Claudius as Evil in Hamlet by William Shakespeare Essay

This essay has a total of 1041 words and 5 pages.

Claudius as Evil in Hamlet by William Shakespeare

The abstract concept of evil has vastly transformed throughout human history, ranging for
the supernatural and mystical to the very humans amongst whom we live. In modern times,
evil has become an entirely ambiguous term. Who is evil? What is evil? Men like Adolph
Hitler and Saddam Hussein have been garnered with the term ‘evil' for their atrocities
against fellow humans. Now it seems evil has a solely human significance; when a person
violates the individual rights of others on a massive scale, he/she is evil. In
Shakespeare's time - the Elizabethan era - evil had a similar, but somewhat altered
connotation in the human mind. Evil was an entity that violated the English Christian
monarchial tradition. Therefore, a man such as Claudius, from Shakespeare's play Hamlet, a
cold-blooded murderer and a ruthless manipulator, who uses "rank" deeds to usurp the
thrown is in direct violation with the Elizabethan societal norms, and hence he is an evil
character.

In the Elizabethan era, the royal crown was viewed as divinely touched and hence any
action against the crown was an action against God. Claudius dismisses God's right to
control the crown by committing a "murder most foul" (I.v.27), yet he concedes that
"there's such divinity doth hedge a king" (IV.v.121). Claudius admits that God influences
the monarchy and yet he chooses to violate the divine monarchial progression. Hamlet
recognizes Claudius' evil nature beyond simply the murder of his father; Hamlet sees that
Claudius is corrupting all of Denmark. Claudius' reign is compared to "an unweeded
garden/That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature/Possess it merely"
(I.ii.135-7), his influence causing the destruction of a previously beautiful environment.
Claudius' infectious evil must be eliminated, and Hamlet feels he is the only man who can
do anything; he pulls out all the stops and in the end accomplishes his goal.

King Hamlet's "foul and most unnatural murder" (I.v.25) tops Claudius' list of egregious
sins, but most of his offenses are psychological rather than physical. Using his mastery
of manipulation, Claudius, the "incestuous" and "adulterate beast" managed to win "to his
shameful lust the will" of the virtuous queen, Gertrude (I.v.42-6). Gertrude could not be
persuaded to switch husbands without a little verbal trickery on Claudius' part, and that
turns out to be his true skill: lying convincingly. Claudius manages to legitimize his
ascent to the throne by diverting popular attention, away from the circumstances of his
ascent, and to the impending attack by the young Fortinbras (I.ii.1-20). Claudius'
propensity towards fabrications is in direct violation with the Holy Commandment Thou
shalt not bear false witness; hence, he violates one of the pillars of Christian moral
law.

Claudius' lies are effective enough to persistently deceive to play's antagonist, Hamlet.
Despite Hamlet's disgust with Claudius for marrying Gertrude, and his view of Claudius as
"a king of shreds and patches" (III.iv.104), Hamlet suspicion of Claudius as a murderer is
preliminarily nonexistent. The appearance of a spirit claiming to be Hamlet's dead father
first alerts Hamlet to the actions of "that incestuous, that adulterate beast, /With
witchcraft of his with, with traitorous gifts" (I.v.42-3). And yet still, Hamlet remains
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