Claudius Slips Up

My claim is that Hamlet’s uncle and new stepfather, Claudius, unmasks the contempt he feels towards Hamlet, revealing the dark nature of his character, and therefore alerting the audience to the potentiality of foul play from Claudius regarding King Hamlet’s death. While previously in the play we see Claudius as a gracious king (despite a couple moments at which his true nature slips through), the true, vicious side of Hamlet’s stepfather and uncle is revealed to the audience with starling clarity as he uses his words as spears to pierce into Hamlet’s mourning of his deceased father. In doing so, the audience is given the first warning signs of Claudius’ ulterior motives. In the text, Claudius states, “’Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet,/To give these mourning duties to your father….. But to persevere/In obstinate condolement is a course/Of impious stubbornness. ‘Tis unmanly grief./It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,/A heart unfortified, a mind impatient,/An understanding simple and unschooled.” (Shakespeare 13) While at first Claudius appears to be playing the role of understanding stepfather, he immediately shatters this illusion by disguising his contempt as “tough love”. At this point the audience is unaware that Claudius is responsible for King Hamlet’s death, but in this chosen passage, we as audience begin to see the underlying conflict taking place between the two characters. Telling Hamlet that it is “sweet and commendable” to be grieving his father’s death before turning around in the next breath to attack Hamlet’s basic human qualities (his masculinity and intelligence), Claudius’ passive-aggression runs rampant. In this passage, Claudius demonstrates his willingness to hurt others in order to achieve his goals; goals which in this case include suppressing any thought of the former king and his, in addition to removing any threats to his rule. Having said that, in doing this Claudius only further makes himself more vulnerable as he shows Hamlet and the watching audience a mere fraction of the damage of which he is capable.


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