365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

137. Young ladies just love to play Gertrude.

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According to TV Tropes:

Due to Double Standards concerning age and perceived attractiveness, adult males are usually played by actors of about the character’s age, but females of middle age and older are often played by actresses noticeably younger than the character. This becomes jarring when a character’s mother, or a woman otherwise stated to be of of an older generation, is played by someone only slightly older — or, in some cases, younger — than him. Named for Hamlet’s mother, who tends to be played by improbably young actresses. That this is often used to support a FreudianUnfortunate Implications: apparently there can only be sexual tension between the characters if they both appear young and pretty. This is most prominently and ridiculously pronounced in Olivier’s film version of interpretation of the text has Hamlet, which featured Eileen Herlie in the role of Gertrude despite the fact that she was eleven years younger than Olivier himself. (Note that this trope does not apply if the the actress is convincingly made to appear her character’s age.) Male examples occur too, but tend to be less jarring, perhaps because men are for some reason perceived as aging more gradually and gracefully than women.

So a few examples, of course:

The two best-known films of Hamlet: Franco Zeffirelli’s version had Glenn Close, who is only nine years older than Mel Gibson, as Gertrude. In Laurence Olivier’s version, Eileen Herlie (pictured above) was eleven years younger than Olivier.

Beyond the Trope Namer Gertrude, some productions of Hamlet do this with Claudius as well. Most notably, in the 1980 BBC version, 40-year-old Patrick Stewart played Claudius to 42-year-old Derek Jacobi’s Hamlet. This is considerably easier to justify than with Gertrude, as it is theoretically possible for Claudius to not be much older than Hamlet, (or have been born even after Hamlet), but let’s face it: it’s not likely.


Written by Caroline Mincks

February 17, 2010 at 12:31 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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