Hamlet

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Claudius Character Analysis

Hamlet's uncle, and Gertrude's second husband. Power-hungry and lustful, Claudius murders his brother in order to take the throne of Denmark and marry his wife. Claudius is a great talker and schemer. He easily charms the royal court into accepting his hasty marriage to his brother's widow, and comes up with plot after plot to protect his ill-gained power. He is the consummate politician, yet his hold on power is always slightly tenuous. At various times he does show guilt for killing his brother, and his love of Gertrude seems genuine.

Claudius Quotes in Hamlet

The Hamlet quotes below are all either spoken by Claudius or refer to Claudius. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Hamlet published in 1992.
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral bak'd meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius, Gertrude, Horatio
Page Number: 1.2.87-88
Explanation and Analysis:

Hamlet continues to rant about Claudius and Gertrude’s marriage. Here, he complains to Horatio about how rapidly their wedding took place after his father’s death.

To do so, Hamlet uses a grotesque image of the same food being served at the funeral and the marriage. What were “bak’d meats” (baked meats) at his father’s death are allowed to chill and then be repurposed for Hamlet's father's widow and brother. This is, of course, not a literal description of what occurred with the meals at each ceremony, but rather a rhetorical way for Hamlet to stress the speed and discourtesy of his mother’s actions. That Hamlet chooses the exclamation “thrift, thrift” brings a darkly economic dimension into the text. The term indicates that Gertrude and Claudius reused the meats in order to save expenses—which would be an offensive choice in the wake of her husband’s death. Thus it is not just speed that falls under critique here, but rather the casual and desensitized way they have acted. The passage stresses both the importance of social norms in Hamlet’s world, but also how flagrantly they have been violated in the specific events of the play.

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Act 1, scene 5 Quotes
O, villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius
Page Number: 1.5.113
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hamlet converses with the Ghost, he curses both Gertrude and Claudius. Here, he exclaims on how Claudius is deceptive and presents an aura of goodwill despite his evil intent.

It’s worthwhile to track some of Hamlet’s repeated speech formations: once more he uses the interjection “O” to stress the emotional intensity of the phrase, and his triple invocation of “villain” is also characteristic of how he will often repeat words many times to build emphasis. Here, “villain” is first said twice to doubly-inscribe the role to Claudius, after which it is qualified with the mixed descriptor “smiling, damned.” Thus the reader only sees the specific qualities of Claudius behavior after we have been told repeatedly that they are evil.

Those specific qualities return us to the question of how one separates interior identity from exterior presentation. Though Claudius is externally “smiling” and thus presenting a positive, friendly image, he is internally still a “villain.” The term “damned” also adds important information: Claudius is ethically accountable for his actions and fated to a negative fate as a result of them. This term implies, then, that Hamlet believes in a system of moral justice, be it religious or secular, and furthermore stresses that this justice will be imposed based on interior identities, not on the external performance of how one comforts with smiles.

Act 3, scene 3 Quotes
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below;
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
Related Characters: Claudius (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.102-103
Explanation and Analysis:

Hamlet enters into Claudius’s chambers, intending to kill him, but decides against it when he sees him praying. Yet after Hamlet exits, Claudius reveals here that his prayers were in vain, for they were mere words without the associated repentant thoughts.

These lines return to the theme of external presentation and internal identity, here by approaching the question of language. Claudius points out that “words” and the “thoughts” they convey are not necessarily linked, for the language may “fly up” with the intent to access the heavens, while their contents “remain below” in an earthly, or even hellish, realm. This is a clever explanation of what it means to lie, and Claudius points out that while such a separation of word and meaning might be effective in human interactions, it does not at all function in prayer. When he says “Words without thought never to heaven go,” he repeats the exact same words from the previous line to show that while his language may “fly up,” it will not actually reach its destination in “heaven.” Thus a repenting prayer is deemed to require a higher truth-value than human communication, because divinities are able to correctly recognize when content and language—interior and exterior—have been divorced.

Beyond rendering ironic Hamlet’s decision to not kill the praying Claudius, this passage also gives us important information about the spiritual belief systems of the characters. Even the sinner Claudius, who does not repent, is shown to be aware of the consequences of his actions. Thus the characters hold a continued belief in divine destiny that can see through performances to some kind of interior truth.

