Claudius From Hamlet

  • Category: English
  • Words: 1418
  • Grade: 100
Claudius' Interaction with other characters
Claudius is shrewd, conniving, deceptive, and dishonest. The relationships between Claudius and other characters in Hamlet, ultimately conclude in the type of person Claudius is. He is manipulative with his skillful use of language to other characters in the play.
Claudius' love for Gertrude may be sincere, but it is more probable that he married her for personal gain of the throne. For example, when Polonius was murdered, Claudius makes a remark that he is in danger, though he did not remark that Gertrude was in danger, although she was in the same room as Polonius.
Claudius' mounting fear of Hamlet's insanity leads him to greater pre-occupation. He uses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to watch Hamlet, suspicious in his actions and madness. Also, he and Polonius use Ophelia to spy on Hamlet. He makes a remark that the great ones must be watched. Altogether in the end, he is distrustful of Hamlet's madness, and deports him to England to be killed.
Manipulation is greatly used in interactions between Laertes and Claudius. Claudius convinces Laertes that Hamlet stands at the root of his troubles. Conclusively, Claudius wants Laertes to murder Hamlet for him.
Claudius' craftiness and deception, in association with other characters, is decisive in his own downfall. The king is killed by Hamlet, and is ultimately defeated by his own cowardly scheme.

Hamlet Sr. & Jr. versus Claudius
The characters of both Hamlet Sr. and Hamlet Jr. can be seen as foils for Claudius. They both seemingly represent opposites of him. In the majority of plays, including Shakespearean works, there is always a good and evil character. In Hamlet, Hamlet Sr. and Hamlet Jr. stand on the good side, while Claudius stands for evil. Throughout the play, Shakespeare makes this contrast very vivid.
Evidently, since the play begins with Hamlet Sr.'s death, the reader knows little about how Claudius' relationship with Hamlet Sr.. However, several things can be interpreted or inferred. First of all, obviously Claudius' love for Hamlet Sr. was not great enough to prevent him from killing him. Hamlet Sr. was most likely a popular or well-liked king. This contends to a realization of the audience that Claudius may have problems in his new reign. Basically, Claudius is jealous of Hamlet Sr.'s success: Hamlet Sr. was everything Claudius wanted to be.
In Act 1 scene ii, with the ghost of Hamlet Sr., the contrast becomes quite obvious. Hamlet Sr. returns as a ghost to tell his son that Claudius killed him. Presumably, this is in the interest that his son will do the honorable thing which is to avenge his father's death. In this scene, Claudius is immediately established as evil, someone who has few good qualities. The audience has made this connection and it drives the plot for the remainder of the play.
Claudius' relationship with Hamlet Jr. after he becomes king is complex. He tries to act like a loving "father" to Hamlet. He even has a "man to man" chat with him telling him the whole kingdom will be his one day. He tells him to forget about his father, to move on. This serves as a sharp contrast to what he says when Hamlet is not present. He confides to Polonius that Hamlet is mad, and that because of this he wants him banished. However, Claudius in reality wants Hamlet banished because he fears Hamlet's intelligence. He is worried that if Hamlet sticks around too long he'll discover the truth about the earlier king's demise. Claudius fears for his own safety, not the good of Denmark.

Effects of Guilt on Claudius
At the beginning of the play, Claudius is extremely confident he will preserve his position. If murdering King Hamlet would cost Claudius any pain, the queen and the throne could alleviate his pain. Throughout the play, Claudius' chain of being fractures until it completely shatters. He develops a guilty conscience that causes him to make poor decisions which, in turn, are results of his tragic flaw.
At first, a confident Claudius tries to win Hamlet's good will in order to make the best of a difficult situation. Claudius' behavior is provoked by Hamlet's lengthy mourning as well as the apparent grudge Hamlet seems to carry of the marriage and throne. Claudius becomes very concerned with the way Hamlet has been acting and is convinced he can find a solution by spying on Hamlet. Claudius assumes that Hamlet is mad after several confrontations with Ophelia. Claudius is certain he must act to protect himself from Hamlet's madness. Claudius controls himself very well up until the "play within a play". Claudius is anxious to overcome the obstacle, the fact that Hamlet is a threat.
Hamlet instructs players to act out the murder of King Hamlet. The play is successful in that it completely breaks Claudius' composure and successfully arouses his guilt. Hamlet is satisfied with Claudius' reaction to the play. The soliloquy Claudius cites in Act III indicates that guilt shattered Claudius' success. The guilt is tormenting him despite all efforts to protect him. Claudius wants to repent and still enjoy what he has gained. While talking to himself, he wonders what the purpose of divine mercy is if not to forgive the guilty. "Pray can I not... Though inclination be as sharp as will, my stronger guilt defeats my strong intent." Claudius is aware that God cannot pardon him or relieve him of his guilt, while he still wants to enjoy the queen and crown. While Claudius is openly praying, he does not realize that Hamlet is watching him.
While Hamlet is speaking of Claudius' actions to Gertrude, he hears someone behind a curtain, presuming it to be Claudius. It is not Claudius though, it is Polonius. Thinking it is Claudius, Hamlet murders Polonius. This further contributes to Claudius' fear of Hamlet. Claudius' conscience is strong enough to kindle guilt, but not powerful enough to keep his actions moral. Fed up, Claudius plans Hamlet's murder, though he will not perform it himself, and immediately turns to Laertes. Claudius made up the plan with the intent of ridding himself of the guilt that Hamlet imposes on him. Laertes will kill Hamlet by poisoning his sword, or Hamlet will die to poisoned wine. Ironically, this plan assists in his own demise. In fact, Claudius, Gertrude, Hamlet, and Laertes are all casualties of Claudius' cowardly plan.

Moral Culpability of Claudius
Greed, envy, infidelity are malicious traits one would hardly expect to find in a king. Yet Claudius, in Shakespeare's Hamlet, proves contrary to this line of thinking. He is a character that represents an underlying evil present in society. Not evil in the conventional sense but that in he is more likely to cause harm than well being. He adorns a crown on head and a scepter in hand, earned not by birthright, but through foul play.
Concerning the issue of moral culpability there is much to be said. First and foremost, from the start of the play, Claudius wears a heavy blanket of guilt. This is because, when he killed his brother, it was as if he had murdered his own soul. He finally comes to terms with this reality as is seen when he repents in his private alter (Act 3, Scene 3). Claudius understands that he is too wrapped up in the throne (and Gertrude) to ever be square in the eyes of god.
Additionally, Claudius has to concern himself with the remaining deaths of the people surrounding him. Indirectly it was Claudius that caused Polonius to die; after all he was the one that asked Polonius to spy on Hamlet. In this regard, he is not morally culpable which is plainly seen when Claudius vows to dispatch Hamlet when Polonius falls. How can one who feels morally culpable about a death justify it with the taking of another life?

Claudius' Driving of the Plot
It can be said that Claudius is one of the definitive plot drivers. The actions he takes, or more importantly doesn't take (i.e. procrastination of killing Hamlet), hold a significant sway with the actions the other characters take. Would Ophelia really have been driven to insanity over her father's death if Claudius had not asked Polonius to spy on Hamlet? Finally, one must not forget that Hamlet would not have vowed revenge if Claudius had not killed his father. Conclusively, Claudius drives the plot simply by being the antagonist of the play.
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