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The Relationship of Hamlet and Claudius

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Claudius and Hamlet are in conflict with each other—and themselves. Both are haunted by the same secret murder. The king struggles to repent it (“O heavy burden!”, 3.1). The prince struggles to avenge it (“Am I a coward?”, 2.2).

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Hamlet: Model Essays for Students

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Hamlet: Model Essays for Students

Essay introduction / 
Thesis statement

“One may smile … and be a villain”

The characters of Prince Hamlet and King Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet provide examples of both external and internal conflict. They are two individuals at war with each other—and themselves.

Hamlet enjoys play-acting in theater. The prince’s happiest moment in the play is the arrival of the Players. As Rosencrantz reports: “there did seem in him a kind of joy” (3.1).

Claudius practices play-acting in politics. In 4.7, the king delights in conspiring “a little shuffling” with Laertes: a sharpened, tainted sword and—in the event of a “bad performance”—a poisoned wine goblet.

Their relationship begins with mutual suspicion, escalates into a psychological battle, and concludes with defeat for both. In the end, it is not Denmark’s Old King Hamlet but Old King Fortinbras of Norway who wins revenge.

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Prince #Hamlet and King Claudius: two men at war with each other - and themselves.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • King Claudius begins the play at his highest point, Prince Hamlet at his lowest.
  • The Denmark his father ruled for three decades is now his son’s “prison” (2.2) from which the prince is allowed no escape.
  • Old King Hamlet once stood between Claudius and the throne and queen. Now Prince Hamlet threatens his hold on each.
  • Hamlet describes his uncle as “canker of our nature” (5.2). To Claudius, Hamlet is “th’ulcer” (4.7) who is “like the hectic in my blood“ (4.8).

Key Supporting Quotes

18
quotations from the play to support your statements.

1

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325 pages
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42 sample essays

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Hamlet and Claudius:
player prince, imposter king

“Who’s there? … stand and unfold yourself”

“Who’s there?”—The guard Barnardo’s opening question is asked by Prince Hamlet and King Claudius of each other over the play’s first three acts. Nephew and uncle each suspects—correctly—that the other is hiding a secret.

Claudius impersonates a rightful monarch; as he admits to himself, his false kingship is like a “beautied … harlot’s cheek” (3.1). Hamlet impersonates himself; for his put-on “antic disposition” (1.5) expresses his very real inner turmoil: “it hath made me mad” (3.1).

The troubled conscience of the false king mirrors the inner struggle of the tormented prince with the morality of revenge.

With Polonius, Claudius directs Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Ophelia as amateur actors in “‘twere by accident” (3.1) performances to uncover the true state of mind of Gertrude’s “too much changed son” (2.2).

The arrival of the Players enables Hamlet to use professional actors in his own theatrical ploy of a ‘play-within-a-play’ “to catch the conscience of the king” (2.2).

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A usurping Claudius impersonates a rightful king. An anguished, antic #Hamlet impersonates himself.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • About Hamlet, Claudius fears “something in his soul / O’er which his melancholy sits on brood” (3.1).
  • Claudius is less interested in Polonius’ news from Norway than in the mental state of Hamlet: “O, speak of that! That do I long to hear” (2.2).
  • Of Ophelia, Hamlet asks, “Where is your father?” (3.1), suspecting correctly that the king’s advisor is eavesdropping nearby.
  • Despite his “antic disposition” (1.5), Hamlet’s sharp awareness of others’ duplicity never deserts him. All efforts to “board him” (2.2) are quickly exposed and scornfully repelled.

Key Supporting Quotes

29
quotations from the play to support your statements.

2

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Hamlet: Model
Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

Hamlet and Claudius at The Murder of Gonzago

“The play’s the thing”

At The Murder Gonzago in 3.2, the king sits unperturbed through two reenactments of Old King Hamlet’s poisoning: the first in the dumbshow, the second in the spoken play. As shown later in 4.5 with Laertes’ mob-leading castle invasion, Claudius is too composed a figure to betray emotion in public.