Act 4, scene 3 Quotes
Claudius: What dost thou mean by this?
Hamlet: Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius (speaker)
Page Number: 4.3.33-35
Explanation and Analysis:

When Claudius asks Hamlet where he has put Polonius’s body, Hamlet offers an expectedly indirect response that Polonius is food for worms. He adds, here, that this is the eventual fate of all men.

Hamlet’s comment functions simultaneously as an evasive maneuver, an indirect threat, and an existential comment on humanity. First, it allows him to avoid giving a specific location for the body—stressing that it does not matter where Polonius is located, for his fate in all places is the same. Second, he implies through the reference to “a king” that Claudius may soon meet a similar fate as Polonius. And third, Hamlet points out how humans of all social statuses find equal ground in their death. Since the worms now feasting on Polonius are transforming his flesh into soil, his body may soon be feeding someone of lowly status like “a beggar.”

This point returns to Hamlet’s earlier anxieties about how humans, despite their nobility and pretenses, are never anything more than “dust.” Here, he takes this same comment and makes it a weapon against the pomp of a kingly figure like Claudius. Once more Shakespeare has housed this compelling reflection on human mortality in a multi-layered comment that encapsulates Hamlet’s madness, manipulation, and jesting nature in a single line.

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Claudius Character Timeline in Hamlet

