King Claudius is perhaps the one who puts on the biggest act out of all these characters. Claudius’s personality is completely false, especially when it comes to his pretended love for Hamlet and the supposed grief he has for his dead brother. When the audience first sees Claudius,it seems that he is sincere in his grief for his brother. He describes to the court his mixed emotions concerning his brother’s death and his hasty marriage:
Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death
The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe,
Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him
Together with remembrance of ourselves (1.2.1-7).
Claudius is careful to appear to be grieving and anxious to show that his recent marriage does not mean disrespect to his brother. In the same scene he also presents himself as a good king, sending ambassadors to deal with the problem of Fortinbras and granting permission to Laertes to return to France, and he demonstrates the ability to handle issues at court. However, when the Ghost reveals to Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius, the audience realizes that the reality of Claudius’ inner character is very different from the appearance he presents. Claudius’s motive for creating a false appearance is to cover up the reality of his crime.
Claudius hides his crime even from his wife, Gertrude. She clearly hasn’t been an accomplice because the Ghost specifically instructs Hamlet, “Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive/Against thy Mother aught” (1.5.92-93). Even his wife, Gertrude, doesn’t know who Claudius really is.
If the audience has any question about old Hamlet being murdered by his brother, that doubt is removed when Claudius’s false appearance is stripped away as he unsuccessfully attempts to pray:
But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder’?
That cannot be, since I am still possessed
Of those effects for which I did the murder:
My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.(3.3.55-59)
Once alone, Claudius reveals the truth. When Claudius realizes that Hamlet is onto him, he goes to great lengths to try to get rid of Hamlet so that he can maintain his false appearance of innocence. When the plot to send Hamlet to his death in England fails, Claudius, like Polonius and Hamlet, sets up a false scene in an attempt to have Hamlet killed. The sword fight at the end of the play is meant to appear as a friendly sport, but in reality, it is all just Claudius’s plan for murder by poisoned wine or poisoned sword tips. Claudius’s actions are arguably the most corrupt of all, although at times, Polonius’s deeds throughout the play are almost as unjust as Claudius’s (CHANGE...