It is only when Hamlet identifies the stage-murderer Lucianus as “nephew to the king” that Claudius reacts. Such a public threat to the king’s life provides him with a plausible excuse for exiting the hall, his crime in the palace orchard still unrevealed to the court.

It is rather Hamlet’s “occulted guilt” that is exposed by The Murder of Gonzago. Minutes later and still inflamed by the “knavish piece of work … writ in choice Italian”, Hamlet rashly stabs Polonius (“Dead for a ducat”, 3.4). Claudius then exiles Hamlet to England, supposedly “for thine especial safety” (4.3), but in reality to his execution.

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#Hamlet's antic performance at his play leaves him caught in his own 'Mousetrap'.

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • Claudius instructs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to encourage Hamlet’s interest in the Players: “drive his purpose on to these delights” (3.1)
  • As the play unfolds, the king grows suspicious—“Is there no offense in’t? … What do you call the play?” (3.2).
  • Hamlet’s antic banter sabotages his play-within-a-play’s purpose and damages his reputation as heir. The prince is afterwards remembered as “he that is mad and sent into England” (5.1).
  • Like Polonius’s son in the final scene (“as a woodcock to mine own springe”, 5.2), Hamlet is caught in his own ‘Mousetrap’.
  • All except “hoodman-blind” (3.4) Gertrude must recognise her public shaming in the figure of the Player Queen. Her “withers are unwrung” (3.3).

Key Supporting Quotes

21
quotations from the play to support your statements.

3

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Hamlet: Model
Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

Hamlet and Claudius: the two delayers

“I stand in pause”

Prince Hamlet’s play-within-a-play does cause Claudius to “proclaim” his “malefactions” (2.2)—but in his private chapel in 3.3 rather than publicly in front of the court. Torn between repenting or not, the king feels “like a man to double business bound.”

The man who he is like is, of course, Hamlet. For the prince now declares he wishes both to murder the body and damn to hell the soul of his despised uncle. For this reason, Hamlet decides to wait until he catches the kneeling-in-prayer Claudius in “some act / That has no relish of salvation in’t.”

In the at-prayer Claudius, does Hamlet see an image of his future self were he to murder his uncle in such cowardly circumstances? Afterwards, should he succeed Denmark’s king, might Hamlet too find himself also struggling with a “limed soul” in the same royal chapel? And, like Claudius, could Hamlet find forgiveness only by giving up “those effects for which (he) did the murder”?

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#Hamlet seeks to reunite in the afterlife his fractured-by-Claudius family of mother and father.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • The chapel scene is the only one when Hamlet and Claudius share the stage together. Yet no words pass between them and neither hears the other speak.
  • In 3.1, Ophelia only pretended to be deep in prayer—complete with a devotional book helpfully supplied as prop by her father. Claudius is genuinely trying to pray (“Help, angels”, 3.3), if unsuccessfully.
  • The Ghost who appears minutes later in Gertrude’s closet to Hamlet (“to whet thy almost blunted purpose”, 3.4) does not show himself in the chapel, suggesting he does indeed bring “blasts from hell” rather than “airs from heaven” (1.4).
  • Like Pyrrhus in the Player’s speech, Hamlet decides his sword must “i’th’ air to stick” (2.2), awaiting the right moment to strike.

Key Supporting Quotes

22
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

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

Hamlet, Claudius and Gertrude

“Cleft my heart in twain”

At two different points the play, Queen Gertrude and Prince Hamlet each use the same word to describe each other: ‘wretch’, a term of pity rather than respect.

She fails to understand why Hamlet will not “look like a friend on Denmark” (1.2) but instead loiters sadly about Elsinore like a “poor wretch” (2.2). Hamlet’s final words to his mother as she expires from the same poison that killed his father are: “Wretched Queen, adieu!” (5.2).

That the Ghost who appears in Gertrude’s closet is visible to the prince reveals how Hamlet is still haunted by his father’s memory (“Do you see nothing there?”), but Gertrude lives only in the present (“No, nothing but ourselves”, 3.3).

Contrary to the Ghost’s command of “leave her to heaven” (1.4), Hamlet tries to separate his mother from Claudius— “Repent what’s past. Avoid what is to come” (3.4).

