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Claudius’ secret “brother’s murder” (3.3) of Prince Hamlet’s father, his “within a month” (1.2) marriage to his “sometime sister” (1.2) Queen Gertrude and his election shortly afterward as Denmark’s king provide the starting points to the storyline of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The two “Good lads” (2.2) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are executed in England. And in Claudius’ “unweeded garden” (1.2), the unwed couple of Hamlet and Ophelia end the play not together on Denmark’s throne but united only in death in Elsinore’s graveyard.
Claudius in #Hamlet - Can a bad man be a good king and loving husband? Answer: 'No.'
King 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.
Claudius is compelled to expend almost all his mental energy grappling with the events that flow from his pre-play murder of Old 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.
Old 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 Old 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 Old King Hamlet once 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.
Old 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."
The most helpful book ever for students and teachers of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Born a prince, parented by a jester, haunted by a ghost, destined to kill a king rather than become one, and remembered as the title character of a play he did not want to be in. If at the cost of his life, Hamlet does in the end “win at the odds.”
His “ambition” for Denmark’s throne 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.
“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.
As she struggles to respond to the self-serving purposes of others, Ophelia’s sanity collapses in Elsinore’s “unweeded garden” of falsity and betrayal. Her “self-slaughter” is her revenge for her silencing and humiliation.
By surrendering Denmark to his rival’s son, Hamlet grants to the angry Ghost of his “dear father murdered” the forgiveness his suffering soul needed more than the revenge he demanded.
Uncle and nephew are two men at war with each other—and themselves. Claudius is haunted by the murder he has committed (“O heavy burden!”); Hamlet by the one he hasn’t yet (“Am I a coward?”).
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.
“Those friends thou hast … Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.” Horatio is Hamlet’s trusted confidant in life and vows to remain the keeper of his memory after the prince’s death.
A marriage of mutual self-interest. Claudius wanted something (the kingship) he did not have; Gertrude had something (the status of queen) she wanted to hold onto.
A king murdered, an inheritance stolen, a family divided: Elsinore’s older generation destroys its younger when two brothers—one living, one undead—battle in a “cursed spite” over a crown and a queen.
Hamlet and Laertes journey from revenge, through obsession and anger, to forgiveness. And the revenge sought by the Ghost on King Claudius becomes the revenge of Old King Fortinbras on Old King Hamlet.
“Who’s there?” The characters struggle to distinguish between truth and falsehood in a play-long triple pun on the verb ‘to act’: to take action, to behave deceitfully, and to perform in theater.