How does Shakespeare use language to describe Claudius as a villain?

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           Rafik Maged, SR4 C.       

                                                      Hamlet Coursework

 How does Shakespeare use language to describe Claudius as a villain?

            Claudius’s calculating nature becomes immediately apparent in Act1, Scene2.Always conscious of appearance –of what seems to be- he speaks to Gertrude as “our sometime sister, now our queen,/Th’ imperial jointress to this warlike state,” and then addresses Hamlet as his “cousin Hamlet and my son”. He has considered his relationships to the state, to Gertrude, and to Hamlet in all ways people might perceive them, and manages to cover himself entirely. He has prepared explanations for both his hasty marriage to Gertrude and for the fact that, though fewer than two months have elapsed, the country no longer mourns king Hamlet’s passing, and not even the grieving widow misses him. When Claudius turns on Hamlet and accuses him of “impious stubbornness,” he is clearly asserting his position of power over the younger man as well as over his kingdom. He scolds Hamlet in a manner befitting a concerned parent and a responsible monarch. The act fails to impress Hamlet. But Claudius remains unaware that his ruse itself ineffective.

    Claudius further invalidates Hamlet by demeaning the young man’s self-image. Accusing Hamlet of possessing “a heart unfortified” “a mind impatient” and “understanding simple and unschool’d” Claudius define Hamlet as inadequate to the task of being king. This accusation justifies his own ascension to his brother’s throne, despite the fact that the kingship rightfully belongs to the old king’s true heir, Hamlet. Every word Claudius chooses, including the condescension implied in his calling Hamlet “my cousin , and my son” reiterates his superiority and complete control.

     The incest between Claudius and Gertrude remains at the forefront of Hamlet’s mind in this scene. He is most aware of this incest horror, although he suspects other crimes as well. By the end of the play Hamlet will call Claudius a “murd’rous, damned Dane “ and the king will have multiple crimes to answer for. At this moment, however, the medieval English prohibition on sexual intimacy between a brother – albeit a brother in law- and sister serves as the primary focus for Hamlet’s rage. Though Gertrude’s guilt equals Claudius’s in this case, Hamlet directs his fury at Claudius and merely mistrusts his mother.

            Claudius then appears again in Act2 Scene 2. He is aware that all eyes are on him as he solicitously welcomes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and expresses his grave concern for “Hamlet’s transformations”. Although Shakespeare gives no suggestions that Claudius had anything but Hamlet’s welfare in mind when he summoned Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to court, the audience know that Claudius does nothing without self-promotion in mind. His suggestions that they report back any affliction of Hamlet’s echoes Polonius’s instructions to Reynaldo in scene1 regarding when dealing with their heirs. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern heartily agree to do the King’s and Queen’s bidding, Gertrude promises they will receive “such thanks/ As fits a king’s remembrance,” Claudius has successfully deceived Gertrude as well, convincing her that he loves Prince Hamlet.

       When Polonius ushers in Cornelius and Voltemand- Claudius’s ambassadors to Norway- the old man entices the king with a promise that he knows something about the Lord Hamlet that Gertrude and Claudius can not know. He refuses to divulge any information until after the ambassadors have left, but he creates excitement over his “find”. Gertrude motivated only by her deep love for her son remains skeptical about Polonius’s ability to help.

       The ambassadors bring good news for Claudius, which cheers the king, and he plans a celebratory party. Shakespeare presents here another mirror. Young Fortinbras, a dutiful nephew whose uncle has ascended to the throne that moght have been his, obeys his uncle request to show Denmark leniency. Claudius knows of no reason that his nephew would be less cooperative or less charitable, and he is more than willing to toy with Hamlet’s good nature.

    In act 3 scene 1 Claudius’s entrance speech reveals two very significant aspects oh his character (1) that he is aware of the growing threat Hamlet poses for him and (2) that he is absolutely in control and capable of decisive action. He provides a stark contrast to Hamlet, who becomes entirely incapacitated by the very idea of action. The more knows the more he calculates and acts – which is totally different from Hamlet who is man of words- , the more Hamlet knows the more he thinks and bandies words. Hamlet’s “turbulent lunacy” places them both in danger.

          The characters enact two more premeditated entrapments. First Claudius sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to continue their spying. Second, Polonius and Claudius hatch their plot to have Ophelia while Claudius and Polonius spy.

       Claudius appears to care deeply about his tortured nephew but confesses his guilty conscience in an aside. Claudius gradually reveals the depth of his criminality and at the same time engenders sympathy by exposing his human fallibility. He sees his guilt in Polonius’s charge that they could sugarcoat the devil. “Oh, ‘tis too true” says Claudius. “How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience!” Even a whore can look innocent when painted, and so his ugly deed looks honorable when clouded by pretty words. Still he feels the weight of his sin. Claudius presents a formidable foe for Hamlet. Both men have now revealed their cunning and sensitive comprehension of the human condition. They are evenly matched except that Claudius has the advantage of political power.

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    In act 3 scene 1 Gertrude remains as the Ghost had described her, the loving mother caught in Claudius’s web. She asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern whether they have tried to amuse her melancholy son, and she tells Ophelia she truly hopes the young woman’s virtues can bring Hamlet back to his senses. Ophelia doesn’t answer the Queen and the audience can only surmise that Gertrude has added fuel to the fire of the young girl’s consternation.

    Claudius’s prayer was a very unique experience for the audience because it was not expected by any means. When he ...

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