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Claudius' Speech

1032 words - 4 pages

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet revolves around Hamlet’s quest to avenge his father’s murder. Claudius’ first speech as King at the beginning of Scene 2, Act 1 introduces the themes of hierarchy, incest and appearance versus reality and plays the crucial role of revealing Claudius’ character as part of the exposition. The audience is left skeptical after Horatio’s questioning of King Hamlet’s ghost in the first scene of the play. By placing Claudius’ pompous speech immediately after the frightening appearance of Hamlet’s ghost, Shakespeare contrasts the mournful atmosphere in Denmark to the fanfare at the palace and makes a statement about Claudius’ hypocrisy. Through diction, doubling and figurative language, Shakespeare reveals Claudius to be a self centered, hypocritical, manipulative and commanding politician.

Claudius begins his speech with an acknowledgement of Hamlet’s death and his own marriage to Gertrude. Claudius claims that the “green” memory of his “dear brother’s death” “befitted” Denmark to contract into “one brow of woe” (1.2). Despite Claudius’ affectionate reference to Hamlet, his hypocrisy is transparent. The colour imagery reveals the freshness of Hamlet’s death. The metaphor used suggests the kingdom is expected to unite and share the grief over its loss but the diction in “befitted” hints Claudius disapproval of expected mourning rites, causing the audience to doubt his sincerity. Furthermore, Claudius adds that “discretion fought with nature” causing him to think of Hamlet together with a “remembrance of [himself]” (1.2). The metaphorical conflict between “discretion” and “nature” contrasts Claudius’ hasty marriage to the expected mourning after Hamlet’s death. Moreover, in Claudius’ statement, the dependent clause refers to Hamlet’s death while the independent clause refers to thinking of himself, suggesting his self centeredness. Claudius then adds that his “sometime sister” became “[his] queen” and “imperial jointress” to Denmark (1.2). Such a marriage, considered incestuous by English Law of the time, reveals Claudius’ lust. However, he justifies it as a favour to Gertrude, who now shares his property. In addition, Claudius claims he took Gertrude to wife with an “auspicious and a dropping eye” and in “defeated joy” (1.2). The antithesis in “defeated joy” and the metaphorical doubling suggest that Claudius still remembered the loss of his brother and continued mourning despite his own marriage. In addition, he claims there was “mirth in funeral” and “dirge in marriage” with “delight and dole” weighing in “equal scale” (1.2). These paradoxes suggesting there was joy in Hamlet’s death and sadness in Claudius’ marriage may hint Claudius’ true feelings about Hamlet’s death and allude to foul play on his part. The alliteration in “delight and dole” parallels the two emotions mentioned, implying Claudius simultaneously felt these conflicting feelings. However, it also reveals Claudius’ selfishness in failing to prioritize...

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