Claudius poisons many of the characters in Hamlet both literally and metaphorically:

Almost all of the poisoning is Claudius’ fault

Literally:

  • Poison is used in Claudius and Laertes’ plot to kill Hamlet
    • Laertes’ sword has poison on it, and Hamlet’s drink is also poisoned in case Laertes can’t kill him
      • “I’ll have prepar’d him A chalice for the nonce, whereon but sipping, If he by chance escape your venom’d stuck, Our purpose may hold there” (IV.vii.159-162)
  • Gertrude drinks the poison and dies
    • The drink, the drink! I am poison’d” (V.ii.300)
  • Laertes’ poisoned sword kills Hamlet, Claudius, and himself
    • Laertes: “Here I lie, Never to rise again: thy mother’s poison’d: I can no more: the king, the king’s to blame” (V.ii.308-310).
    • Hamlet: “The potent poison quite o’er-crows my spirit” (V.ii.343)
    • Claudius killed his own brother with ear poison
      • “Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial, And in the porches of my ears did pour The leperous distilment” (I.v.61-64)

Metaphorically:

Claudius poisons the minds of Gertrude, Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:

  • He convinces Gertrude that he’s good and she should marry him
    • “O wicked wit, and gifts that have the power So to seduce! – won to his shameful lust The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen” (I.v.44-46).
    • He convinces Laertes that Hamlet is responsible for Polonius’ death, and that Laertes should get revenge on Hamlet
      • “I am guiltless of your father’s death, And am most sensibly in grief for it” (IV.v.147-148). It wasn’t Claudius’ fault Polonius was killed
      • “You must put me in your heart for friend, Sith you have heard, and with a knowing ear, The he which hath your noble father slain Pursued my life” (IV.vii.2-5). Laertes must side with Claudius – Hamlet was the one who killed Polonius, and he tried to kill Claudius too. Thus Claudius convinces him to get revenge on Hamlet.
      • He gets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on his side, spying against their former friend Hamlet
        • “Draw [Hamlet] on to pleasures, and to gather So much as from occasion you may glean, Whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus, That open’d lies within our remedy” (II.ii.15-18). Claudius manages to convince Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he really cares about Hamlet, and that the two of them should help him determine what’s wrong and how to fix it.

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