After the first meeting with King Claudius, it seems to us that he is evil, cruel, and heartless. Nevertheless, then we realize that his character is more complex. Claudius’ character is expressed in act 3, particularly in the fact that he regrets his actions.
Initially, the main villain in the tragedy is King Claudius. He embodies many vices: cruelty, incest, idleness, pride, and deceit. Claudius is envious of his brother, who is a worthy ruler and a happy husband and father. One day, taking advantage of his brother’s helpless state, he kills him. Claudius skillfully passes himself off as a good man later, but this is only a smiling scoundrel’s mask. However, in one of the scenes, we glimpse the other side of his character.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet act III scene 3, he prays:
“O, my offense 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.
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin…”
These lines reveal Claudius’ ability to regret, which was not previously apparent. In this regard, it is impossible to call king Claudius a strictly negative character. Instead, we can rather tell that the author has not sufficiently revealed his other nature to us. He is indeed vicious, he has his brother’s blood on his hands, and he has committed many vile acts. However, we understand that Claudius has an objective assessment of his actions. His mind is not clouded by blind hatred.