Claudius, hateful villain or good king?
“Claudius makes a good king. He is a careful ruler and a loving husband, providing stability for both his country and wife. ” “Murderer of the rightful king, Claudius is the play’s hateful, lying villain. ” What justification is there in the text to support these two views? What is your opinion of the way Shakespeare presents Claudius? Claudius is capable of becoming an effective king. However his choice to exploit his newly found power for personal gain contradicts the good he attempts to accomplish.
An effective king has to be an honest king. Unfortunately Claudius seems unable to be honest to any person through the course of the play.
His act of murder and his claim to the throne reflects a self promoting character for the audience. Claudius however is able to be honest with God. Through his act of repent Claudius shows to the audience that he is able to be truthful and it also shows that he is able to distinguish right from wrong.
Claudius details, in Act Three Scene Three, that his “offence is rank” and he wishes it to be pardoned in order for him to progress as an effective king. This honest act shows that Claudius is willing to admit when he is wrong, he may also be afraid of the afterlife and what awaits him.
This unknown becomes apart of the larger theme of uncertainty. Claudius is capable of telling the truth, but only when it is to his advantage. In act four scene five, when Laertes blames Claudius for the death of his father, Claudius manipulates the situation by telling Laertes that he will help to exact his revenge. Claudius is therefore able to get rid of both Laertes and Hamlet who both pose a threat to the power that Claudius has gained. Claudius’ ability to resolve the threatening situation and rework it to his advantage, stands him in good stead for the leadership a king exerts on his country when faced with difficult situations.
In this scene Claudius outrageously refers to the “divinity doth hedge a king,” this is ironic considering he was able to so easily murder his own brother, yet this white lie sows a seed in Laertes mind that attempting to kill Claudius would be bad judgement on his part. The continuing conversation allows Laertes to find a person to take the revenge he seeks to deliver. Claudius, already plotting to murder Hamlet, is able to give the task to Laertes, thus relieving Claudius of spilling anymore blood onto his own hands, yet still dealing with the situation he finds threatening to the stability of his crown.
His use of manipulation through his use of language mimics the idea of pouring poison into his brother’s ears, by talking people into his way of thinking Claudius is metaphorically pouring poison into people’s ears. In this scene we can see the talent that Claudius harbours that would make him a good stable king; conversely we also see that he puts these talents to bad use causing him to be the play’s hateful, lying villain. Hamlet believes that Claudius is the murderer of the rightful king.
In Hamlet’s first soliloquy, Hamlet refers to his father “so excellent a king, that was to this. ” His belief that Claudius is not the rightful king that should provide benefit for the state, before his father’s ghost informs him of his murderous attributes, allows the audience to see that in the eyes of those that loved the late King Hamlet, Claudius is no comparison to the leadership that was shown by his predecessor. The late King Hamlet was a man who charged into battle “armed at point, exactly cap-a-pie” as described by Horatio in act one scene two.
However it can be argued that this works in Claudius’ favour. The previous king used violence to bring order; through battle he would have put other people’s lives at risk for his reputation and ego. Claudius uses communication between countries to resolve any problems that exist. We see this in (I can’t find it but I am quite sure it happens somewhere, hopefully I would have found it by the time we meet. In the section I’m looking for some people is discussing the coming battle or something like that, but it makes out that Claudius is talking to the other country.
) Hamlet’s view can be a result of anger for his mother’s remarriage, or the death and replacement of his father. If his view stems from this then the audience is asked to decide whether they believe Claudius is doing a better job at protecting his country, and providing stability for it. Claudius provides stability for his country and wife only for the short term. His record of underhandedness leaves him vulnerable to attack if anyone were to find out. Through this attack Claudius would be left vulnerable for the public and other countries to remove his crown.
From Claudius’ bad decision to remove his brother from power he has created a corrupt character that is leading the state. Through one action Claudius is forced to cover his tracks, by covering his tracks of one foul deed he must commit another. He attempts to right what is wrong and in doing so he allows the stakes to be raised significantly. If he does not hide his mistakes then he will surely be found out, by attempting to hide them, he runs the risk of being found out but can ultimately get away with it.
We see that Claudius is upset with his actions when he pleads for religion to cure him of his life at the alter, he asks for forgiveness. Claudius is not the legitimate king, and therefore automatically takes the place of the play’s hateful, lying villain. The addition of his murderous attributes makes it hard for any audience member to connect with the thought behind Claudius’ actions. He’s seen as a cold murderer that only acts for himself.
Contrary to popular belief I believe that Claudius is a man who tempted one day made, a very bad decision. Through his human instinct for survival he has become a corrupt king that originally wanted well for his country. We see his remorse when he kneels at the alter for forgiveness. He provides stability for the short term but not ultimately. Claudius has the ability to become a great king, but has tainted his chances with the murder of his brother, causing him to become the corrupt villain that audiences see him as.
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