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Posted on August 17th, 2012, by

Shakespeare’s tragedies are considered to be among the most valuable literary heritage in the present day world. The beautiful masterpieces created by genius of Shakespeare are now available for everyone. But reading is not enough to find out all the stylistic and psychological values of the Shakespeare’s creations. Every Art has its personal means and devices. Hamlet is such type of works and the one who would think that impression provided by this literary masterpiece is something essential or natural would be mistaken as all the feelings and effects caused by Hamlet are lying deep inside, created by the genius of William Shakespeare.

Trying to understand ideal sense, spiritual meaning and artistic power of Hamlet it will be impossible to tear off  the plot from its idea, to separate characters and overview then separately from each other as each of them are closely connected within the thin lines of artistic sense. Every character has significant sense load and Hamlet is not some kind of a mono-drama, it is complicated dramatic life story, which shows different characters in dynamics. It is essential that the whole story is build up around one person, Hamlet, still the other main characters are also very important. Claudius is one of the key characters in the tragedy. He could be hardly called positive person as his aim was to become king of Denmark and he succeeded, being artful and cunning manipulator, who uses  the other heroes to achieve his aim and keep his throne from infringements.

Claudius as the Main Character in Hamlet

It is essential that Hamlet was always overviewed as a central figure of the tragedy and Claudius as the key person was not as popular among the investigators and researches as Hamlet. Still this character is one of the most important. Everyone knows that Hamlet is based on the middle ages saga  and king-murderer is not devoted much attention in the tragedy, but thanks to William Shakespeare we see the Claudius character bright and expressive, which gives material for numerous investigations. It would be important to note that Shakespeare depicted Claudius rather as his contemporary, Cladius is so called Renaissance villain. His actions and image characteristics are based on the will, energy and cunning, the main aim is safety of the country. Hamlet, the same time, carving for justice, missed Fortinbras from his sight, who wished to attach Denmark to his own kingdom. Fortinbras is Hamlet’s father enemy is having pretensions on Danish territory, which he finally gets without any forces from his side, after the death of main heroes. So we see that Claudius is not only villain character but the same time he prays for unity and integrity of Denmark and according to the state overview he is rather positive than negative hero, praying for independence of his country. But being quite successful manipulator Claudius uses all his surrounding to play under his will. His words are one, actions pretty different and thoughts are radically another. He is gently and attentive when speaking but when it comes to his active deeds he is cruel and guileful. He uses Hamlet’s mother, queen Gertrude, in order to persuade her that her son is mad and need to be sent to England, he uses Laertes, overwhelmed by blood lust, as Hamlet killed his father, even close friend’s of Hamlet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are used by Claudius to get the necessary information, Hamlet himself also was a victim of his manipulations.

ACT IV as Perfect Illustration of Claudius Manipulations on Other Characters of the Play

Claudius and Gertrude

Act four perfectly is a perfect illustration of Claudius manipulations. It starts with a dialogue between him and Queen Gertrude. Claudius plays the role of worried relative asking where’s Hamlet and how is he doing. Gertrude, being mother, is seriously worried about the fact that Hamlet could be killed and supports the idea of his madness:

Mad as the sea and wind, when both contend

Which is the mightier: in his lawless fit,

Behind the arras hearing something stir,

Whips out his rapier, cries, A rat, a rat!’

And, in this brainish apprehension, kills

The unseen good old man

 (Shakespeare, ACT 4, Scene 1)

 It is very suitable situation for Claudius  (who wants to rid off Hamlet) and he is immediately using  it for his advantage. He understands that anyway Gertrude is a loving mother, who is very worried about her son, trying to protect him he supports idea of his madness, supposing that if he would be considered mad, nobody would take him into account. Claudius as very cunning and attentive person could not miss this case, he masterfully uses feelings overwhelming Gertrude for his aim to rid off the main challenger for the throne of Denmark:

O heavy deed!

It had been so with us, had we been there:

His liberty is full of threats to all;

To you yourself, to us, to every one.

Alas, how shall this bloody deed be answer’d?

It will be laid to us, whose providence

Should have kept short, restrain’d and out of haunt,

This mad young man: but so much was our love,

We would not understand what was most fit;

Come, Gertrude, we’ll call up our wisest friends;

And let them know, both what we mean to do,

 (Shakespeare, ACT 4, Scene 1)

 

Hamlet is not aware about his future, but cunning plan was already created by evil Claudius, thinking only about throne of Denmark and trying to rid off all the supposed candidates and Hamlet is the closest and the most threatening. Claudius did not supposed that Hamlet would kill Lord Polonius but decides to use this for his own advantage. He perfectly plays the role of seriously worried stepfather, who is really alarmed about the future of his stepson:

How dangerous is it that this man goes loose!

