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Character Analysis of Claudius in Hamlet

By ashlikaeandra Aug 01, 2012 588 Words
Hamlet’s major antagonist is a shrewd, lustful, conniving king who contrasts sharply with the other male characters in the play. Claudius is bent upon maintaining his own power. He strikes us an intelligent and capable ruler. He gives a speech to make his court and country proud, addressing his brother's death and the potential conflict with Norway. Claudius knows that a change in government could ignite civil unrest, and he is afraid of possible unlawful allegiances and rebellion. His speech juxtaposes the people's loss with the new beginning they will have under his care, and he uses the death of Hamlet's father to create a sense of national solidarity, "the whole kingdom/to be contracted in one brow of woe" (1.2.3-4). Claudius craved the throne, and went to great lengths to obtain--and keep--his position as king once he gets it. He is able to manipulate other people to do what he wants them to. Take for example Polonius, who does his bidding all of the time. Also take Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; they used to be trusted friends of Hamlet's, but under Claudius' manipulation turn into spies and potential murderers. Then, Laertes is cunningly manipulated into challenging and intending to kill Hamlet. Claudius takes what he wants, with no concern for others. He murders his brother and woos the queen, all to obtain the kingdom. Whether this hurts people in the process is of little concern to him. One telling scene in the play shows Claudius on his knees, praying, tormented by his sins. So despite his crimes and cunning nature, he still has a conscience that afflicts him occasionally. Even though Claudius is able to take the throne and manipulate people, he is very smart in how he does it. He is aware of his position and popular opinion, and works around it very well. Instead of having Hamlet killed for Polonius' murder, he sends Hamlet away on a ship, ordering his death away from the kingdom where people might rebel. He carefully arranges for Hamlet's death to look like it had no connection to him. He is smart, clever, and uses that gift to his benefit The old King Hamlet was apparently a stern warrior, but Claudius is a corrupt politician whose main weapon is his ability to manipulate others through his skillful use of language. Claudius’s speech is compared to poison being poured in the ear—the method he used to murder Hamlet’s father. Claudius’s love for Gertrude may be sincere, but it also seems likely that he married her as a strategic move, to help him win the throne away from Hamlet after the death of the king. As the play progresses, Claudius’s mounting fear of Hamlet’s insanity leads him to ever greater self-preoccupation; when Gertrude tells him that Hamlet has killed Polonius, Claudius does not remark that Gertrude might have been in danger, but only that he would have been in danger had he been in the room. He tells Laertes the same thing as he attempts to soothe the young man’s anger after his father’s death. Claudius is ultimately too crafty for his own good. In Act V, scene ii, rather than allowing Laertes only two methods of killing Hamlet, the sharpened sword and the poison on the blade, Claudius insists on a third, the poisoned goblet. When Gertrude inadvertently drinks the poison and dies, Hamlet is at last able to bring himself to kill Claudius, and the king is felled by his own cowardly machination.

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