Along with the other main characters in the play, King Claudius’ character is one of the significant establishments of Hamlet’s personality. King Claudius was Hamlet’s uncle; the brother of Hamlet’s father. Through King Claudius, Hamlet’s thoughts and anger were built. Though Hamlet did not showed the true meaning of anger and vengeance in the beginning of the play, it was revealed in the latter part of the story through King Claudius’ character.
Like in any other stories of protagonist-antagonist relationship, King Claudius was the primary antagonist of Hamlet.
It was started when Hamlet knew that King Claudius married his mother. He was against with this because they got married only few days after his father’s death. However, when Hamlet finally knew that King Claudius killed his father to get his mother, he became more revengeful against him, but as what his father’s ghost told him, Hamlet should not become tainted by his anger. He must take his revenge with an untainted heart to avoid releasing his anger to other people like his mother.
As what his personality shows, King Claudius’ character is concealed. He has many things to hide all throughout the play. All his actions and words contained hidden thoughts and agendas. This establishment was seen in the beginning of the play. His statement of grief after the death of his brother signifies hatred and mockery towards Hamlet’s father but it cannot be felt through naked emotions because the attack was hidden.
Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death
The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe,
Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him,
Together with remembrance of ourselves. (Act I Scene I)
This statement coming from King Claudius showed innocence of his brother’s death. It serves as a way to make himself innocent of the murder to make people unknown of his actions. All throughout the play, he also manipulated many characters within his own hands. He used different characters like Laertes to hide his malicious and unlawful acts. Aside from this, he also manipulated Hamlet in different aspects that Hamlet could not realize. He remained inconsistent with his character from the beginning up to the end of the play. Though he died in the end, not all his secrets were revealed. The only thing was given an account and resolved was his murder to Hamlet’s father.
Another characteristic of King Claudius in the play was mistrustful. After realizing that Hamlet already knew about his murder to his brother, he made all options just to put Hamlet outside his kingdom and country. He deported Hamlet and made an eye towards Hamlet to see if he is having an attack against him. He talked with his people and other friends to spy Hamlet for the fear that he might kill him. This characterization is a manifestation of someone’s action even if in real drama. If we have done something wrong or against the law of morality, we would hide it within ourselves. Once someone knew about it, we would do anything just to disregard that person even if the only option is to kill him. All throughout the play, King Claudius went to paranoia for many fears and disillusionments.
O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will:
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offence? (Act III Scene III)
This dialogue showed how he was in paranoia. He did not want people see this kind of feeling so he prayed hard alone. He was a prayerful king but he has many things to discuss with God. It was an irony in his character. Even if he believed in morality and justices of the church, he has many unlawful acts, which was against the rule of God. If we will base this contradicting characterization, we can see that King Claudius’ belief towards his God is a mask of inconsistent personality. In the context of Christian doctrine, King Claudius’ crime was stated in the first commandment of God. It means that through this, he already betrayed his God but he was asking fro God’s help that Hamlet would not kill him. The irony emerged in many branches of scenarios and arguments within the play but along with its significance, it can be seen that this situation was the hardest part to convey.
However, in the latter part of the play, King Claudius bowed his head for he knew that all his acts were unlawful. The way he treated his remaining days gave him the strength to realize all his sins and crimes. Nevertheless, he remained unjust towards Hamlet by using Laertes. Because Hamlet killed Laertes’ father and the cause of Ophelia’s death, Laertes asked Hamlet to have a duel. All these plans were done by King Claudius. It was his plan to tell Laertes that Hamlet killed his father so he could plan to kill Hamlet. King Claudius was successful in the beginning of his plan but not everything was for him. During the duel, hamlet attacked King Claudius with his poisoned tip sword that made him die.
Set me the stoops of wine upon that table.
If Hamlet give the first or second hit,
Or quit in answer of the third exchange,
Let all the battlements their ordnance fire:
The king shall drink to Hamlet’s better breath;
And in the cup an union shall he throw,
Richer than that which four successive kings (Act V Scene II)
Until the time when King Caludius died, he was still standing arrogantly. His way of discussing Hamlet’s death can be felt for he is assuring that Hamlet will be dead after the match. He wanted Hamlet to be dead in two separating reasons and context. In the context of people’s justice, he wanted to kill Hamlet because he killed Laertes’ father. In the context of his own justice, he wanted to kill Hamlet so that Hamlet would not accuse him of killing his father.
In a larger perspective, King Claudius’ character still exists today. There are still murders that law could not put to test for it was in the hidden process of mentality. However, many of us saw King Claudius’ character as a way of revealing the true meaning of justice and belief. He was the eye-opener when it comes to these social factors, which are important from the time this play was conceived, until today.
Shakespeare, W. (1602). Hamlet. Retrieved on 30 November 2007 from http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/full.html
Cite this Character Analysis: King Claudius
Character Analysis: King Claudius. (2016, Sep 27). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/character-analysis-king-claudius/