CHARACTER ANALYSIS OF CLAUDIUS IN HAMLET: SAMPLE ESSAYS

King Claudius is the throne-stealing and family-dividing villain who is the “something rotten” (1.4) in the state of Denmark. In the end, he is “justly served” by “a poison tempered by himself” (1.5)

In six parts — your free sample essay on the character of King Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. From Hamlet: Model Essays for Students by Brendan Munnelly.

Claudius character analysis: Introduction

“One may smile … and be a villain”

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 point to the play’s storyline.

Both literally and metaphorically, Claudius is a poisoner. His corrupt reign contaminated with distrust and deception the natural human bonds of friendship and romantic love.

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.

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  • Claudius is the crown and queen-stealing villain whose corrupt ambition is the “something rotten” (1.4) in the state of Denmark.
  • Appropriately for the villain of the play, Claudius’ name is never spoken aloud by any other character.
  • Does he really love Queen Gertrude as much as he loves the throne? And can a bad man be a good king?
  • 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 fanged” (3.4) of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Key Supporting Quotes

6
quotations from the play to support your statements.

1

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Claudius’ kingship

“Witchcraft of his wit”

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.

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. 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.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Claudius is a manipulative and ruthless figure who seems to come directly from Machiavelli’s book, The Prince.
  • His conversation with Polonius in 2.2 suggests he is less focused on the Norwegian danger than the threat posed by his nephew.
  • Even at the point of Laertes’ sword and with an angry mob outside the castle, Claudius cunningly turns the situation to his advantage.

Key Supporting Quotes

14
quotations from the play to support your statements.

2

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Claudius and Queen Gertrude

“Our sometime sister”

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.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Both on the first and the final occasions we see King Claudius on stage he is accompanied by his wife, Queen Gertrude.
  • His sentimental descriptions of Gertrude reveal another side of Claudius’ character.
  • Gertrude defends her husband from an enraged, sword-wielding Laertes.
  • The final bloodbath scene reveals Claudius will sacrifice his wife’s life to retain his throne.

Key Supporting Quotes

9
quotations from the play to support your statements.

3

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42 sample essays

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Claudius and Prince Hamlet

“Mighty opposites”

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.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • A suspicious Hamlet is unswayed by Claudius request “to think of us / As of a father” (1.2).
  • A battle of wits between two very different types of intelligence: the political and the artistic.
  • After the ‘play-within-a-play’, Claudius knows that Hamlet knows. Their conflict now becomes a battle to the death.
  • In the end, Hamlet the intellectual scholar triumphs over Claudius the worldly, power-hungry politician.

Key Supporting Quotes

9
quotations from the play to support your statements.

4

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Hamlet: Model Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

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Claudius as a tragic hero

“Some vicious mole of nature”

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).

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Claudius’ moment of triumph begins and ends with the coronation scene of 1.2.
  • His secret crime sets in motion unanticipated events that bring calamity to everyone around him.
  • The family of Polonius and ultimately Denmark itself fall victim to his unrestrained ambition.
  • A deceitful manipulator of others, he is undeniably honest with himself.

Key Supporting Quotes

6
quotations from the play to support your statements.

5

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Hamlet: Model Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

Claudius character analysis: Conclusion

“He is justly served”

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).

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Like his brother, Claudius in #Hamlet is "Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatched."

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • A hugely gifted man who traded everything for his brother’s throne and wife.
  • A measure of his cunning is how he contrives a fencing match between two characters who earlier were on the brink of killing him
  • Gertrude’s poignant elegy for Ophelia offers a glimpse of what has been lost in the unfolding tragedy.
  • Finally exposed: the false king, false husband, and false uncle.

Key Supporting Quotes

8
quotations from the play to support your statements.

6

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Hamlet: Model Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

The most helpful book ever for students and teachers of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

42 x 1,500-word model essays

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Chapter-by-chapter guide to Hamlet Model Essays

Inside you will find three 1,500-word essays on each of the following 14 characters, relationships and themes.

#1: The Character of 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.

#2: The Character of Claudius

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.

#3: The Character of Gertrude

“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.

#4: The Character of Ophelia

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.

#5: Relationship of Hamlet and the Ghost

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.

#6: Relationship of Hamlet and Claudius

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?”).

#7: Relationship of Hamlet and Gertrude

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.

#8: Relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia

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.

#9: Relationship of Hamlet and Horatio

“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.

#10: Relationship of Claudius and Gertrude

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.

#11: Main Themes of Hamlet

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.

#12: The Theme of Revenge

Two young men 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.

#13: Deception and Appearance versus Reality

“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.

#14: The Theme of Madness

“Your noble son is mad”, Polonius tells Denmark’s king and queen. But is Hamlet ever really insane? If not, why is he pretending to be? And is the prince’s behavior the cause of Ophelia’s traumatic breakdown?