Examine the presentation of Claudius in Act 1 - Sample Essay
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a play of deceit, hypocrisy and most importantly revenge. The play is written in Shakespearean language, and is one of Shakespeare’s many classics. There are a few main characters in this play, which consist of Hamlet, Gertrude and Ophelia, but the character in question here is Claudius. Shakespeare, who is most famous for his creation of characters, which seem like real people, has portrayed Claudius as astute, cunning, but yet accomplished in a sense. The audience seem to make an immediate judgement of Claudius after Act ( scene ?
as Shakespeare uses Claudius’s first speech to out line his character. Claudius’s first speech is very important and reflects his character and also the play. It primarily is about betrayal, incest, marriage and death. He talks about war, his newly beloved wife, his ‘valiant brother’s’ funeral, the Prince of Norway and Laertes. Shakespeare’s technique here uses a lot of juxtaposition mixed with alliteration for this speech. The main one is when Claudius is talking about Gertrude he says ‘sometime sister’ which portrays incest. This is a very interesting choice of language because it has a double meaning.
One being Claudius trying to say after Hamlet Senior’s death he is in no way related to Gertrude. But when read into more detail he could have also said this to show the audience, incest. Alliteration and juxtaposition has been used again, when the ghost talks about Claudius, he says, “A serpent stung me”. This an excellent choice of juxtaposition as it makes the audience very curious. This is because the audience want to know how the King died, and also gets the audience thinking, because a serpent does not sting it bites. The alliteration here is again the ‘sss’ sound.
This is the sound of a snake, and a snake represents evil. There is one other occasion when Claudius is referred to as an animal, is when hamlet is doing a soliloquy and he says “Hyperion to a satyr”. This shows Hamlet’s sarcasm towards Claudius and also means Claudius is very hasty. Again in line 10 he uses juxtaposition. ‘Defeated joy,’ is the term that is used here and Shakespeare has used this here because it is a shortened explanation of the next few lines. Here is a very important quote when Claudius says, “With mirth in funeral and dirge in marriage” which is exactly what he was talking about when he said ‘defeated joy’.
This quote is basically showing how everyone is feeling, because one side of them is happy for Claudius and Gertrude getting married, and the other side till a certain extent they are still mourning the great kings death. In a sense just this little part of the speech already shows the link to the country with the king, and also shows how respected and powerful the king is, but also how conniving he is because he very cleverly moves on from Hamlet Senior’s death to his marriage with Gertrude in the speech.
Another very interesting line from the king is line 64 where again juxtaposition is used, but this time in a sentence, “But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son”. This is a very good contradiction as he is trying to say, just because he is married to Gertrude, he is also Hamlets father. Shakespeare very cleverly shows this as it sums up Claudius in a sentence. It shows the king to be manipulative, and powerful. There are a few other techniques used in this speech. Body politic is used in line 4 where Claudius says ” brow of woe”. Which shows he is a little bit upset because of his brothers death and this little sentence sums up everything.
Repetition is another technique used by Shakespeare, where Claudius is talking to Hamlet about his father. The two words that are repeated three times are, ‘father and ‘lost’. Shakespeare has used this technique to make Claudius emphasis his point. These few sentences are very important as they show another side to Claudius, the devious side. At first his care towards Hamlet is thought to be conscientious, as he tries very hard to stop hamlet from grieving and tries to show him it’s the course of nature. However, later on he says “’tis a fault to heaven, a fault against the dead, a fault to nature”.
This is Claudius trying to say it is a sin to grieve so much, not only to your father, but also to God, to the dead, and to nature. This is where the audience see the real side to him, which is vile and selfish. The structure of Claudius’s first speech can be broken down into five main parts. Shakespeare starts him off by talking about the death of Hamlet Senior, and his funeral. A few sentences after that he moves on to talking about marriage. For a speech that is over a 100 lines long, talking about the funeral for about 5 lines must mean the death does not mean a lot to him as he doesn’t have a lot to say about it.
Shakespeare has presented him like this to make him hated by the audience and can in a way be seen as a villain. After talking about the marriage he moves on to war and politics, and talks about Fortinbras and war with Norway, which shows his power and respect. Then he moves onto Laertes, and he asks him for any wish he will grant. This again portrays his power. Finally he moves onto hamlet. He explains why he thinks Hamlet should not go to his university. He says “comfort of our eye” this again is ironic because the audience see him as being caring but this quote could also mean they want to keep an eye on him.
Here Claudius is speaking on behalf of him and Gertrude but is actually talking about himself. In conclusion Claudius, has been presented as cunning, desperate, in a sense clever, very respected and powerful. His character also comes across as the manipulative type, and always gets what he wants and if he doesn’t would go to extreme measures to get it. The repetition and the body politic in this speech is fewer than the juxtaposition and the alliteration. I think Shakespeare’s combination of juxtaposition and alliteration work exquisitely together and the effects are substantial.