Perennial Question

I was idly looking at the graphic below, which depicts Britain’s new royal line of succession:

Now like for most people, the succession thing is about as interesting to me as which rain droplet will reach the bottom of the windowpane first, but it does bring to mind a question which has bothered me since high school, and has never been satisfactorily answered.

It’s Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Now as any fule kno, the plot is that Hamlet’s eeeevil uncle Claudius poisoned Hamlet’s father the king, then married Hamlet’s mother Gertrude to become the new king.

Given that Hamlet was alive when his father was murdered and was therefore first in the line of succession, why did Hamlet not become king?  If I understand the rules properly, when the king dies, his wife becomes irrelevant to the whole thing, and anyone she marries afterwards even less relevant.  Claudius, therefore, had absolutely no claim to the throne (despite being Hamlet’s father’s brother) and could never have become king, unless he’d had Hamlet killed beforehand.

Or does / did Denmark have a different succession plan?  I don’t think so.

So the entire plot of Hamlet, then, is a load of old bollocks:  the uncle’s accession to the throne being simply what Alfred Hitchcock called the “mcguffin” (a device upon which to hang a plot line, requiring the suspension of disbelief from the audience, e.g. John Huston’s stolen Maltese falcon, or Casablanca‘s “letters of transit signed by General de Gaulle”).

Not that I care, mind you;  without that Shakespearean mcguffin, we’d never have been given the deathless “To be, or not to be”  speech, or seen that old busybody Polonius get a rapier through his arras.


  1. Looks like when the old gurl cashes that final check she’ll be followed by a long line of cucks of every gender. The island is in for a long tumultuous ride.

  2. In the days of yore, you would only succeed if you could enforce your right to the succession. The days of the Wars of the Roses were still remembered in Shakespeare’s day.

  3. The Danes at that time elected their king in a meeting of the Thing (sort of a parliament). The brother of a former king might swing enough votes to become king, particularly if the son of the former king was a callow, untested youth.

    1. Thank you. I always wondered about that. Not even my English prof at college could give me a satisfactory answer… draw your own conclusions.

    2. When I had to read Hamlet in school many years ago we wondered about the same thing, succession so I asked a woman who was well versed about that stuff and her thoughts were that Hamlet was a gay prince as he was portrayed and everyone knew that royalty who might become kind were not allowed to be gay until after they had married and spawned a male heir. Made sense at the time but is seems to be an unacceptable theory now so maybe I was wrong for a lot of years.

      Didn’t the English have a tradition of throwing their prince pooffs out of windows or something?

  4. As any Game of Thrones fan will tell you, sometimes the line of succession means less than nothing if someone wants the throne badly enough to convince the right people they should be king. Could be that Hamlet’s uncle had control of the right soldiers and important noblemen such that when the king died, Claudius merely laid claim to the throne and Hamlet was smart enough to not challenge his uncle for the throne.

  5. Jason (of the Argonauts fame) was the son of the rightful king of Iolcos, Aeson.
    Aeson’s half brother Pelias wanted to be king of all Thessaly and bumped off all of Aeson’s descendants that he could find, (Jason was hidden away as a baby), Aeson was locked in a dungeon, where he eventually committed suicide.
    When Jason returned as a young man, with only one sandal as prophesied, Pelias got the wind up and didn’t have the nerve to kill the rightful king in contravention of the wishes of the gods. Hence the quest which he thought would finish Jason off and if that didn’t do it, his son Acastus, who went along, would do the job.
    It all went downhill from there.
    One wonders if the current British Royal Fambly are as power hungry, heroic or treacherous.
    It would certainly liven things up.

  6. ^^^^^^ Yup, what they said, above.

    While ironclad in theory, in practice things like “Rules of Succession” were often honored as much in the breach as in the observance (see for example Richard III inferring the bastardy of Edward V so he could become king.)

  7. I just want to know how William got away with giving his second son a Frog name like Louis.

    Perhaps the sprog will try to reassert his rights over Acquitane.

  8. Hamlet even says his uncle “popped in between the election and my hopes”

    Denmark at the time had a monarchy limited by parliament.

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