Before reading: Gertrude and Claudius, John Updike
You should read: Hamlet, William Shakespeare
The events of Updike’s freestanding novel are mostly a prequel to Shakespeare, though they progress into about Act I, scene ii of Hamlet. More importantly, Updike reaches back further than Shakespeare and into his sources for his characters, as if getting to the truth of them, at last. The result is, by all accounts, extraordinary. Richard Eder wrote in the NYT: “It is as if the stage characters had drifted from their roles to reflect other possibilities, becoming figures of appealingly layered intention. No doubt Updike reveres Shakespeare, but ”Gertrude and Claudius” is a proffered challenge. It is novel against drama: see what broader, deeper, richer texture can be achieved through fiction’s indeterminacy than through the dramatic determinacy of a figure on the stage. It is a courtly challenge: art against art.” The best kind of challenge there is.