It is in doing just this that he meets his very ironic death- upon hearing that Gertrude is distressed, he makes a move from behind the arras and is killed by Hamlet, who thinks that he is Claudius. I think, therefore, that it can be concluded that although Polonius is perhaps immoral, and, to use Hamlet’s words: ‘an officious fool’, he is not a completely corrupt character. However, he is corrupted in his desire to please the king, and so it is clear to the reader that Claudius is one again inextricably linked with the idea of corruption.
Gertrude is another character who becomes a victim of Claudius’ influence. Although she does not take any direct action that would make her seem corrupt, there are a few examples in the play that suggests that she may not be as innocent as she would like people to think. When Hamlet tells her that he knows of Claudius’ murder, she replies by saying: “As kill a King? ” This lets the reader know that she is puzzled, however it can be seen as ambiguous: either she did not know that Claudius had killed Old Hamlet, or she did not know that Hamlet knew that Claudius had murdered his father.
The only explanation for Gertrude’s protection of Claudius’ secret is that she genuinely loves him, although it is unclear whether he loves her in return or if he is just using her. However it is from the language of Hamlet that the reader is given the greatest indication of corruption: “but to live in the rank sweat of an enseami?? d bed, stewed in corruption”.
Here the use of some very graphic and vile language, such as the words ‘rank’ and ‘enseami??d’, by Hamlet one more links Claudius to the idea if disease and decay and shows that Hamlet feels that his mother has been in some way infected or corrupted by Claudius, emphasised by the use of the phrase ‘stewed in corruption’. Hamlet shows his distrust of Claudius again, this time warning his mother about becoming part of his corruption: “do not spread the compost on the wheels To make them ranker” Shakespeare’s word choice of ‘ranker’ highlights yet again the corruption of Claudius.
Furthermore, Hamlet’s use of the image ‘spread the compost’ suggests that he is aware that his mother is easily corruptible and that he does not want her to be overcome by his devious nature. It is though the character of Laertes that the reader sees the best example of Claudius’ manipulation. In Act IV Scene VII, Laertes is incensed by the death of his father. Claudius not only manages to calm him down but actually uses his Laertes’ anger to his advantage. He tells Laertes that it was Hamlet who killed his father and Laertes makes it clear that he wants to avenge the death:
‘It warms the very sickness in my heart That I shall live and tell him to his teeth “Thus didest thou! “‘ This makes it clear to Claudius that he can use Laertes to get to Hamlet, with the decay imagery, ‘the very sickness of my heart’, again suggesting Claudius’ corruption. Claudius plans a duel between the two characters in which one of the swords will be ‘unbated’. This is a stroke of genius as it allows Claudius to kill Hamlet before he tells everyone of his murder, but he does not have to commit another murder himself.
In my opinion, this is the best example of Claudius’ ability to corrupt other characters. Laertes is certainly reckless and impulsive, but is not himself corrupt. However, Claudius uses his considerable manipulation skills to corrupt him into committing a murder. William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ is a play which is based on the theme of corruption. Although the characters in the play which I have mentioned may not be completely innocent, Shakespeare’s clever use of characterisation and language makes it clear that the corruption in the play stems from the character of Claudius.
By his detailed exploration of the theme, he makes it clear that there are in a sense two types of corrupt characters: firstly there is Claudius who is completely corrupt. Secondly, there are the other characters who all have had an aspect of their personality exploited by Claudius- Polonius’ eagerness to please, Gertrude’s love for him and Laertes impulsiveness, and so can be considered to have been corrupted by him.