Role in Play

Important events he is involved in:

  • Becomes new King of Denmark by pouring poison in his brother’s ear in the garden, thus killing King Hamlet and overthrowing him
  • Marries King Hamlet’s wife, Gertrude, abruptly after King Hamlet’s death
  • Exposes his guilt at the play when the plot on stage resembles the events of King Hamlet’s death
  • Tries to figure out why Hamlet is mad, and starts to question the legitimacy of his madness
  • Begins to fear Prince Hamlet, so he sends him away to England
  • Confesses to God that he killed King Hamlet and prays to God to forgive him
  • Finds out that Prince Hamlet kills Polonius, so Claudius devises a plan to kill Hamlet
  • Prince Hamlet kills him towards the end of the play, just like Hamlet said he would

Significance of his character

  • His role in the play is to oppose Prince Hamlet as the main antagonist of the play.
  • Involved in the major conflict of the play, as Hamlet tries seeking revenge and Claudius tries to avoid these threats by devising plans of his own.
  • As the play progresses, he becomes more and more obsessed with the power that he possesses, and does whatever he can to keep it.
  • He starts to fear Hamlet not because he is mad, but moreover, because he is not. Claudius is able to see through Hamlet’s charades of madness, and sees that Hamlet is a potential threat.
  • Demonstrates that fear can create a downward spiral for a character, as he goes from very stable to unstable, thinking about spying and murder as time goes on, until his eventual death at the end.

Personality/Traits

TraitProofSignificance
Devious“Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast, With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,” (I.v. 42-43).The ghost says here that his brother, Claudius, had an intimate relationship before King Hamlet died and before their marriage. This proves to be devious on the part of Claudius, as he went behind his brother’s back and started an affair with his wife.
Deceiving“O villain, villain, smiling damned villain,” (I.v.106).Here, Hamlet states that though he is smiling, and happy, he is still a villain nonetheless. This two-faced persona deceives characters into thinking that he is one person, when in reality he is someone else. This quote models one of the major themes of the play and that is appearance vs. reality.
Calculating“Will you be ruled by me? […] No more to undertake it, I will work him To an exploit now ripe in my device,” (IV.vii.58-64).Claudius asks Laertes if he will work for him to exact revenge on Hamlet. Laertes agrees, and Claudius then says that he will trick Hamlet into something that will be sure to kill him. This proves to be manipulative by Claudius as he lures Laertes into his elaborate plan to kill his nephew.
Remorseful“My fault is past. But O, what form of prayer Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder’?” (III.iii.51-52).Claudius is alone when he begins to confess his sins by praying to god. He says that his mistakes are in the past, and now he is asking for forgiveness. God is the only figure that Claudius actually openly accepts his mistakes to, proving that though he may have lost his connection with God at some point, the connection is still there.

These traits listed are some of the more dominant and important ones that Claudius possesses. However, he expresses different emotions throughout the play, resulting in different traits that could be considered. What are some traits that you feel best describes Claudius’ character throughout the play?

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