Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike is a 212-page hardcover published in 2000 by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000 and is a stated first edition. The dust jacket has barely noticeable surface wear. Inside, the spine is lightly bumped. The pages are clean, crisp, and showing no signs of use.
John Updike's nineteenth novel tells the story of Claudius and Gertrude, King and Queen of Denmark, before the action of Shakespeare's Hamlet begins. Employing the nomenclature and certain details of the ancient Scandinavian legends that first describe the prince who feigns madness to achieve revenge upon his father's slayer, Updike brings to life Gertrude's girlhood as the daughter of King Rorik, her arranged marriage to the man who becomes King Hamlet, and her middle-aged affair with her husband's younger brother. Gaps and inconsistencies within the immortal play are to an extend filled and explained in this prequel; the figure of Polonius, especially, takes on a larger significance. Beginning in the aura of pagan barbarism, and anticipating Renaissance humanism and empiricism, the tale, in its modern retelling, presents the case for its royal couple that Shakespeare only hinted at. Gertrude and Claudius are seen afresh against a background of fond intentions and familial dysfunction, on a stage darkened by the ominous shadow of a sullen, disaffected prince.