GERTRUDE OF DENMARK: AN INTERPRETATIVE ROMANCE BY LILLIE BUFFUM CHACE WYMAN WITH AN AFTERWORD BY MARTHA ROZETT

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    Gertrude of Denmark: An Interpretative Romance is a rediscovered early 20th Century feminist novel by Lillie Buffum Chace Wyman, with an afterword by Shakespeare scholar, Martha Rozett, who found this forgotten work waiting for her in the Folger Shakespeare Library.

    The late Carolyn Heilbrun challenged feminists to free ourselves from masculine perspectives, and write about Hamlet’s mother instead of about Hamlet. This, as it happens, Lillie Buffum Chace Wyman had already done in 1924.

    We begin in a garden with the narrator half asleep.  She is visited by the ghost of Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, who begs the narrator to “tell my history aright.” Shakespeare, it seems, unaware of women’s perspectives and concerns, got things a little wrong.  Gertrude was not the foolish, lustful, possibly criminal woman Hamlet and Shakespeare believed her to be, nor was Hamlet the center of the story. This novel, like such later retellings of canonical fiction as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon,  sets the record straight. 

    Rozett is the author of Talking Back to Shakespeare, from which her afterword here is reprinted. Wyman was a social activist as well as the daughter of a well-known activist and abolitionist, and her activist perspectives on women’s rights permeate the narrative.  Partly simply a good story told in charming, turn-of-the-last-century style, partly re/visionary Shakespeare criticism, this early first wave feminist work is a must both  for every serious feminist reader, teacher, or collection and for Shakespeare scholars seeking feminist perspectives.

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    The cover illustration in the center medallion is from Charles Dana Gibson’s graphic novel, A Widow and Her Friends, first published around the time of Wyman’s book. The caption reads, “She is disturbed by a vision which appears to be herself.”