“‘Forgive me my foul murder’! That cannot be; since I am still possess’d of those effects for which I did murder-. ” III. ii. 52-6 The hypocritical Claudius proclaims the aforementioned prayer, but is Claudius’ prayer superficial? Shakespeare’s Hamlet is teeming with deceit, incest, and hypocrisy; all of which are clearly portrayed through Claudius. Shakespeare obscures Claudius’ sinister characteristics through hypocrisy, but as the play develops, Claudius’ Mephistophelian nature becomes evident. In the early acts of Hamlet, there is no direct evidence of Claudius’ villainy.
Claudius’ first appearance depicts him giving a speech to Queen Gertrude, Hamlet, Polonius, and other attendants. Claudius explains, “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death the memory be green, and that it us befitted to bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woeâ€¦therefore our sometime sister, now our queen, the imperial jointress to this warlike state, have we, as ’twere with a defeated joy, with an auspicious and a dropping eye, with mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage, in equal scale weighing delight and dole, taken to wife.Order now
Nor have we herein barr’d your better wisdoms, which have freely gone with this affair along. ” 7 The naÃ¯ve audience is unaware of the truth of King Hamlet’s murder, therefore, are also unaware of Claudius’ hypocrisy. In the beginning of Claudius’ speech, he implores the attendants to mourn deeply the death of his brother, the former King, Hamlet. The underlying hypocrisy lies within his orders to mourn because Claudius is not actually mourning Hamlet’s death. Claudius also misrepresents his marriage to Gertrude by providing seemingly sound reasons and downplaying its awkwardness.
Noted critic Joseph Bertram also relates Claudius’ hypocrisy to his devilish tendencies by stating, “Elizabethans viewed it hypocrisy as a particularly serious character flaw. The king’s hypocrisy is perhaps most evident in his eloquent speech in Act I, scene ii in which he openly discusses his hasty marriage to Gertrude. ” Bertram 138-139 Claudius continues to mask evilness with sincerity when Hamlet refuses to obey the common theme: death of fathers. Claudius assures Hamlet that”’tis a loving and a fair reply. Be as ourself in Denmark.
Madam, come; this gentle and unforced accord of Hamlet sits smiling to my heart; in grace whereof, no jocund of health that Denmark drinks today, but the great cannon to the clouds shall tell, and the King’s rouse the heaven shall bruit again, re-speaking earthly thunder. “10 Claudius conveys a remorseful and sincere tone while speaking to Hamlet, but his tone is not justified because he is not sincere and feels no remorse. Joseph Bertram recognizes Claudius’ false remorse and sincerity and says, “To look at him no one would imagine the foul crimes of which he is guilty, the murder of a brother, and the filthy, animal sin of incest.
Not the mark of Cain, but a clear conscience seems to show itself on Claudius’ brow; he seems to emanate health and brightness of soul, and a gracious spirit of nobility. And yet as he wrote the play, Shakespeare, even as he imagined Claudius seeming so splendid, had also imagined him guilty at the very moment of two horrid, ugly crimes. ” Bertram 140 Although the audience is currently unaware, Shakespeare begins the chronological revealing of Claudius’ evil nature with his hypocrisy. As the play continues, the audience becomes more aware of Claudius’ malicious nature.
Horatio and Marcellus have previously seen the apparition, whom they believe resembles King Hamlet. Horatio notifies Hamlet of their findings and urges Hamlet to go on watch with Marcellus and him. Horatio spots the ghosts and exclaims, “Look, my lord, it comes. ” 21 The Ghost and Hamlet engage in dialogue and the Ghost admits, “I am thy father’s spirit. ” 23 The Ghost reveals, “A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark is by a forged process of my death rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth, the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown. ” 24 Hamlet replies, “O my prophetic soul!
My uncle! ” 24 Critic Victor Cahn believes, “Hamlet’s response, “O my prophetic soul! ” tells us that he has suspected as much all along. ” Cahn 76 The Ghost recommences his describing of the murder by saying, “Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast, with witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts- O wicked wit and gifts that have the power so to seduce! ” 24 As Victor Cahn has stated, Hamlet has thought this all along and now the Ghost has confirmed his suspicions, but Joseph Bertram concedes that, “There is still a strong possibility that the Ghost’s words ought not to be taken.
