In the play, “Hamlet”, Shakespeare needed to devize an evil character, a villain that is ambitious, and has the ability to scheme to get what he wants. The character would also have to contain some good qualities, such as kindness and contriteness. These good qualities make the character seem more human and thus, more believable. Claudius is this character. Shakespeare uses Claudius in his revenge theme in this play. Without the acts of Claudius, this theme just would not be. The entire play revolves around what Claudius has done, or will do.
The evil traits of Claudius by far outweigh the good things he does. He is very ambitious, perhaps too ambitious. Claudius wanted to be king so badly, that he murdered his own brother to achieve his goal. This is how the revenge theme is weaved into the
“A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Now wears his crown.” (Act I, Sc. V, Lines 42-46)
Claudius not only wanted to be the king of Denmark, he also wanted the queen that came with it. In Act I Sc. II Lines 8-14, Claudius has just recently been crowned king and is addressing the court. He shows in his words how happy he is to be married to Gertrude, the Queen.
“herefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
The imperial jointress to this warlike state,
Have we, as twere with a defeated joy,
With an auspicious, and dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole,
Taken to wife; ….”
The ambition of Claudius lays the foundation for the theme of revenge. Without his need to be king and his willingness to do anything for it, the play would be completely different. This evil trait is, in part, what in the end kills Claudius.
Claudius other evil trait, his scheming, also leads to his death. An example of one of Claudius many plans was when he summoned Rozencrantz and Guildenstern to do some spying on Hamlet to find out what was ailing him.
“Moreover that we much did long to see you,
The need we have to use you did provoke
Our hasty sending. Something have you heard
Of hamlets transformation,… …so by your companies
To draw him on to pleasures, and to gather
So much as from occasion you may glean,
Whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus
That, opened, lies within our remedy.”
(Act II Sc. II Lines 2-5, 14-18)
Behind the arras I ll convey myself
To hear the process. I ll warrant she ll tax him home;
And, as you said, and wisely was it said,
Tis meet that some more audience than a mother,
Since nature makes them partial, should o er hear
The speech, of vantage.” (Act III Sc. III Lines 29-35)
Claudius most risky plot was when he and Laertes planned to kill Hamlet. Now, Claudius is aware that Hamlet knows about his crime and wishes him dead. Claudius, in a plan to save himself, has Laertes and Hamlet engage in a fencing match. Laertes has his sword poisoned in an effort to do Hamlet in once and for all.
“And for that purpose I ll anoint my sword,
I bought an unction of a mountebank,
So mortal that, but a dip a knife in it,
Where it draws blood no cataplasm so rare,
Collected from all simples that have virtue
That is but scratched withal. I ll touch my point With this
Contagion, that, if I gall him slightly,
It may mean death.” (Act IV Sc. VII Lines 156-164)
This was the idea that was made by Laertes. Claudius, always thinking, comes up with a back up plan in case this fails,
“Let s further think of this,
Weigh what convenience both of time and means
May fit us to our shape. If this should fail,
And that our drift look through our bad performance,
Twere better not assayed. Therefore this project
Should have a back or second, that might hold
If this did blast in proof. …
…And that he calls for a drink, I ll have prepared him
A chalice for the nonce; whereon but sipping
Our purpose may hold there.”
(Act IV Sc. VII Lines 165-171, 176-179)
The match is arranged and Hamlet And Laertes compete. All starts well but then over the next few moments both Hamlet and Laertes are struck with the poisoned sword. Upon this, Laertes spills his guts revealing all to Hamlet. Claudius is then killed. This all fits into Shakespeare s theme of revenge by if Claudius did not have this trait, the plans would never have been made and the play would be different. Also, the death of Claudius ends the theme. With Claudius dead, the revenge has been done.
Claudius also has some good traits, whish makes him seem more human and some “out-to-do-no-good” person. Claudius displays acts of kindness throughout most of the play. In Act I Sc. II Lines 116-123, Claudius shows his love towards Hamlet be asking
him to stay in Denmark.
“And with no less nobility of love
Than that which dearest father bears his son
Do I impart toward you. For your intent
In going back to school in Wittenberg,
It is most retrograde to our desire;
And we beseech you, bend you to remain
Here in the cheer and comfort of our eye,
Our chiefest coutier, cousin, and our son.”
Claudius has, in a sense, his arms open to Hamlet and it is Hamlet s choice if to hate Claudius or to go embrace him. In the end, hamlet choses to hate him.
Claudius is also very contrite. He knows that what he has done (murdering his brother) was very wrong and he realises there is little that he can do to make things well..
” O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon t,
Through inclination be as sharp as will.
My stronger guilt defeats my stronger intent….”
(Act III Sc. IV Lines 39-43)
“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below;
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”
(Act III Sc. IV Lines 100-101)
These traits give Claudius a human side and this plays into the author s purpose by making the reader wonder if Hamlet is going to do the right thing by killing Claudius. It gives the reader second thoughts.
Claudius was the villain in “Hamlet.” He showed all the necessary characteristics of an evil character but Shakespeare put some “extra” into him. He did this be giving him somegood characteristics. What he had was a well blended character with the ability to be both a murderous bad guy to a kind hearted good guy. Shakespeare had Claudius fit well into the theme of revenge. It was all centred around him. With out him, It would have been a happy ending, or completely different.