When observing a series of events, the order or outcome of each event is dependent on the actions of those people involved. From what a person says or does and every little thing in between, an entire series of events can completely change. In Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, the actions of the main characters play a huge role in the book. Anybody can just read the book straightforward; it is far more interesting, however, to look at the order of events in the book and draw alternative conclusions. When observing the chain of events in Hamlet, one character in particular stands out. King Claudius plays a huge role in the play. Claudius’ actions, big or small, all greatly impact the way the story unfolds.
If it was not for Claudius killing King Hamlet in the first place, there would be no play. Early in the play, it is clear that Hamlet feels emotionally dead by the death of his father; his mother’s quick marriage with his uncle did not help, either. In agony, Hamlet says “Within a month, \ ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears \ had left the flushing in her galled eyes, \ she married” (1.2.158-161). It could be said that Hamlet at this point has some anger against Claudius and believes he was the murderer of King Hamlet. Even though he feels suspicious, Hamlet cannot act on a gut feeling alone. Hamlet had to be sure of who was responsible for killing his father. Hamlet cannot seek revenge against a suspect. However, Hamlet catches a break. Luckily for Hamlet, he gets all the information he needs from a ghost that the night guards have seen. Hamlet is told the ghost looks like his dead father. Hamlet meets this ghost in person and he indeed reveals himself as the ghost of Hamlet’s dad. The ghost of King Hamlet tells Hamlet how the murderer kills him.
Sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused. But know, tough noble youth,
The serpent that did sting they father’s life
Now wears his crown. (1.5.42-47)
The ghost of King Hamlet gives Hamlet crucial information regarding his death. Thanks to the important meeting, Hamlet has enough reason to suspect Claudius. At this point, Hamlet begins his long path that would lead to his destruction and to the destruction of others. If Claudius never kills Hamlet’s dad, then the whole play changes. After murdering the King, Claudius userps the crown and marries wrongfully to Gertrude, which causes Hamlet to begin to have second thoughts about his uncle, Claudius. It wasn’t time yet, however, to kill Claudius; Hamlet needs to find a way to prove the ghost told the truth first.
Claudius continues to be paranoid of Hamlet, which further impacts the order of events. Hamlet changes drastically when he and the ghost speak and because of this, Claudius sets two people up to spy on him. Both Gertrude and Claudius worry of Hamlet’s new attitude and are afraid for his sanity. They both decide to arrange for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to meet with Hamlet in an attempt to spy on him. Hamlet meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, his childhood friends, whom he hasn’t seen in many years. During his first conversation with them, Hamlet asks the two: But let me conjure
You by the rights of our fellowship, by the consonancy
Of our youth, by the obligation of our ever
Preserved love and by what more dear a better
Proposer can change you withal: be even and direct
With me whether you were sent for or no. (1.2.309-311)
It occurs to Hamlet that they have absolutely no reason to be in Denmark and they must have been sent for by his parents. Soon after, Hamlet is struck with a stroke of genius. Thanks to his meeting with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet comes up with a way to expose his uncle. Hamlet’s great plan only came to him because of his location. If Hamlet never saw the touring actors, this idea wouldn’t happen. As the three speak, a group of touring actors enters the room and Hamlet announces his new idea: For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With the most miraculous organ. I’ll have these players
play something like the murder of my father
before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks;
I’ll tent him to the quick. If he do blench,
I know my course. (2.2.623-627)
Hamlet realizes how he will be able to find out the truth about Claudius. Hamlet wants Claudius watch a play that depicts his father’s death; if Claudius feels stunned by it then Hamlet has enough proof to fulfill his revenge. If Claudius never sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to try to spy on Hamlet, the play could change in a big way. If Claudius never attempts to spy on Hamlet, Hamlet never gets the chance discovers his plan for starting his revenge.
Hamlet’s play shocks Claudius causing him to rise; thanks to Claudius rising, Hamlet gains the strength to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet’s plan to prove the ghost of his father was telling the truth is setup and all he needs now was the reaction from Claudius. After the Lucianus character, portraying Claudius, poisons the ear of the king, Hamlet rises and shouts at Claudius:
He poisons him I’th’ garden for his state. His
Name’s Gonzago. The story is extant and written in
very choice Italian. You shall see anon how the
murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife. (3.2.287-290)
Claudius leaves the play after seeing the murder. He doesn’t expect the play to portray his killing of King Hamlet. By leaving, Claudius gives Hamlet the reaction he needs. Hamlet’s entire decision on whether or not to kill Claudius depends on if Claudius is shocked by the murder. If Claudius knew what was going on and never let his emotions get to him, he would live. If Claudius remained calm during murder, Hamlet never would feel he had enough proof to kill Claudius. However, Claudius leaves the play. Had he have reacted differently, the entire outcome of the play would end differently. The ghosts of King Hamlet’s words were correct and Hamlet becomes ready to avenge his father’s death by killing Claudius.
Claudius, fearful for his life, tries to send Hamlet to England where he can get assassinated but ends with himself and many others dying along with him, which happens to be Claudius’ final major impact over the story line. Unfortunately for Claudius, Hamlet makes it back to Denmark. Claudius manipulates Laertes’ rage over his father’s death and convinces him to plot against Hamlet. Should Hamlet “…by chance escape [Laertes’] venomed stuck” (4.7.184), they will poison Hamlet with a toast. His plans, however, do not go as he they expect. Dying from a blow from Hamlet during the duel, Laertes admits: The treacherous instrument is in (thy) hand,
Unbated and envenomed. The foul practice
Hath turned itself on me. Lo, here I lie,
Never to rise again. They mother’s poisoned.
I can no more. The King, the King’s to blame” (5.2.347-351) Laertes admits to Hamlet that he put poison on his sword before the duel and no one would have died if it wasn’t for Claudius. Instead of only Hamlet dying, Gertrude, Laertes, Hamlet and Claudius die. Laerte’s sword poisons himself and Hamlet. Gertrude poisons herself with Hamlet’s drink and Hamlet forces Claudius to drink poison because of it. Claudius’ actions in the end of the play caused it to end in a very tragic way. Because Claudius decides he will try to kill Hamle, he sets up the plot to murder him, which in the end fails. Although it would only delay the inevitable, Hamlet killing Claudius, the play definitely could have at least had been different. He could have tried to make amends with Hamlet but secretly plot to be done with him.
Claudius has the most control over the play’s series of events out of all of the main characters. His actions in the play could have either been altered slightly or completely changed but they all would have resulted in a drastic change in the play simply because of how important his role is in the play. It only takes four times to see this importance. In the beginning of the play, the entire story depends on King Hamlet’s murder. Claudius kills King Hamlet which causes Hamlet to seek revenge. If it had not have been for this action, there would be no play in the first place. Secondly, Claudius’ decisions based on his paranoia of Hamlet impact the chain of events just as much. Claudius wants Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet, but this only results in Hamlet’s awareness of his uncle’s intentions. Thirdly, Claudius’ reaction to the play set up by Hamlet. If Claudius never would have left the play after the murderer kills the king, Hamlet would not have known for sure that the information given to him by the ghost was correct. Lastly, his plans of murdering Hamlet impacted the ending chain of events severely. By trying to get rid of his nephew permanently, he sacrificed others and himself. Each action performed by Claudius, big or little, has some power over how things turn out in the play.