Friends' Book Discussion

Mothers and Sons: "Hamlet"

Picture of Hamlet and Gertrude from film versionPlease join us for a discussion of Shakespeare's Hamlet on Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the small meeting room on the second floor.

The talk is the latest in the series on the topic of mothers and sons in Western literature, sponsored by the West End Library Friends.  The presenter will be Ori Z. Soltes, resident scholar in theology and fine arts at Georgetown University.  Refreshments will be served.

Here are 10 questions for thought:

  1. How has Shakespeare transformed the Aeschylean story of Orestes and Clytemnestra in basic structural ways?
  2. How has Shakespeare transformed other key characters — relations and friends — in his recasting the story of a young man and his mother, who are necessarily affected by other characters and not only by themselves and each other?
  3. What other famous Greek story involving a mother and her son might Shakespeare be drawing from and what does he do with Hamlet and Gertrude to cause one to suggest this? (hint: think Sophocles!)
  4. A theory was put forth a few years back that “Shakespeare” was actually a woman (Amelia Bassano Lanier; 1569-1645); if that were so, would it affect our understanding of the play and would it alter, in particular, our view of Queen Gertrude?
  5. How might Shakespeare’s view of women and his (or her) shaping of Gertrude been affected by the world in which he (or she) was writing, specifically a world in which Elizabeth I ruled England for 45 years?
  6. Where do the events take place — how real and how fantastic is the setting?
  7. What is the relationship between life and death and mortality and immortality in the unfolding of the drama?
  8. What role does sanity/insanity play in the play: What is sanity and what is insanity?
  9. How does Shakespeare play with the idea of a “play” and what is the significance of this for the larger human picture that this drama paints — or at least, plays with?
  10. Given that larger picture and its application to human relations, including those between mothers and sons, what are the criteria that Shakespeare shares with Aristotle and the Greeks to define this work as a tragedy? How might he be seen to differ from them?

Earlier books read and discussed in the series are selections from Genesis and Exodus in the Bible, Book I of The Iliad by Homer and The Libation Bearers (Oresteia) by Aeschylus.  Future discussions of books in the series are to include Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence (Jan. 16), Portnoy's Complaint by Phillip Roth (Feb. 13), My Beloved Son by Catherine Cookson (March 13), and Mothers and Sons by Colm Toibin (April 17).

Please join us for any or all of the series!