Claudius

The seducing murderer

Claudius is an important character in the play “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. He is the brother of the late Danish king and Hamlet's uncle. He has poisoned his brother while the king was asleep and then married his wife Gertrude to ascend to the Danish throne.

When the spirit of the deceased Danish king appears to Hamlet, he reveals to his son the murderous intrigue that Claudius has forged against him (1.5.44-46). Claudius had poisoned him so deceitfully and cruelly that he had to die "Unhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd" (1.5.83). But his misdeeds did not end there. He had also become "that incestuous, that adulterate beast" (1.5.48) because he managed to win the love of Queen Gertrude for himself.

Together with Gertrude, Claudius made "the royal bed of Denmark be a couch for luxury and damned incest." (1.5.88-89). The young Prince Hamlet is deeply disgusted by the behavior of his mother and uncle. He immediately agrees to avenge his father's death (1.5.33-35): from this point on, almost all his actions and thoughts revolve only around the murder of his father. 

Claudius' actions turn out to be extremely calculating in many places, and even the marriage of Gertrude is not without benefit for him: after the marriage he becomes legitimate as the new king and can also be sure that the queen will not turn against him in the predictable court intrigues. However, he does seem to genuinely love her, partly even against his own will. He must realize, to his own irritation, that he can no longer imagine a life without her: "She's so conjunctive to my life and soul, That, as the star moves not but in his sphere, I could not but by her." (4.7.16-19).

The pacifist hypocrite

At the beginning of the drama, however, all of Denmark believes that the old king died as a result of a snakebite, and that his brother Claudius has therefore rightfully ascended the royal throne. King Claudius is gifted enough in acting and rhetoric to maintain this public belief. In his skillful wedding speech, for example, he movingly mourns the death of the previous king and calls the marriage to Gertrude a wise and right decision for the state of Denmark.

He is even devious and immoral enough to try to get along well with Hamlet, the son of his murder victim. To this end, Claudius shows himself a caring uncle to his nephew and asks him to recognize him as a kind of father substitute: "We pray you, throw to earth This unprevailing woe, and think of us As of a father: for let the world take note, You are the most immediate to our throne; And with no less nobility of love" (1.2.109-113).

With this introduction, Claudius wants to persuade Hamlet not to return to his place of study, Wittenberg, but to stay in Denmark. Later on, however, it quickly becomes clear that Claudius does not love Hamlet like a son, quite the contrary: from the moment he suspects Hamlet of having revealed his sinister secrets, Claudius tries to get Hamlet out of the way by all means, even by force. However, he seems to be desperate to maintain the appearance of an intact family, especially to his wife Gertrude.

Now that Claudius has achieved his selfish and power-loving goal of becoming king, he is very keen to be able to enjoy his new position in peace. For this reason, he not only ensures peace in the family sphere, but also in foreign affairs, and in this he even proves to be a clever strategist and diplomat. Shortly after his coronation, he succeeds in preventing a military conflict with Norway with the help of a single diplomatic warning. He is even able to get the promise from the Norwegians never to go to war against him again (2.2.33). In this way, Claudius presents himself as a peace-loving king and spares himself and Denmark a possible military confrontation and defeat.

The fear for the king's throne

Claudius' greatest motive for action is to keep the lie that helped him to the king's throne secret at all costs. Conveniently, he is very skilled at quickly and sneakily eliminating any possible dangers that may threaten this. When Hamlet starts to behave insanely, for example, Claudius hypocritically pretends to be concerned about his nephew's mental state, when in fact he is thinking only of his own interests.

In order to avoid any doubts about his legitimacy as ruler, it is of extrao...

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