Yet must not we put the strong law on him:

He’s loved of the distracted multitude,

Who like not in their judgment, but their eyes;

And where tis so, the offender’s scourge is weigh’d,

But never the offence.

 (Shakespeare, ACT 4, Scene 3)

Speaking to Hamlet Claudius explains him the reasons’ he should depart. He gives him well-grounded’ facts for his departure. We also should not forget, that the same way he was manipulating feelings of Hamlet’s mother, saying that Hamlet should be sent somewhere for his safety and for their safeness too as he has become dangerous. Trying to manipulate on Hamlet’s self-preservation instinct. What is important to note Claudius does not treat Hamlet as if he is mad:

Hamlet, this deed, for thine especial safety, –

Which we do tender, as we dearly grieve

For that which thou hast done, – must send thee hence

With fiery quickness: therefore prepare thyself;

The bark is ready, and the wind at help,

The associates tend, and every thing is bent

For England.

(Shakespeare, ACT 4, Scene 3)

Still Claudius keep on working’ with his wife. He plays on her fears and threats. He  understands that she is the one who could support him and makes her feel that he wants to protect her and doing best for the country:

O Gertrude, Gertrude,

When sorrows come, they come not single spies

But in battalions. First, her father slain:

Next, your son gone; and he most violent author

Of his own just remove: the people muddied,

Thick and unwholesome in their thoughts and whispers,

For good Polonius’ death; and we have done but greenly,

In hugger-mugger to inter him: poor Ophelia

Divided from herself and her fair judgment,

Without the which we are pictures, or mere beasts:

Last, and as much containing as all these,

Her brother is in secret come from France;

Feeds on his wonder, keeps himself in clouds,

And wants not buzzers to infect his ear

With pestilent speeches of his father’s death;

(Shakespeare, ACT 4, Scene 5)

Claudius is well aware about arriving of Laertes, whose father was killed by Hamlet. He understands that being killed by pain of loss Laertes would crave for revenge. That is also good for Claudius as he supposes to support him, in order to protect himself from Hamlet and his throne from encroachments. He understands that support of Queen Gertrude is not enough to keep on throne especially, when Fortinbras is threatening the borders. Claudius manipulates the son’s feelings of Laertes, he gives him hope for soon revenge and legal support of the king of Denmark:

now you speak

Like a good child and a true gentleman.

That I am guiltless of your father’s death,

And am most sensible in grief for it,

It shall as level to your judgment pierce

As day does to your eye

Laertes, I must commune with your grief,

Or you deny me right. Go but apart,

Make choice of whom your wisest friends you will.

And they shall hear and judge twixt you and me:

If by direct or by collateral hand

They find us touch’d, we will our kingdom give,

Our crown, our life, and all that we can ours,

To you in satisfaction; but if not,

Be you content to lend your patience to us,

And we shall jointly labour with your soul

To give it due content.

(Shakespeare, ACT 4, Scene 5)

Claudius masterfully manipulates Laertes. He lets Ophelia (Laertes sister) enter, seeing the pain of his sister Laertes is craving for blood and Claudius uses his will of revenge for his own aim. It is essential but all these intrigues and manipulations Claudius has one and only aim to remove Hamlet from Denmark. Claudius perfectly knows who should be the King of Denmark, thus he is also well aware about realities and Fortinbras threats. He wishes one and only thing to stay in power and according to this aim he uses all the means.

In the end I would like to make a stress on the fact that Shakespeare lets the reader decide who is evil and who is good. Claudius’ manipulations does not look good in the sight of supposed murder of Hamlet’s father, but still he wanted to keep the country independent, under the rule of strong monarch. Hamlet is progressive person for his time, but craving for revenge he forgot about the kingdom, what is more important as it costs thousands of humans’ life. The contradiction of Claudius image does not let the reader indifferent, but still the majority of investigators treat him rather like negative character than positive (he wanted to preserve the existing dynasty in power still). But his intrigues, manipulations, and lies provided feeling of loathing. He easily found the weak traits in every character, manipulating their fears and increasing the supposed threats for his personal advantage. But being talented liar he could hardly imagine that someone could manipulate his strongest fear to loose the power. Claudius was perfect manipulator and pretender – he was just one step from success, but he did not took into account how strong will Hamlet had to kill him. In the end Fortinbras became the king of Denmark as two supposed candidates killed each other, carving for revenge and power.

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