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.”

“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

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