“How successful was Claudius likely to be as a replacement for Hamlet Senior?” In what ways does Shakespeare present the central  antagonist to Hamlet in this play?

        It is argued among many critics that Claudius, no matter what his redeeming features may be within his psychological make-up, his failure to be a replacement as a father, Monarch and Courtier, are testament to the fact that he could never actually replace Hamlet Senior. Counteracting this viewpoint, though the court fails to be a place where justice overthrows all else, and becomes what can only be described as a “slaughter house”, Claudius committed regicide for the reason that he was sure of what he wanted, which was to be everything that his brother was; a husband, father and Monarch. Having his desires fulfilled before his very eyes, Claudius would automatically look for qualities he posesses which are parallel to 'Old Hamlet's', in order to gain respect from Hamlet. These qualities to a certain extent already exist through his character's trait as a natural leader whereby he uses his skilled opportunism and his bold plotting;

        "Now must your conscience my acquittance seal, and you must put me in your heart for friend"

These traits of character could be taught to Hamlet and Claudius could therefore succeed as a father figure. However, to succeed as a father figure Claudius would have to be supportive of his "son", which he is not, as we see him unsympathetically tell Hamlet to;

         "throw to earth this unprevailing woe"

It is evident that Hamlet sees his father as the epitome of Kingship;

        "Th' imperial jointress to this warlike state"

thus in order to come to a conclusion as to whether Claudius really was likely to be successful as a replacement for Hamlet Senior, I will pinpoint events which demonstrate where Claudius successfully and unsuccessfully conforms to the role of Hamlet Senior. In doing this I will also examine the context in which “Hamlet” was written, and the aims of Shakespeare within this Metaphysical period. This will provide me with a springboard into looking at whether Hamlet’s tragic downfall occurred because one of the indications was the unlikelihood of Claudius being a successful replacement, because it will allow me to examine how far the reasons for Hamlet Junior wanting to avenge his father derive from his anger that Claudius cannot replace his father.


The events before the play enable me to extrapolate that Claudius was highly envious of his brother, for having a son a wife and a throne;        

        “We pray you throw to earth  this unprevailing woe, and think of us as of a father, for let the world take note you are the most immediate to our throne; and with no less nobility of love than that which dearest father bears his son, do I impart toward you.”(Act I sc.ii)

As a consequence of fulfilling his deep, obsessive, envious desire, he was bound to make the most of it and thus do his utmost to be loved as much as Hamlet Senior was loved. The role of Hamlet Senior as a father was to lead his son. As Claudius attempts to take over Hamlet’s role as a father, Claudius has many qualities which may appear desirable and admirable to Hamlet, although he would never mention this to Claudius considering the context of the “incestuous”  situation between Claudius and Gertrude. Claudius could teach Hamlet to feel more secure and confident in himself as Claudius is a bold plotter and a skilled opportunist;

        “If he be now returned, as checking at his voyage, and that he means no more to undertake it, I will work him to an exploit, now ripe in my device, under which he shall not choose but fall. And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe but even his mother shall uncharge the practise, and call it an accident.”(Act IV sc.vii)

Though these traits may have seemed odious to an Elizabethan audience, this is a trait which Hamlet, to an extent, would desire, as he himself is a protagonist and deeply resents his flaw of the inability to act, making endless self-comparisons and always self-dramatising;

        “My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth.”(Act IV.sc. iv)

Though this may be true, it must be recognised that these traits were only admirable to Hamlet to the extent that he desires the ability not to have scruples about the outcome, but to act, when honour is at stake, because these are the exact qualities which Hamlet calls into question when he sees them in Fortinbras;

        "Two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats will not debate the question of this straw. This is th' impostune of much wealth and peace, that inward breaks, and shows no cause without why the man dies."

Claudius is consequentially not the epitome of failure where a paternal guide is a requisite in the eyes of Hamlet. This having been stated, the moment Hamlet Senior dies, Hamlet expects to be closer to his mother in their time of grievance. However, Claudius intercepts Hamlet's expected closeness to his mother, which Hamlet is not likely to forgive Claudius for. Hamlet is unlikely to forgive Claudius not only because of the nature of the hurt he has caused Hamlet, but also because part of Hamlet's psychological make-up is to stick to his tribal values which derive from Leviticus in the Old Testament;

        "An eye for an eye."

As a consequence of Hamlet not being able to forgive Claudius, Claudius does not gain the respect which Hamlet Senior gained from his son;

        "Now to my word; it is Adieu, adieu, remember me. I have sworn't."(Act I sc.v)

Hamlet, knows that he cannot confide and trust in Claudius, neither as a father or as a King. Hamlet makes issues of the fact that Claudius cannot conform to the "paternal role" of Hamlet Senior after having killed him, also making issues of the fact that Claudius would also fail to be a successful replacement as a husband.  Hamlet realises that these two brothers carry opposing characteristics, so it is therefore extremely difficult to suggest that Claudius can ever be a total replacement for Hamlet Senior;

        "My father's brother, but no more like my father than I to Hercules."

This quote in context may actually suggest that Hamlet Junior and Claudius could have had an affinity, perhaps, if they were brothers, as the quote suggests that Claudius could not have had the possibilty of becoming Hamlet Senior, because of their difference in age. However, this suggests that Claudius and Hamlet did not have much of an age gap, and could therefore have got on, just as they most probably did before Claudius stole Hamlet's security; his father, mother, crown and hopes. There is no evidence to suggest that they did not have an affinity as uncle and nephew before the tables turned after "the deed" was commited. The very reason why Hamlet feels so inadequate is because of the massive political, personal and parental image of his late father. As a consequence of which, if Claudius had been himself, as before, a brother figure; "Hercules", then perhaps Hamlet would have had no reason to want to avenge Claudius. In Hamlet's eyes no one can replace his father. Hamlet needed Claudius' affinity as a brother, someone he could relate to, after the death of his father, not someone who would dictate to him. An example of what could have been between Hamlet and Claudius, is the relationship between Hamlet and Horatio.

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         Hamlet knows he can trust Horatio, as Horatio is not trying to dominate him. Hamlet recognises that Horatio is merely content with his friendship, whereas Claudius attempts to overpower Hamlet as a replacement father;

        "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 courtier, cousin and our son."(Act I sc.ii)

Hamlet can  therefore confide in Horatio as a friend, which is what he needed;

        "As you are ...

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