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Hamlet's succession
May 12, 2012 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Why wasn't Hamlet crowned King of Denmark immediately after his father's death?

Wouldn't that have cleared up most of the conflict in the plot?
posted by Optamystic to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
He was away studying at a university called Wittenberg when his father was murdered.
posted by patnasty at 6:27 PM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of course he was. I'm an idiot.
posted by Optamystic at 6:29 PM on May 12, 2012


The story on which Hamlet was based was written in the 12th century (Saxo Grammaticus's Gestae Danorum) and referred to a probably apocryphal power struggle that took place in IIRC the 8th century. In those days, successions weren't overseen by parliaments or written into law as they would be today. Whoever had the most guys with swords that he could convince into supporting him as king would be king.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:29 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


It wouldn't really have made much of a difference if he had been around, because he would have been unlikely to have had the armed forces necessary to defend his right to succession. Claudius was just extra cautious to have pulled off the whole coup while Hamlet was out of the country.

In the original tale, I believe, the queen (Gertha) is the successor to the throne of Denmark, and Hamlet's father (some weird name) becomes king of Denmark by marrying her. Then his brother Feng kills Hamlet's father, because he wants to marry his sister-in-law and be king of Denmark and Hamlet (Amleth) pulls a Claudius Germanicus by pretending to be mentally ill/cognitively disabled so that he isn't seen as a threat to the succession. Then similar hijinks ensue as in the play, and everyone dies except Amleth, who goes back to his father's native land of Jutland and becomes king there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:34 PM on May 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


That's that question answered, then. While we're on the subject, what production should I watch this weekend? (video, film, etc.)
posted by Optamystic at 6:36 PM on May 12, 2012


And in the original story, Hamlet's father wasn't the King of Denmark. Rather, he was a lower-level lord that happened to be married to the King's daughter.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:38 PM on May 12, 2012


I'm fond of this one, but I'm no purist. Enjoy your Hamlet weekend!
posted by Nickel Pickle at 6:41 PM on May 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Production to watch? The one with David Tennant, of course.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:42 PM on May 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm fairly sure Amleth's father (some string of vowels that I can't remember) and his brother Feng were both crowned King of Denmark in Saxo Grammaticus, by virtue of their marriage to Gertha. They were sons of the King of Jutland. I am, however, going to declare that I might be totally wrong and that I am just too lazy to read Latin tonight to check if I am.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:43 PM on May 12, 2012


their respective marriages, I mean. Obviously Latin is out the question, as I'm not doing so well with English.

I like the BBC one with Derek Jacobi as Hamlet and Claire Bloom as Gertrude best. Bonus Patrick Stewart as Claudius, even though he's younger than Jacobi.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:45 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I loathe Mel Gibson but I still love his adaptation. Glenn Close is the perfect Viking queen... it's just so atmospheric.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:58 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Imma vote for Olivier.
posted by Occula at 7:52 PM on May 12, 2012


Also, it seems that in Shakespeare's version, kingship was determined by election. Hamlet gives Fortinbras his dying vote.
posted by pised at 7:54 PM on May 12, 2012


Also, it seems that in Shakespeare's version, kingship was determined by election. Hamlet gives Fortinbras his dying vote.

As I recall from studying the play this is the correct answer. It's a crucial fact for readings of the play that are more sympathetic to Claudius: for a Denmark facing imminent invasion by Fortinbras it seems reasonable to think that Claudius over Hamlet was actually the wiser choice...
posted by gerryblog at 8:45 PM on May 12, 2012


Fortinbras also has lots of guys with swords; Hamlet's blessing gives him the moral high ground as well, but Shakespeare was well aware that getting the dying king's blessing is useless without the guys with swords (see: Lady Jane Grey).
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:47 PM on May 12, 2012


The only film adaptation using the complete text was Kenneth Branagh's. I quite like it, with the exception of a couple of scenes (especially the "imminent death of twenty thousand men," which is quite overwrought). Great cinematography. And Charlton Heston as the Player King is transcendent.
posted by Dasein at 9:51 PM on May 12, 2012


FWIW, I'm still waiting for a film version of Hamlet that I really like. Problem is that they tend to be made by actors who are deeply in love with the play and have spent a lot of time focusing on their own portrayal of Hamlet, which turns into making the story revolve entirely around Hamlet.

[sigh] If the world revolves around Hamlet, he wouldn't be in this position.
posted by desuetude at 11:41 PM on May 12, 2012


You should watch this production.
posted by neushoorn at 12:27 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd recommend Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet as nothing short of amazing... it's also nothing short. At five hours and change, you might want to make a few snacks before settling in.
posted by sonika at 8:39 AM on May 13, 2012


Nthing Branagh's. It's wonderful.
posted by griphus at 8:51 AM on May 13, 2012


I've seen a lotta Hamlets, and David Tennant's stands out as the first one to give me real flashes of insight into Hamlet's sometimes seemingly inexplicable behavior. Plus I've never seen the scene between Hamlet and Gertrude played better.
posted by OolooKitty at 9:04 AM on May 13, 2012


When I heard Ethan Hawke was doing a Hamlet set in modern-day Manhattan, I said "Feh." And then I watched it and said "Woah."
posted by cyndigo at 10:40 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


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