Did Gertrude, in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, commit adultery with Claudius before Hamlet’s father was murdered? This issue has been much debated by Shakespeare scholars, with some arguing that Gertrude must have committed adultery, while others claiming that no incontrovertible evidence exists that she did.
As almost every commentator on this issue notes, the key piece of evidence in favor of the argument that Gertrude did commit adultery are these words from the ghost, referring initially to Claudius:
Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,--
O wicked wit, and gifts that have the power
So to seduce!--won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen. (I.V.42-45)
The word “adulterate” has been used to support the claim that Claudius and Gertrude were literally adulterers before old Hamlet’s death. Yet the word...
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