Cloudy nature of the identity of Hamlet's fatherIt seems common knowledge to all that Prince Hamlet was born when the King was waging war with Fortinbras. We get a true sense of Gerturde's...

Cloudy nature of the identity of Hamlet's father

It seems common knowledge to all that Prince Hamlet was born when the King was waging war with Fortinbras. We get a true sense of Gerturde's less-than-sturdy faithfulness. Is Shakespeare leaving open the notion that Claudius may actually be the biological father? Is he a war baby of doubtful heritage?

Asked on by jeff-hauge

8 Answers | Add Yours

lmetcalf's profile pic

lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

What a delicious irony if the ghost came back to his "non-son" and told him to kill Claudius, his biological father!  That adds another layer to the revenge aspect of the story too. 

I love thinking about things like this, but in the end, I still agree with several of the posts above; Shakespeare is too good, and this play is too good.  If he wanted us to think that, there would be at least a sliver more textual evidence. 

ask996's profile pic

ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

This is a great question for debate. Let me throw in something to consider. Why did King Hamlet not have his son in direct succession to the throne? Kings were elected yes, and King Hamlet was caught unprepared for his death, but this does not seem like something that a king would leave off. If Hamlet were not his biological son, this might make sense. In addition, this might be why the ghost did not seem to care about the tragic effects his request would have on Hamlet.

jamie-wheeler's profile pic

Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Cloudy nature of the identity of Hamlet's father

It seems common knowledge to all that Prince Hamlet was born when the King was waging war with Fortinbras. We get a true sense of Gerturde's less-than-sturdy faithfulness. Is Shakespeare leaving open the notion that Claudius may actually be the biological father? Is he a war baby of doubtful heritage?

   I think I've mentioned this before in my Lit 101 blog, but there has long been speculation that Hamlet is really Claudius' son.  Bloom, for example,  in Invention of the Human asks "Whose son was Hamlet?  How far back in time did Gertrude's "incest' and "adultery" begin? Though the play refuses to say (though in its earlier version it may have been less ambiogous), neither we or Hamlet knows" (418).

Bloom cites others as having recognized the problem of paternity. Marc Shell, for example, in Children of the Earth (1993):  "What is really unique about Hamlet is not his unconscious wish to be patricidal and incestuous, but rather his conscious refusal to actually become patricidal and incestous."  Gertrude dies with Hamlet, but it is remarkable that Hamlet will not kill Claudius until he knows that he himself is dying, and that his mother is already dead."

Something to chew on...

linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

Granted I think Shakespeare would have loved a twist like that, but as I'm looking through my copy I think it really makes for an interesting post read question for students to ponder and use text to possibly support or refute the notion.

I agree with you about this notion's being used to spur discussion. You might even have a mock paternity trial/debate with two sides arguing for or against. If you want to get down to the kids' level, you could do a mock Maury Povich or Jerry Springer show! :) But before you roll your eyes at that, I did do a Dr. Philina (because I'm female) "show" when we studied Antigone. Students played the parts and talked about their dysfunctional family. 

clane's profile pic

clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

Granted I think Shakespeare would have loved a twist like that, but as I'm looking through my copy I think it really makes for an interesting post read question for students to ponder and use text to possibly support or refute the notion.

linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

This is an interesting take on the situation. I think, though, that Shakespeare would have planted some hints in the play if he wanted us to think Claudius was Hamlet's father. It would have added another layer of suspense that Shakespeare would have loved.

clane's profile pic

clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

Wow, this is an interesting take. I'm with Blaze on this one- I never considered this before and it certainly would change the story. I wonder now if this were true, if Gertrude were in on the murder plot against her husband from the get go. This would explain her insistence that Hamlet calm down and give Claudius a chance. In Act 1 Sc2 Gertrude tries to gently push Hamlet out of his grief and get on with life "cast thy nighted color off" I mean his father just died and his mother remarried his uncle, why the push to get him over it? If we think of it the way Jeff lays it out it could be that she wants Hamlets immediate acceptance of her new husband and perhaps someday dreams of telling Hamlet that it's truly his father. This is certainly one thought that I am going to keep in mind as I go back through the play. :)

alexb2's profile pic

alexb2 | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Hmm very interesting proposition, one I had not considered previously. It certainly would add a dimension to the story, and also perhaps explain why Claudius did not kill Hamlet immediately-- surely he would know that the only real threat to his power would be his murdered brother's son, the rightful heir to the throne.

We’ve answered 318,988 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question