Hamlet William Shakespeare's the Tragedy Essay

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William Shakespeare's the Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: The Role of King Claudius within the Drama

William Shakespeare (believed to have lived between 1564 and 1616) is without any doubt one of the most important figures in international literature. Within Great Britain, he is the most reputable writer and throughout the world, he is recognized as the greatest dramatist. Much controversy has been raised by the author of Much Ado about Nothing, a Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet or others, revolving primarily around the authenticity of the writings, in the meaning of their provenience and the actual writer. The debate has not yet been settled, but what it has done, was to have increased the popularity of the author and his work, by enhancing the elements of complexity that surround him.

But not only that the author is complex, so are his characters, or at least most of them. The large majority of the plays are centered on a strong individual who carries the entire weight of the drama, such as King Lear or MacBeth. Aside these main characters however, there are also secondary ones which also play pivotal parts in the actual action of the dramas. One such character is King Claudius in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

2. Plot Summary

The action takes place in Elsinore, Denmark, within the monarchical family. Upon the death of King Hamlet, his brother Claudius is elected as new king. With the throne, Claudius also takes the queen, Gertrude, in marriage. Meanwhile, the sentinels speak of how they saw the late king's ghost wandering around the castle.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Essay on Hamlet William Shakespeare's the Tragedy of Hamlet, Assignment

Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark and the son of the late king, returns home from studies and wonders around the castle to meet his father's ghost. When this happens, the prince is presented with the information that King Hamlet had been murdered by his own brother, who poured poison in his ear. The deceased asks for justice to be served through the murder of the current king. Striving to verify the accuracy of the information, the prince decides to set up a play depicting the scenes of his fathers' death. While the play reaches the moment up to the death of King Hamlet, King Claudius leaves the room and the prince interprets this reaction as a sign of guilt.

Gertrude begins an argument with her son, which is interrupted by Polonius, Claudius' reliable friend and the father of Laertes and Ophelia, the girl with whom Hamlet is infatuated. Ophelia is unable to cope with the death of her father and she first goes insane, to then commit suicide. In order to avenge the death of his father and sister, Laertes accepts Claudius' plan of organizing a fencing match with Hamlet, which would be fought with a poisoned sword. To ensure the death of Hamlet even in case of Laertes' failure, Claudius poisons the wine he will offer Hamlet.

Throughout the fencing match, Hamlet is injured with the poisoned sword. Through a chain of actions, the prince manages to injure his opponent with the poisoned sword as well. Gertrude accidentally drinks the poisoned wine; declares she had been poisoned and dies. Feeling his death coming, Laertes confesses to having plotted with the king to kill Hamlet. With his last breaths, the Prince of Denmark kills his uncle, step-father and king of his country. Before dying himself, he declares the Prince of Normandy, Fortinbras, as heir to the throne. Fortinbras arrives minutes later as part of a diplomatic visit, but finds all four dead, and is told their story; he decides to honor Hamlet.

3. The Role of Claudius

The Prince of Denmark is undoubtedly the main character of the drama play. Yet, his primordial role is that of acting based on a created set and responding to the actions taking place in the castle. The character who creates the set and initiates the actions to which Hamlet responds is Claudius. The new King of Denmark killed the previous monarch, married his queen and had ambitions of ruling over the country, setting as such the context for the future events. When Hamlet discovered his actions, the coward and plotting king once more introduced his weapon of choice -- poison -- to the scene, to kill all of the main characters. In other words, Claudius plays the pivotal part of having commenced the play and having also ended it. Identifying other roles played by the murderous king is a generally difficult task due to the complexity of the play; "Hamlet is the most problematic play ever written. Inconsistencies arise from the variousness of its medieval and Renaissance sources; from discrepancies between printed versions of Shakespeare's drama; and from a host of unresolved thematic and psychological problems" (Croxford, 2004).

Aside being the commencement and the end of the play, Claudius plays a multitude of other parts. For once, he helps describe the differences between himself and the previous king. Hamlet, the king, was an honest and wise man, a brave soldier and leader, with an ability to read and understand the human mind. Claudius is just the opposite -- he is tormented by vice, he is deceitful and he is a murderer (Tiffany, 2005). This understanding of the conflicting values plays the great part of offering a sense of humanity and reality to King Hamlet, which is only represented within the play by his morbid ghost.

Claudius is also a victim of both lies as well as murder. Once their weaver, he turns into their target. Hamlet recognizes the ability of his uncle to dissimilate and distort the truth and becomes able to use this capacity in order to extort a confession out of him (Stegner, 2007). The prince is aware that he will never get a true confession from the king, but he is neither sure that he can trust the vengeful declarations of the ghost. In order to reveal the truth, he uses deceptions, and when the uncle falls for the trick, Hamlet interprets his leaving the room as a sign of assumed guilt. Ironically enough, the man who used lies and deceit to gain power is about to lose it due to him falling victim of deceit.

There is also the role of the adulterer committing incest. It is not clear whether Claudius and Gertrude had engaged in adulterous relations while King Hamlet was still alive. Upon his death however, the two were married, but their union was still not perceived as a lawful and decent one. The Prince of Denmark accused his uncle and mother of having turned religion into nothing more than "meaningless gibberish" (Aasand, 2003).

The final question that is being posed refers to the actions of the new king relative to Hamlet. Assuming the ideas of jealousy and greed, materialized in the murder of King Hamlet, it is also understood that Claudius would have wanted to protect his leading position. In this context then, why did he not kill Hamlet sooner? (Stoll, 1919) Had he done this, fewer lives would have been lost. Basically, this translates into the great role played by Claudius in the life and death of the other characters -- Ophelia, Laertes, Polonius, and Gertrude. Polonius died the night of the play, when he intervened in the fight between Hamlet and his mother and as he was mistaken with the king. However this is not the topic of the current analysis, it is interesting to notice Hamlet's reaction upon the discovery of Polonius. Instead of revealing any remorse, he simply calls Ophelia's father an "intruding fool." Through the death of Polonius, Claudius was in prayer and did not intervene. Had he acted in another means, the outcome would have been a different one. In other words, despite the fact that Hamlet actually killed Polonius, Claudius can also be blamed for the death of his friend. The same can be said about the deaths of Ophelia, Laertes and Gertrude.

Ophelia committed suicide, but only after having lost her mind due to grief. Her grief was determined by the death of her father, which can, in some part, be attributed to Claudius. Extrapolating, Ophelia's death can also be traced back to the murderous king. Ophelia's brother died after being wounded by the sword poisoned by Claudius and Gertrude died after having drunk the poisoned wine, initially prepared for Hamlet. In his battle against his nephew and stepson, Claudius indirectly ended the lives of four other characters.

Returning then to the previously posed question, why did Claudius delay his killing of Hamlet when he could have resolved this matter and ensured his throne from the first scenes of the play, the answer is fairly simple -- Claudius needed to be liked and accepted by both queen and the people. This desiderate was easier to be achieved with his acceptance of Hamlet as heir to the throne of Denmark. Then, it is imperative for him to maintain secrecy and kill Hamlet without anybody knowing of it, just like he killed the king. He delays… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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