband's murder? An adulteress who rushed to the altar with her lover after her husband's sudden death? A traditional, weak, woman incapable of living without a strong male presence? Any of these may be true of Shakespeare's character; but none is provable by data or statements within the play. In Updike's novel both the priority and the sympathy are clearly with Gertrude, a lively young woman whose body, love, and loyalty are negotiated by her...
(The entire section is 3091 words.)
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