Character Analysis Of Claudius in Hamlet by Shakespeare

Claudius is the villain of this Play. He murders Hamlet’s father. Seduces his mother, and ascends the throne to the exclusion of Hamlet. By his smooth tongue and smooth manner and shrewd maneuvering he carries on alright, and there would have been no trouble but for the ghost’s revelation to Hamlet. He is a very subtle knave “with witchcraft of wit.” It is from what the ghost tells Hamlet that we learn the kind of man Claudius is. Hamlet speaks contemptuously of him- his father is Hyperion and Claudius is a satyr. But we find him behaving with dignity and statesmanlike wisdom when he presides at the Council; first he dispatches the Fortinbras affair, then he turns to Laertes who begs leave of the King to return to France, and he graciously grants him permission. He has a little trouble with Hamlet. It is the Queen who pleads with Hamlet. The King talks platitudes, seeking to wean Hamlet away from his grief for his deceased father. But as it appears, his wish is to keep Hamlet under his eye, and not to let him go back to the University of Wittenberg. Hamlet yields to his mother’s prayer added to the King’s desire that he should stay on in Denmark. Claudius is shrewd enough to sense the recalcitrant mood in Hamlet, and to forestall future troubles, he keeps Hamlet at his court.

The clash between Hamlet and Claudius soon begins, but it does not come into open. Hamlet does not, and can not take any active steps against Claudius immediately. His feigned madness is but a defensive. But Claudius is immediately active, he sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet; with the advice of Polonius he employs Ophelia as a decoy. Claudius is shrewd, while Polonius is fatuous. And between the two they make matters more complicated. Claudius suspects Hamlet’s madness, and is ever on his guard. Hamlet’s countermove, that is the play-scene proves quite effective. Now there is in Hamlet’s mind no doubt about the guilt of Claudius. Claudius who is tested in the play. Scene keeps his nerve all right, and now comes further probing of Hamlet, for he is summoned by his mother to explain his conduct-and it is done by the King’s direction. The killing of Polonius behind the arras by Hamlet during the interview with his mother determines Claudius to pack off Hamlet to England.

Here Incidentally we may note how it is with the inner state of Claudius. He keeps a placid exterior and extraordinary self-possession. When he is at prayer and Hamlet passes by and spares him, we have a glimpse into his inner being. It is not all well there. After all he is not yet a seasoned villain, though possessing all the art and accomplishment of a villain :

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“O, my offence is rank, to heaven

it smells It hath the primal eldest upon’t,

A brother’s murder.”

But he can not pray to be forgiven his foul murder, for he is still possessed of those effects for which he did the murder-his crown, his ambition, and his queen. And so it comes to nothing. Hence forth he gets more and more seasoned in his villainy. His is a career of villainy and it is an art with him while he keeps a respectable exterior.

He has troubles with Laertes on Polonius death. But his tactful cleverness soon wins over Laertes. Granville-Barker writes, “we can see his mind at work; and with what agility when, his security shattered by the sudden tidings of the failure of his plot against Hamlet, the awakened devil in him turns on the instant to make Laertes his accomplice in another.” The fencing match is the plot in which Hamlet is to meet his fate. But it lags down Laertes and Claudius along with him. Claudius’s villainy at least recoils on him.



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