The Character of Claudius in Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay

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The Character of Claudius in Hamlet

As a supporting character in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, Claudius is not developed to his full potential. His primary role in the play is to initiate Hamlet's confusion and anger, and his subsequent search for truth and life's meaning. But Claudius is certainly not a static character.

While Claudius’ qualities are not as thoroughly explored as Hamlet's, the treacherous King of Denmark is a complete character. When we first see Claudius, he strikes us an intelligent and capable ruler. He gives a speech to make his court and country proud, addressing his brother's death and the potential conflict with Norway. Claudius knows that a change in government could ignite civil unrest, and he is afraid
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Claudius represents the worst in human nature -- lust, greed, corruption, and excess. Claudius and his corrupt court bask in the pleasures of the flesh:

The king doth wake tonight and takes his rouse,

Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels;

And as he drains his draughts of Renish down,

The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out

The triumph of his pledge (I.iv.8-12)

However, Claudius is not a total sociopath, devoid of moments of guilt and regret. His deeds, on occasion, weigh heavy on his heart:

(aside) O, 'tis true!

How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience!

The harlot's cheek, beautied with plastering art,

Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it

Than is my deed to my most painted word:

O heavy burden! (III.i.49-53)

He tries to ask God's forgiveness in a moving soliloquy but he realizes that he still reaps all the benefits of his crimes and cannot give them up:

My fault is past. But O, what form of prayer

Can serve my turn? "Forgive me my foul murder"?

That cannot be, scince I am still possess'd

Of those effects for which I did the murder,

My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen. (III.iv.52-55)

Claudius can also be sensitive and gentle. He is genuinely sorry for Polonius' death, and he truly loves Gertrude. He must kill Hamlet, but he refuses to do so with his own
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