The Character of Claudius in Hamlet
Shakespeare presents Claudius as a character with many faces yet the audience can clearly understand his motives and ambition throughout the play. His character does however change and we clearly see how his evilness and weakness increases as his need to escape discovery and his clandestine nature in doing so, is revealed.
It is in Act one scene two that we are first introduced to the character of Claudius. The impression made by him is that of a powerful and controlled man who is respected by most. His mannerisms of speech are graceful and are nothing less than the words of a king, 'to bear our heats with grief, and our whole kingdom.' Claudius is presented to us by Shakespeare as a dominant but caring king. He acts in a friendly manner to his subjects "Take thy fair hour, Laertes; thine be thine" and shows warmth to his nephew, " but now my cousin Hamlet, and my son-." To the naked eye of the audience, Claudius may even be seen as a likeable character, but we later understand Shakespeare's use of Claudius's attitude towards his family at this stage, which is unknown to us to be a whole deceitful act. Here we perceive that not only does Claudius have a great knowledge of affairs of state, "now follows that you know young Fortinbras, Holding a weak supposal of our worth." but he is also a great actor.
We know as the viewer of this play, that it was Claudius that committed the murder of his brother Hamlet, and that in selfish reason Claudius took to the throne along as marrying Gertrude, the past kings wife. Like the audience of the Elizabethan times, Hamlet is also mystified at this "O hasty marriage."
In his superficial speech at the beginning of this scene, Claudius is seen mourning his brother's death, 'though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death.' This reflects the conceited selfishness of Claudius' character. Hamlet is not convinced but Claudius's eloquent and graceful words are seemingly enough to win over the heart of Denmark. "Through yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death, the memory be green, and that it us befitted, to bear our hearts in grief."
Shakespeare uses the technique of giving Claudius's language a double meaning to portray to the audience his deceptive and two-sided character. Yet still, in these early stages on the play the audience is still yet to learn of the king's spiteful murder and in his speech he compares the body of his brother to that of "the first corpse" referring to Abel. It is unconscious but dramatic irony used here by Shakespeare as Claudius committed the same crime as Cain. Shakespeare's use of dramatic irony here engages the audience's interest and adds tension. Moreover, it makes Claudius seem vulnerable as his avenger is trying to out step him.
Unlike the procrastinating Hamlet, the king is straightforward "be as ourself in Denmark. Madam come." discreet and...