What we have seen of Claudius suggests a clear conscience: we have been present whilst a very gracious and most noble-looking renaissance monarch transacted private and public business with an admiring court around him. ” Bertram 139 Bertram’s criticism relates to the false appearance Claudius is portraying. Claudius’ egregious hypocrisy deceives the audience, and leads them to possibly disregard the Ghost’s statements. Hamlet, however, does not disregard the Ghost’s statements, and he becomes increasingly more delirious at the stark realization that Claudius murdered his father.
The natural guilty conscience of Claudius leads him to believe that Hamlet is aware of Claudius’ foul crimes. Shakespeare proceeds to reveal Claudius’ villainy by showing his guilty conscience when he says to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern speaking about Hamlet, “To draw him on the pleasures and to gather so much as from occasion you may glean, whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus that open’d lies within our remedy. ” 33 Here, we see Claudius telling Hamlet’s boyhood friends to spy on him and ascertain the reason of Hamlet’s madness.
Although the audience receives more proof of Claudius’ true nature, there is still a feeling of ambiguity about his guilt. Shakespeare provides the final revelation of Claudius’ Mephistophelian nature as the play culminates. Hamlet concocts a plan to prove Claudius’ guilt and reveal his true nature. He orders for players to perform “The Murder of Gonzago,” and meticulously describes how the players are to act. Hamlet plans to have the players emulate Claudius’ murder of King Hamlet in the play.
Hamlet asks Horatio to watch Claudius’ reaction to the seen of the murder. Hamlet describes to scene to the audience, “He poisons him i’ the garden for his estate. His name’s Gonzago. The story is extant, and written in very choice Italian. You shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife. ” 64 Ophelia notes, “The king rises,” 64 and Claudius’ shouts, “Give me some light. Away! ” 64 Claudius’ reaction to the poisoning scene assures Hamlet of his guilt and he says, “O good Horatio, I’ll take the Ghost’s words for a thousand pound.
Critic Joseph Bertram declares, “After the moment when Claudius has shown his guilt fleetingly in his face and gesture, “upon the talk of the poisoning,” there is no more doubt for Hamlet and Horatio, and for audience and reader. And up to this moment Shakespeare does not show Claudius in such a way that we know him for what he is: but once murder has spoken with miraculous organ we can see him without the disguise. ” Bertram 141 The completely revealed Claudius attempts to prayer and proclaims, “O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven. It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t, a brother murder.
Pray can I not, though inclination be as sharp as will; my stronger guilt defeats my strong intentâ€¦My fault is past. But O, what form of prayer can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder? ‘ That cannot be, since I am still possess’d of those effect for which I did the murder- My crown, mine own ambition and my queen. May one be pardon’d and retain the offence? ” 69-70 Claudius’ hypocrisy reveals itself again as he tries to pray for his foul offense, but wishes to retain the rewards it has brought him.
“Claudius subverts his conscience and refuses to ask for divine forgiveness. ” www. liffnotes. com 1 Joseph Bertram maintains, “An Elizabethan audience would not likely sympathize with the monarch as he tries to pray in Act III, scene iii, for his admission of sinning coupled with his inability to repent only makes his wickedness more pronounced. ” Bertram 139 Even after attempting to repent his sins, Claudius now conspires to have Hamlet sent to England and killed on arrival. The true nature of Claudius is completely revealed and his prayers are recognized as pure hypocrisy. Claudius’ plan to have Hamlet murdered is thwarted, although that does not stop his murderess will.
Joseph Bertram explains, “Shakespeare makes Claudius a hypocrite in what he says and does as the action progresses, and when the last scene has arrived we have been able to understand the kind of villainy that lurk beneath his fair and smooth appearance. It is obvious then that he has been created by the playwright as this particular kind of dangerous person, the hypocrite, who by virtue of his position and of his seeming splendor can pervert not merely his queen, but the very land, which he has stolen from his victim. Claudius is not a mixture of good and bad, he is an evil man who seems good. Bertram 141 Shakespeare removes the obscurities of hypocrisy and portrays the real Claudius.
By the completion of Hamlet, the audience recognizes the Mephistophelian nature. Shakespeare provides the proof is Claudius’ true nature chronologically as the play proceeds. “Claudius dares to be both a villain and a hypocrite; his heart does not smile with his face; he is guilty of murder and incest, the smile on his face hides guilt and the planning of yet more villainy in his heart. ” Bertram 141 From Claudius the audience learns the dangers of such character flaws and traits that he possesses.