Shakespeare's Hamlet Hamlet’s Villain, King Claudius

3423 words - 14 pages

Hamlet’s Villain, King Claudius

    In the drama Hamlet Shakespeare has concocted a multi-dimensional character in the person of King Claudius. It is the intent of this essay to analyze and probe all the various aspects of this curious personality.


Ward and Trent in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature consider Shakespeare’s options in designing the character of Claudius:


There were at least two ways in which an ordinary, or rather more than ordinary, dramatist might have dealt with this other “majesty of Denmark.” He could have been made a crude dramatic villain—a crowned “Shakebag” or “Black Will,” to use the phraseology of his creator’s own day. He could have been made pure straw—a mere common usurper. And it would appear that he has actually seemed to some to be one or other of these two. Neither of them is the Claudius which Shakespeare has presented; and those who take him as either seem to miss the note which, putting sheer poetic faculty once more aside, is the note of Shakespeare. It is not to be supposed that Shakespeare liked Claudius; if he did, and if he has produced on respectable readers the effect above hinted at, he certainly was as ineffectual a writer as the merest crétin, or the merest crank, among his critics could imagine. But neither did he dislike Claudius; he knew that, in the great Greek phrase, it was the duty of creators to “see fair”—[char]—in the handling of their creations. It would appear that the successor of Hamlet I might have been a very respectable person, if his brother had not possessed a kingdom and a queen that he wanted for himself. (vol.5, pt.1, ch.8, sec.16, no.53)


Literary criticism varies in its evaluation of Claudius. The “very respectable except for. . .” evaluation cited above gives way to a very condemning criticism cited below. Peter Leithart in “The Serpent Now Wears the Crown: A Typological Reading of Hamlet,” considers the gravity of the main sin of offense of Claudius:


Claudius's murder of King Hamlet, the act catalyzing the drama of the play, is presented as a sin of primordial character and cosmic implications. Claudius confesses that his fratricide parallels the murder of Abel:


O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven;

It hath the primal eldest curse upon 't,

A brother's murder (3.3.36-38).


[. . .] Claudius has not only committed fratricide, but regicide. The king being peculiarly the image of God, regicide is a kind of deicide. At least, it is an act of rebellion against divine authority. Claudius is thus not only Cain but Adam.[7] Claudius's sin has, for Hamlet at least, turned Denmark into a fallen Eden; thorns and thistles dominate the landscape. (n. pag.)


So, in the estimation of most critics, where exactly does Claudius fit in? How guilty is he? The drama opens after Hamlet has just returned from Wittenberg, England, where he has been a student. What brought him home was the...

Find Another Essay On Shakespeare's Hamlet - Hamlet’s Villain, King Claudius

Shakespeare's Hamlet - Horatio, Hamlet’s Dearest Friend

2704 words - 11 pages killing him because, “I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven.” In other words, he might go to heaven rather than to the punishing flames of hell (Kliman 155). While conversing with his mother, the very emotionally upset Hamlet detects a spy (Polonius) behind the arras in the room and runs him through with his rapier. The killing of Polonius, along with the suspicion of Claudius that Hamlet knows the king murdered Hamlet I, cause

Hypocrisy of Claudius in Shakespeare's Hamlet

1630 words - 7 pages , therefore, are also unaware of Claudius’ hypocrisy. In the beginning of Claudius’ speech, he implores the attendants to mourn deeply the death of his brother, the former King, Hamlet. The underlying hypocrisy lies within his orders to mourn because Claudius is not actually mourning Hamlet’s death. Claudius also misrepresents his marriage to Gertrude by providing seemingly sound reasons and downplaying its awkwardness. Noted critic Joseph Bertram

The Character of Claudius in Shakespeare's Hamlet

2283 words - 9 pages warmth to his nephew, " but now my cousin Hamlet, and my son-." To the naked eye of the audience, Claudius may even be seen as a likeable character, but we later understand Shakespeare's use of Claudius's attitude towards his family at this stage, which is unknown to us to be a whole deceitful act. Here we perceive that not only does Claudius have a great knowledge of affairs of state, "now follows that you know young Fortinbras, Holding a weak

King Claudius in William Shakespeare´s Hamlet

1938 words - 8 pages , England upon hearing about his father’s death. A new king was immediately needed, the election of Claudius takes place, because of the absence of Hamlet, it was inevitable. It was immediately justified because Claudius manages to stop the threat of invasion by going to the King of Norway to stop his nephew, Fortinbras. Fortinbras didn’t have a problem stopping the invasion because Hamlet’s father was now dead. Again this could be proof that

Character Analysis of Shakespeare's Hamlet (Hamlet, Claudius, and Ophelia)

