Essay, Research Paper: Hamlet And Claude

Shakespeare: Hamlet

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In the play “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, the character of Claude is a
near perfect example of a Machiavellian character. Claude began as the brother
to King Hamlet, stepbrother to Queen Gertrude and Uncle to Prince Hamlet.
However this situation obviously does not suite Claude so he takes measures to
change it. After doing what he had to too become King, Claude’s brother is
dead, he is married to Gertrude and Prince Hamlet is now his son-in-law. In this
fashion he has demonstrated the golden rule of Machiavelli. That rule is to
obtain power by all means necessary and to keep that power by all means
necessary. However after Claude gains his power he does not do a good job of
keeping it. There are things Claude could of done to keep a grasp on the
Kingship that he does not do and the result is his death. So in some ways Claude
is a perfect example of a Machiavellian character, but in other ways he is far
from it. As the play begins, Claude has taken possession of the crown. “The
serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown.”(Hamlet, 29) A
ghost of Old Hamlet has told Prince Hamlet and the audience how he died. His
brother poisoned him. This action alone is cruel but would not guarantee the
crown to Claude, for that to happen Claude must do more. “With mirth in
funeral and with dirge in marriage, in equal scale weighing delight and
dole-taken to wife.”(Hamlet, 10) To secure his position as King, Claude has
married Gertrude. Now he is married to the Queen, brother to the dead King and
an experienced leader, the perfect choice for a new King. This is a good
position to step into because Old Hamlet was well like and Denmark was a
powerful country, so Claude’s Kingship would be warmly greeted. “I say at
once there are fewer difficulties in holding hereditary states, and those long
accustomed to the family of their prince...”(Machiavelli, 3) When a country is
used to the way things are done by a particular family, any family member can be
easily accepted among the people, simple because of his name. Now that Claude
has usurped the position he so badly wanted from his brother, he needs an action
to solidify the process. Everyone is happy because Claude is there, but they
need to be assured that he will be a good King. To assure the people Claude
sends a strong message to the son of Fortinbras, who plans to wage war with
Denmark. “He hath not failed to pester us with message importing the surrender
of those lands lost by his father, with all bonds of law, to our most valiant
brother. So much for him.”(Hamlet, 10) Claude shows everyone that he is strong
by ignoring the “idle” threats of Fortinbras. This shows that he will lead,
and lead with strength. Like a true Machiavellian character, Claude has done all
things necessary to obtain his power, and has begun to do the things necessary
to keep the power. The only problem is that Claude does not continue as strong
as he began. He did do all that he must to obtain his power. He killed his
brother, married his brother’s wife and showed disrespect to his enemies in
front of his people. However when the time comes to keep his power, he is not as
decisive. “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.”(Hamlet, 13) Claude requests of his new son that
he stays in the palace with them. This was his first mistake. Claude took the
thrown not only from his brother but from his nephew Hamlet as well. This means
that Hamlet is in direct competition for the crown and thus an enemy of Claude.
For those reasons he should of immediately killed Hamlet, or at the very least
allowed him to leave the kingdom and never allow him to return. Claude however
does not and from then on his days will be numbered. When Hamlet finds out about
how his father had died, he sets a course to kill Hamlet. Part of this course is
to pretend to be mad so as to throw his enemies off. “But since the King’s
conscious guilt and terror might reasonably have created a distrust of Hamlet,
and that distrust and a desire of security induced him to see his
death...”(Lennox, 81) The madness that Hamlet pretends to be experiencing
disturbs Claude, and rightly so. He knows that the killing of Hamlet’s father
would be reason for revenge, and a crazy Hamlet is more likely to complete that
action than a sane one, so why would Claude still hesitate to eliminate his
enemy? In the beginning Claude’s actions are very much like that of a
Machiavellian character, but as the play progresses he becomes more and more
like a weak leader who is to confused to solve any of his problems. “The Queen
his mother lives almost by his looks...”(Hamlet, 115) Claude’s excuse for
not getting rid of his enemy is that Gertrude would be upset. But if she were to
become that then she as well would be an enemy and eliminated. “I say that
every prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel.
Nevertheless he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency.”(Mahciavelli,
23) Claude has become too concerned with looking nice and kind and has lost
track of his goal to keep the power he has obtained. Claude however regains his
determination and sets a plan to kill off Hamlet. “For that purpose I’ll
anoint my sword. I brought a unction of mountebank...a chalice for the nonce,
whereon but sipping, if he by chance escape your venomed stuck...”(Hamlet,
119-120) Claude and his new tool, Laertes have devised away to rid themselves of
Hamlet. Hamlet and Laertes will fence, Laertes with a poisoned sword and if that
does not kill him, then Claude with a poisoned drink will kill Hamlet. Claude
has forgotten his misled dependence on people like Gertrude and has resolved to
kill his enemy like a Machiavellian character would. Throughout the play
“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, Claude plays the role of a Machiavellian
character. He does what he has to too obtain the desired power, and in the end
does what he must to keep it, although to no avail. There are a few instances
where Claude strays from the path, but he corrects his mistakes and does, or at
least tries to do what he must to secure his position. So for the majority of
the time Claude is the perfect example of a Machiavellian character.
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