King Claudius in Hamlet character analysis essay: The throne-stealing and family-dividing villain who is the 'something rotten' in the state of Denmark.
Three full sample essays on the character of King Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The villain whose corrupt ambition is the ‘something rotten’ in the state of Denmark.
Kingship: “Witchcraft of his wit”
Claudius’ moment of triumph begins and ends with the coronation scene.
Queen Gertrude: “Our sometime sister”
Gertrude remains steadfastly at the side of her second husband.
Prince Hamlet: “Mighty opposites”
A suspicious Hamlet is unswayed by Claudius’ request ‘to think of us / As of a father.’
Tragic hero: “Some vicious mole of nature”
An otherwise noble figure who dooms himself and everyone around him because of his fatal flaw.
Conclusion: “He is justly served”
King Hamlet ruled for at least three decades. His usurping brother lasted only about six months.
In the Biblical story of the Fall, the perfect life of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden ends with the appearance of the Devil, who takes the form of a snake. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Claudius is the snake-like, devilish figure who poisons his brother the king in the palace garden and then replaces him on the throne after marrying his widow, Queen Gertrude.
The motifs of the evil-doer as a snake and Denmark as a once idyllic but now fallen kingdom recur throughout the play. For example, Claudius will later attempt to execute Hamlet using the “adders fang’d” (3.4) of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Fittingly, the snake-like Claudius is “justly served” (5.2) in the final scene by dying from his own poison.
Claudius in #Hamlet - Can a bad man be a good king and loving husband? Answer: 'No.'
Claudius is compelled to expend almost all his mental energy grappling with the events that flow from his pre-play murder of King Hamlet—recruiting courtiers as spies, calling in a political favor from the English king, arranging the “hugger-mugger” (4.5) burial of Polonius and manipulating Laertes into a rigged fencing match.
Claudius may well have an exceptionally strategic mind. But the political gifts are dissipated in attempting to cover up his regicide. His criminal past forever clouds his kingly future. King Hamlet ruled Denmark successfully for at least three decades. His brother lasted only about six months. Claudius, who set out to rule a country, ended up losing it to a foreign power.
King Claudius in #Hamlet - His murderous past forever clouds his kingly future.
Despite Hamlet’s accusation towards his mother of fickle disloyalty (“Frailty thy name is woman”, 1.2), Gertrude remains steadfastly at the side of her second husband. Claudius’ dark secrets mean he can never fully open his heart to her, but his comments about Gertrude—“I could not but by her” (4.7)—reveal another side of an otherwise cold and calculating man.
The on-stage royal relationship is far removed from the unrestrained sensuality which King Hamlet’s Ghost luridly imagines. It more resembles that of a middle-aged, married couple which, of course, Claudius and Gertrude actually are.
It is not that Claudius is incapable of love; rather he is incapable of placing love—anything else—above his passion for kingly power.
#Hamlet - King Claudius' sentimental descriptions of Gertrude reveal another side of his character.
If King Hamlet stood between Claudius and the throne, his son Prince Hamlet threatens his hold on it. Even the wily Claudius could not have foreseen that his spying efforts through Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Ophelia would be so transparent to the prince. Or that his nephew would respond with a display of feigned insanity and the psychological masterstroke of The Murder of Gonzago.
Claudius describes Hamlet as “like the hectic in my blood” (4.3); to the prince, his uncle is the man who “killed my king and whored my mother” (5.2). Hamlet is Claudius’ nemesis, the character he can never fully control and through whom he meets his ultimate comeuppance.
King Hamlet stood between Claudius and throne and queen. Prince #Hamlet threatens his hold on each.
Of all the characters in the play, Claudius most resembles a ‘tragic hero’: an otherwise noble figure who dooms himself and everyone around him because of a fatal flaw—“some vicious mole of nature” (1.4)—in his character. His lust for political power leads him to commit one murder only to find that he must plot a second to cover up the first. When this plan fails, his next scheme leads to the death of the woman he loves.
“How smart a last that speech doth give my conscience!”, Claudius declares in an aside after hearing Polonius’ remark to Ophelia about how with “pious action we do sugar o’er / The devil himself” (3.1). But Claudius will not give up the rewards of his crime: “My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen” (3.3).
#Hamlet - "When sorrows come, they come not single spies / But in battalions."
Claudius dies as he lived. His final action in 5.2 is an attempt to portray Gertrude’s fainting as a reaction to the fencing duel between Hamlet and Laertes: “She swoons to see them bleed.” But Claudius has spoken his last lie. Queen Gertrude dies knowing the true character of the man she married (“O my dear Hamlet—The drink, the drink! I am poison’d”).
Hamlet is at last able to bring himself to murder his usurping uncle. As he does, he bids farewell to Claudius with the words: “Follow my mother.” And so, just like his brother, and by the same means of his own poison, Claudius is “Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatched” (1.5).
Like his brother, Claudius in #Hamlet is "Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatched."
Born a prince, parented by a jester, haunted by a ghost, destined to kill a king rather than become one, and remembered as both the tragic hero and victim of a story he did not want to be in.
“Have you eyes?”, Prince Hamlet demands of his mother. Gertrude‘s “o’erhasty marriage” dooms her life and the lives of everyone around her when her wished-for, happy-ever-after fairytale ends in a bloodbath.
Ophelia’s sanity is overwhelmed by Elsinore’s maddening world of deception and betrayal. Her “self-slaughter” is her revenge against everyone who dismissed, silenced and humiliated her.
By surrendering Denmark to his rival’s son, Hamlet grants to the angry Ghost of his “dear father” the forgiveness his suffering soul needed more than the revenge he demanded.
The relationship between uncle and nephew begins with mutual suspicion and dislike, escalates into a psychological battle of wits and ends with defeat for both and victory for the rival kingdom of Norway.
Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius and her collusion with the prince’s confinement at Elsinore creates a barrier between mother and son who are as different from one another as is humanly possible.
Begins in uncertainty, descends into mutual deceit and rejection, and ends with their double surrender to death: she to the water, he to Claudius’ rigged fencing duel.
A genuine friendship in an Elsinore poisoned by betrayal. But does Hamlet exploit his friend’s loyalty with his improbable tale of divinely-inspired rescue by pirates?
A marriage of practical interest: Claudius wanted something (the kingship) he did not have; Gertrude had something (the role of queen) she wanted to hold onto.
Deception, revenge, madness, corruption, decay and death—all shaped by destiny. A prince is left with an impossible choice when his uncle chooses murder and his mother chooses self-delusion.
Two young men journey from revenge, through madness and anger, to forgiveness. An opportunist claims an empty throne. And a restless Ghost is granted atonement for his sins by his kingdom-surrendering son.
‘Seems’ and ‘is’ are as far apart as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are similar in a play-long triple pun on the verb ‘to act’: to take action, to play a false role, and to perform in theater.