1561 words - 6 pages about the murder because the ghost of Hamlet's father, Old Hamlet, came one evening and spoke to him about it, saying that he was drifting in purgatory because he was murdered without confessing his sins, and to also get revenge on Claudius, Hamlet's uncle and new king. Quickly after Old Hamlet's death, Claudius marries Hamlet's mother, and old queen, Gertrude. Hamlet is very despondent with the situation and is determined to get revenge on his

Custom Essays: Claudius the Beast in Shakespeare's Hamlet

2238 words - 9 pages ready to cancel the projected invasion because the object of his revenge, Hamlet’s father, was now dead, and in return he received free passage through Denmark to fight against Poland. (Burton)   This essay will thoroughly delineate the character of King Claudius, show his place in the drama, and interpret his character -- with the assistance of literary critics.   The drama opens after Hamlet has just returned from Wittenberg

Polonius in Shakespeare's Hamlet and John Updike's Gertrude and Claudius

2010 words - 8 pages Polonius in Shakespeare's Hamlet and John Updike's Gertrude and Claudius In every royal court throughout history, there has been the man who knows everything about everyone, and generally has the ear of the king; Shakespeare’s court of Denmark is no exception. Polonius, adviser and Lord Chamberlain to King Hamlet and Claudius, seems to know every intrigue, every alliance made in the interwoven royal court. In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet

Not Your Typical Villain (William Shakespeare's classic play Hamlet)

975 words - 4 pages In most common forms of literature, the protagonist is portrayed as purely evil and nothing else. This is not the case, however, in William Shakespeare's classic play Hamlet. Shakespeare gives the protagonist, Claudius, some actual character, making him less of a tyrannical villain and more of a human being, giving him doubts about his acts and second thoughts, much like Hamlet himself. By creating sympathy for Claudius from the audience

Camparsion of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Dinsey's Lion King

1195 words - 5 pages Shakespeare & Disney Characterization The Lion King and Hamlet both feature princes. Hamlet is the prince in the Shakespeare play named after him. Hamlet is very indecisive and this is shown throughout the play. Hamlet wants to avenge his father by killing his uncle but, when he is presented with an opportunity to do so while Claudius is confessing his sins. Hamlet is close to killing his uncle with his dagger but decides that he should not kill

An Analysis of Queen Gertrudes Position in King Hamlets Death in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

1507 words - 6 pages for Gertrude's marriage status, remarriage after two months may be a short time. Not only was king Hamlet freshly buried when Gertrude remarried, but Gertrude married king Hamlet's brother. "…but in Shakespeare's time, it was considered a form of incest for a widow to marry her brother-in-law" (Shakespeare's Characters for Students 90). Another aspect to look at is the play that Hamlet devised to catch Claudius. When the queen in the play

The Role of Femininity in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear

2331 words - 9 pages The Role of Femininity in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear similarly experience an "unhooking" (Tompkins) in the eponymous plays. These tragic figures struggle with internal and external femininity: after realizing their emotions and labeling them feminine, they identify women as the source of this negative femininity. Their inability to deal with the female gender in any form destabilizes their

Similar Essays

Shakespeare's Hamlet Claudius Essay

2504 words - 10 pages Claudius of Shakespeare's Hamlet’s G. Wilson Knight in "The Embassy of Death" interprets the character of Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Claudius, as he appears in the play, is not a criminal. He is - strange as it may seem - a good and gentle king, enmeshed by the chain of causality linking him with his crime. And this chain he might, perhaps, have broken except for Hamlet, and all would have been well. But, granted the presence of

Claudius Of Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay

1944 words - 8 pages needed; the election of Claudius, particularly in the absence of Hamlet, was inevitable. What is more, it was immediately justified, because Claudius manages to dispel the threat of invasion by appealing to the King of Norway to curb his nephew, Fortinbras; the ambitious young soldier was the more ready to cancel the projected invasion because the object of his revenge, Hamlet’s father, was now dead, and in return he received free passage through

Claudius In William Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay

3222 words - 13 pages Claudius in William Shakespeare's Hamlet Ans. 'Hamlet, Prince of Denmark' is perhaps Shakespeare's best tragedy. It was written between the years, 1600-1601. Hamlet's character in the play is one of introspection and reflection. He is a person who thinks too much before he acts and also expresses a lot of his feelings before actually doing something. All of Shakespeare's tragedies concerned people in high positions in a

Shakespeare's Hamlet The Ghost Of Hamlet’s Father

2486 words - 10 pages . Horatio and Marcellus exit the ramparts of Elsinore intending to enlist the aid of Hamlet, who is dejected by the “o’erhasty marriage” to Hamlet I’s wife less than two month’s after the funeral of Hamlet’s father (Gordon 128). There is a post-coronation social gathering of the court, where Claudius insincerely pays tribute to the memory of his deceased brother, the former king, and then conducts some items of business, for example dispatching