Claudius: Politics vs Immorality

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Throughout Hamlet, Claudius is revealed to be a malevolent person at heart; however, this does not reflect that of Claudius’ role as King of Denmark. Claudius reveals his immorality through his personal actions, such as the murder of Old Hamlet, his marriage to Gertrude, and manipulative speech; however, in dealing with politics, his leadership ability and effectiveness as a king overshadows his ethical flaws.

Claudius is inserted into Hamlet as a malevolent character, as demonstrated by his murder of Old Hamlet, his attempt to murder Hamlet, and other plots to protect himself from the “slings and arrows” of his sinful life (3.1.57). Upon meeting with Hamlet privately, Old Hamlet’s ghost angrily states, “Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast, with witchcraft of his wits, with traitorous gifts” (1.5.42-3). Old Hamlet’s ghost sums up the prevalent characteristics that describe Claudius to be an immoral person, such as being an “incestuous beast.” Revealed here is the fact that Claudius won Gertrude’s affection through his clever words and fancy gifts. While speaking to his father’s ghost, Hamlet also discovers that “the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown” (1.5.38-9). From the very beginning of Hamlet, Claudius is already perceived to be a bad person due to the fact that he murdered his own brother to take over the crown of Denmark, but that is not the only reason. In Claudius’ eloquent speech to his subjects, he states that “our sometime sister, now our Queen [has] taken to wife” in “your better wisdoms” (1.2.8-15). Claudius does not only murder his brother, but he also marries his sister-in-law, which defines an incestuous relationship. However, to avoid the judgmental glares of the council, he speaks meticulously, mourning the loss of Old Hamlet before discussing the matters at hand, such as his marriage to Gertrude. Claudius illustrates his affection for the deceased Hamlet, then expresses his political concern for Denmark, swaying the council in his favor in order to convince them that his marriage to Gertrude was justified. Claudius, typically able to control his emotions, comments on Hamlet’s constant sadness for the loss of his father as “unmanly grief” (1.2.94). Unable to suppress his desire to rid his conscious of guilt from murdering his brother, Claudius reveals a more malicious, uncaring side of him. Claudius’ lack of morals is exposed mostly through that of Old Hamlet’s ghost, but his own rhetoric also plays against him.

Claudius, through his manipulative speech, is capable of talking himself out of seemingly dangerous situations. One example is presented when Laertes, hoping to seek revenge on Claudius, returns from France in a violent rage from the murder of his father. Claudius, however, asks him, “Is’t writ in your revenge that swoopstake you will draw both friend and foe, winner and loser?” (4.5.140-2). To avoid being caught in Laertes’ revenge-seeking path, Claudius calmly asks Laertes if he wants to hurt both his friends and enemies while avenging his father, pacifying the hotheaded Laertes. Even though Claudius indirectly played a part in Polonius’ murder, he hides that fact, dodging Laertes’ questions with queries of his own. Furthermore, Claudius generously states, “We will our kingdom give ' Our crown, our life, and all that we call ours […]” (4.5.199-200). In pretending to be generous, Claudius successfully takes the blame off of his shoulders and points Laertes in the “right” direction of his revenge ' Hamlet. Upon being discovered of his sinful deed through The Mousetrap, Claudius seeks out prayer so that he’ll be sent to heaven. Claudius, oblivious to Hamlet’s presence, kneels down in a vain attempt to seek out redemption, only to fail: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go” (3.3.97-8). Although Claudius makes an effort to pray, he cannot bring himself to do so because he’s wrapped up in...
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