However, Hamlet’s parting words to a dying King Claudius (“Follow my mother”, 5.2) tells us he believes it will be in the company of her villainous second husband rather than his own “dead father murdered” (2.2) that his “good mother” (3.3) will be eternally united.

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#Hamlet - King Claudius' sentimental descriptions of Gertrude reveal another side of his character.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Old King Hamlet’s Ghost describes Claudius as an “adulterate beast” (1.2)—a debased individual—but not, significantly, an adulterous one.
  • Despite Hamlet’s accusation of “Frailty” (1.2) towards his mother, Gertrude remains steadfastly at her second husband’s side.
  • Gertrude’s loyalties are divided between husband and son: “O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.” (3.4).
  • Gertrude’s tragic flaw is what she does not know—or perhaps by what suspects but refuses to see—until it is too late.

Key Supporting Quotes

22
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

Essay conclusion / Summary

“As kill a king”

In 5.1, Hamlet’s exchange with Laertes in Ophelia’s grave reveals how the prince has left behind the vengeful anger that now holds Polonius’ son in its grip. When Laertes exclaims “The devil take thy soul!”, Hamlet, who earlier asked “shall I couple hell?” (1.5) replies: “Thou prayest not well.”

The “providence” (5.2) to which Hamlet has surrendered his fate he now believes will provide the circumstances for him to complete the task for which “my fate cries out” (1.4). All the prince need do is be prepared to act his assigned part when the right moment comes, for, as he tells Horatio, “the readiness is all” (5.2).

In contrast, Claudius remains a scheming villain to the very end. He sets Laertes and Hamlet against one other in a “forgery of shapes and tricks” (4.7): a murder plot disguised as a fencing duel of honor.

In the end, Claudius is “justly served” by “a poison tempered by himself.” And, if at the cost of his life, but without the taint of private revenge, Hamlet removes from Denmark’s throne the usurper who twice plotted his murder and whose villainy led to the deaths of both his parents.

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#Hamlet damns Claudius to hell in eternal marriage with his mother there.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Gertrude’s damning contradiction of Claudius’ excuse for her fainting (“She swoons to see them bleed”, 5.2) prompts Laertes’ confession (“The king’s to blame”, 5.2)
  • Claudius is torn between saving Gertrude and concealing his poisoning plan.
  • Laertes, the avenger Hamlet’s desire for revenge created, is also the man who pardons the prince.
  • Hamlet kills Claudius without making any reference to vengeance for Old King Hamlet.

Key Supporting Quotes

34
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

IN THIS BOOK ARE THREE 1,500-WORD SAMPLE ESSAYS ON EACH ONE OF THE FOLLOWING 14 CHARACTERS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND THEMES. THAT’S 42 SAMPLE ESSAYS IN TOTAL.

Character Analysis of Hamlet: Free Sample Essays

#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. If at the cost of his life, Hamlet does in the end “win at the odds.

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Character Analysis of Claudius in Hamlet: Free Sample Essays

#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.

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Character Analysis of Gertrude in Hamlet: Free Sample Essays

#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.

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Character Analysis of Ophelia in Hamlet: Free Sample Essays

#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.

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Relationship of Hamlet and the Ghost: Free Sample Essays

#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.

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Relationship of Hamlet and Claudius: Free Sample Essays

#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?”).

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Relationship of Hamlet and Gertude: Free Sample Essays

#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.

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Relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia: Free Sample Essays

#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.

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Relationship of Hamlet and Horatio: Free Sample Essays

#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.

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Relationship of Claudius and Gertrude in Hamlet: Free Sample Essays

#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.

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Main Themes of Hamlet: Free Sample Essays

#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.

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Theme of Revenge in Hamlet: Free Sample Essays

#12: The Theme of Revenge

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.

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Themes of Deception and Appearance versus Reality in Hamlet: Free Sample Essays

#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.

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Theme of Madness in Hamlet: Free Sample Essays

#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 “antic disposition” the cause of Ophelia’s traumatic breakdown?

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