The Complexity of Claudius's Character: Statement Analysis

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acter of Claudius: Hamlet“The character of Claudius is much too complex to be dismissed simply as the villain of the play.” What is your view of this statement?

From the very beginning of the play Shakespeare portrays Claudius to be a villainous and devious character; this is made obvious through the murder of his brother King Hamlet, the taking of his brothers bride and his plan to kill Hamlet on the other hand it could be argued that Claudius cannot be purely shown as the scoundrel of the play because of this. Although Shakespeare clearly uses him to catalyse the plot with the murder, he also goes on to show him to be making some attempt to repent on this or redeem his sins throughout the rest of the play. Claudius’ taking of the crown, marriage to Gertrude, attitude towards Hamlet and general outlook on life can all be taken into account to show him to be much more complex than he is at first perceived to be, however clearly developing a sense of tragedy and yet portraying a view of Claudius in a much wider perspective. At the start of Hamlet Shakespeare uses the murder of King Hamlet by Claudius to show a deliberate overthrow of power, depicting that Claudius has taken both the crown and his new wife Gertrude through ill means, therefore giving the audience an attitude of negativity that can be seen overtly in Hamlet’s initial speeches in the play, emphasised dramatically by his dislike of Claudius from the start; this view can be argued at varying moments and through diverse themes throughout the play but obviously contrasting to Claudius’ act of regicide. Although he may have taken the crown and right to be king through treacherous or villainous means, he is also arguably portrayed as a caring and sentimental ruler, showing great patriotism and loyalty to the country of Denmark and great attention to his land and people. This is more clearly emphasised by Shakespeare in his use of Claudius’ speech and lone scenes such as Act 1 Scene 2: in which he remarks ‘To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom To be contracted in one brow of woe’ indisputably suggesting a need for mourning for both Hamlet and Gertrude and the people of Denmark at the loss of their previous king. Shakespeare uses many parts like this to contrast the characterisation of Claudius, giving a more in depth and multifaceted account of his story during the course of the play, most specifically seen in Act 3 Scene 3 when Claudius is praying alone. Another focus closely related to the deceit in Claudius is his marriage to Gertrude, this is seen by hamlet as ‘incestuous’ and too close to the death of his father for it to be right or comfortable in the context of time and morals, ‘But two months dead – nay not so much, not two’ showing his great outrage and disgust at the amount of time it has taken for his mother and uncle to be wed, Claudius himself even seems to go on to stress this point by describing Gertrude as ‘our sometimes sister, sometime Queen’ in his speech in Act 1 Scene 2. This is however arguable through disparity of opinion based on Claudius from the audience and from Shakespeare’s directly intended portrayal; the marriage of Gertrude could show a jealousy Claudius had of his brother when he was alive and that he has and does in fact truly love Gertrude. This is portrayed through his care for her and his want to keep her in a position of political significance as queen to give continuity of the state, showing her to be the ‘imperial jointress of this warlike state’ and therefore illustrating Claudius as a more caring and moral being in the play, keeping Gertrude in both highly classed political and personal positions to keep her happy and make the death of her lost husband easier to cope with even if it was, unbeknown to her, caused by Claudius. In doing so maintaining the country’s political stability as he demonstrates in his initial speech to the court in Act 1 Scene 2; where he shows high ability in his deft and decisive...
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