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Introduction: Beware the Treacherous Truth
Shakespeare’s hamlet is one of those plays that never age and reveal new facets and ideas every time a reader revisits them. The plot about treacherous Claudius, the prince in disdain and the shadow of doom hanging over each character is a well-known issue that has been discussed hundreds of times.
However, along with the key conflict and the tragedy of the lead character, there is a storyline just as important and impressive, yet rather overlooked, namely, the conflict within Claudius, the main antagonist. Being torn apart by the burden of his murder, Claudius conceals the remnants of the humane within, yet at certain moment, the truth finally comes into the light.
The Confession of the Villain: When It Comes into the Open
However, it is the king’s monologue that reveals the readers the evil plans plotted by Claudius and the scale of the harm that he caused to Hamlet and the entire family. Addressing the power of the Lord and admitting that he was to blame for his own brother’s murder, the king finally conceives how despicable he is and how loathsome it was of him to betray his brother:
O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will (Shakespeare 36-39).
As the monologue continues, it becomes obvious that Claudius is more than remorseful – he is terrified by the crime that he committed, and he desperately wants to take this burden of guilt off his shoulders:
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Art more engaged! Help, angels! Make assay!
Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe!
All may be well. (Shakespeare 67-72)
However, Claudius does not become a positive character; he is unwilling to change. Embracing all his sins, he is still understands that a moment of weakness is not enough to be granted a pardon from his hideous crime:
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go. (Shakespeare 97-98)
The third scene of the third act is practically the only place in the entire play where Claudius considers certain moral issues, which already makes the monologue in the third act stand out; moreover, the third scene of the third act is the only part in which Claudius displays weakness. Breaking the wall in his shield of complete inhumanity and no moral obligations whatsoever, this outburst of emotions shows clearly that Claudius not only feels guilty, but is ready to atone for his sins.
Scene 2 as the Preparation for the Grand Finale
However, the second scene in the third act can be confused with the moment of Claudius’s revelation. A rather erroneous opinion, it can be refuted easily once tracing what Claudius says and the way he acts.
It is worth mentioning that, during the play that Hamlet sets for Claudius, the latter does act quite suspiciously. Claudius wants to leave the room as fast as he can and forget about the impression the play has left on him: “Give me some light: away!,” but he still does not do or say anything that could be deciphered as an attempt to admit his guilt – on the contrary, he wants to hide so that no one could read his petrified mind.
Scene 4: Shifting the Emphasis from One Character to Another
According to a widespread misconception, the fourth scene also contains an element of Claudius’s revelation and is shot through with the same air of guilt. Nevertheless, it is evident that the fourth scene is rather an aftertaste that the third scene with Claudius’s soliloquy leaves.
However, the fact that the fourth scene does not involve Claudius’s confession is doubtless, since the scene does not focus on Claudius at all – it is Hamlet who is in the center of the readers’ attention. Barely appearing in the scene, he walks back into the shadow, while Hamlet stands in the limelight instead. Thus, the fourth scene of the third act offers a focus on Hamlet, leaving Claudius alone with his fears and remorse.
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Conclusion: Shedding Some Light on Claudius’s Secret
Doubtlessly an example of a classic villain, Claudius seems to be the character that has been the least tormented by the demons within throughout the play. However, it is the third act that shows the audience the depth of his tortures and proves that he is a human being after all.
And, as Claudius turns completely shattered by the hand of doom that Hamlet laid upon him, it becomes evident that the Shakespearean world of villains is far from being flat – Claudius proves quite a complex character. Showing his strength and at the same time revealing his weaknesses, this short extract offers a unique opportunity at watching the real Claudius, the remorseful murderer.
Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet. Act Three, Scene Three.” Shakespeare Navigators, n.d. Web. <https://shakespeare-navigators.com/hamlet/H33.html>.