The timeline below shows where the character Claudius appears in Hamlet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 2
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The next morning, King Claudius, the brother of the dead king, holds court. He uses pretty language to make his... (full context)
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Claudius then says he has received a message from Fortinbras demanding Denmark give up the lands... (full context)
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Claudius turns to Laertes, the son of the Lord Chamberlain, Polonius. Laertes asks to be allowed... (full context)
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Next, Claudius turns to Hamlet, and asks why he is still dressed in mourning clothes. Gertrude wonders... (full context)
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Claudius chides that it's natural for fathers to die and for sons to mourn, but that... (full context)
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...made suicide a sin. He condemns the marriage between his mother and uncle. He says Claudius is far inferior to Old Hamlet, and, in anguish, describes Gertrude as a lustful beast. (full context)
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...Wittenberg, is happy to see his friend, and pleased when Horatio agrees that Gertrude and Claudius's marriage was hasty. (full context)
Act 1, scene 4
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...keep watch. Meanwhile, from inside the castle they hear the roar of revelry. Hamlet condemns Claudius's constant merry-making, saying that it makes the noble Danes look "swinish" and corrupt. (full context)
Act 1, scene 5
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...alone, the Ghost speaks. It claims to be the spirit of Old Hamlet, murdered by Claudius. Though the official story is that Old Hamlet was napping in his garden and was... (full context)
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...do nothing but seek revenge. He curses first Gertrude, "O most pernicious woman!" (1.5.105), then Claudius, "That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain!" (1.5.108). (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
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Claudius and Gertrude greet Hamlet's old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whom they summoned to Elsinore to... (full context)
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...remarks that Hamlet's mania probably comes from his father's death and her too-hasty marriage to Claudius. (full context)
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...Danes. Norway then rewarded Fortinbras by letting him attack the Poles. Now Norway asks that Claudius give Fortinbras' army free passage through Denmark on the way to Poland. Claudius agrees. The... (full context)
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After a long-winded ramble about Hamlet's madness, Polonius reads love letters Hamlet sent to Ophelia. Claudius and Gertrude agree that lovesickness may be causing Hamlet's behavior. Polonius proposes that they stage... (full context)
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...a plan he's come up with: he'll have the players show a scene similar to Claudius's murder of his father: "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the... (full context)
Act 3, scene 1
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can't figure out what's behind Hamlet's odd behavior, but tell Claudius and Gertrude that he was excited by the arrival of the players. The King and... (full context)
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Claudius, struck by Polonius's words, mutters an aside about a "deed" that his "painted words" (3.1.52)... (full context)
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Claudius, from his hiding place, decides that Hamlet neither loves Ophelia nor is he mad. Instead,... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
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...reveals his plan: the play to be put on will mirror the Ghosts' description of Claudius's murder of Old Hamlet. If Claudius looks guilty while watching it, then he is. (full context)
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Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, and others arrive to watch the play. Hamlet tells Horatio he's now... (full context)
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Claudius asks how Hamlet is faring. Hamlet responds as if Claudius were using the word "fare"... (full context)
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...players then begin to act the full play. As the plot becomes clear, Gertrude and Claudius become uncomfortable. Hamlet mocks them, while continuing to launch sexual puns at Ophelia. Claudius asks... (full context)
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When the villain in the play pours poison into the king's ear, Claudius jumps from his seat, calls for light, and rushes from the room. (full context)
Act 3, scene 3
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Claudius says Hamlet is a danger, and orders Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to prepare to leave for... (full context)
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Finally alone, Claudius cries out that his "offense is rank!" (3.3.36). He wants to pray, but doesn't see... (full context)
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Hamlet enters. He draws his sword to kill Claudius and be revenged. But it occurs to him that if he kills Claudius as Claudius... (full context)
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Claudius stops praying. The attempt was useless: "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. /... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
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Hamlet enters. Gertrude says he has offended his father (i.e. Claudius). Hamlet says that she's offended his father (i.e. Old Hamlet). Hamlet then furiously says he'll... (full context)
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...behind the tapestry Polonius hears Gertrude's cry and calls for help. Hamlet, mistaking Polonius for Claudius, stabs Polonius through the tapestry. (full context)
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...Gertrude to look at a picture of his father and compare it to one of Claudius, whom he describes as a "mildewed ear" (3.4.64). Gertrude begs him to stop, but Hamlet... (full context)
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The Ghost appears in order, it says, to refocus Hamlet on his duty—revenge against Claudius. Hamlet speaks to it. Gertrude can't see the ghost and thinks Hamlet's mad. The Ghost... (full context)
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...sane, and begs her to confess her sins, to be pure and avoid sleeping with Claudius, and to keep secret that he, Hamlet, is not actually mad. Gertrude promises. (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
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Claudius sees that Gertrude is upset. She says Hamlet was acting insane, and in his madness... (full context)
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Claudius exclaims that if he had been behind the tapestry, he would now be dead. He... (full context)
Act 4, scene 2
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...and insults—he calls Rosencrantz a "sponge" soaking up the king's favor. Hamlet agrees to see Claudius, but then dashes off. (full context)
Act 4, scene 3
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Claudius mulls how to deal with Hamlet. The killing of Polonius has convinced him that Hamlet... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter with Hamlet. Claudius asks where Polonius is. Hamlet answers that Polonius is feeding worms. He explains that a... (full context)
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Claudius sends Rosencrantz to get the body, then tells Hamlet that to protect him he will... (full context)
Act 4, scene 4
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...honor, while he, with much greater reason to act, has failed to revenge himself on Claudius. Hamlet vows "from this day forward may all my thoughts be bloody," and promises to... (full context)
Act 4, scene 5
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Claudius enters. Ophelia's madness upsets and unnerves him. Ophelia's songs change topic, and focus on maids... (full context)
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Claudius mentions that the commoners are also angry about Polonius's death, and that Laertes has secretly... (full context)
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Laertes bursts into the room. Claudius asks for calm. Laertes retorts that to be calm would make him a bastard, that... (full context)
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...imaginary): rosemary and pansies to Laertes; fennel and columbines to Gertrude; rue and daisies to Claudius. Laertes demands vengeance for her madness. Ophelia exits, wishing God's blessing on everyone. (full context)
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Claudius asks Laertes to let him explain what happened to Polonius, and promises to hand over... (full context)
Act 4, scene 7
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Alone with Claudius, Laertes asks why Claudius didn't punish Hamlet for killing Polonius. Claudius answers: First, he loves... (full context)
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A messenger enters with letters from Hamlet. Claudius is bewildered at Hamlet's return. Laertes is pleased: now he'll get his chance at revenge.... (full context)
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Claudius reveals his plan: they will poison Laertes's sword. The slightest scratch will kill Hamlet. As... (full context)
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Laertes, weeping, exits. Claudius fears Ophelia's death might reignite Laertes anger and rebellion. He and Gertrude follow Laertes to... (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
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Hamlet and Horatio hear a noise and hide. Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, a priest, and other lords enter in a funeral procession with a coffin.... (full context)
Act 5, scene 2
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...him to agree first that it's cold, then that it's actually hot. Osric announces that Claudius has wagered Hamlet can defeat Laertes in a duel. Hamlet agrees to fight. (full context)
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Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, and the entire court enter to watch the duel. Hamlet apologizes to Laertes.... (full context)
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Claudius announces that if Hamlet gets one of the first three hits he will drink to... (full context)
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Hamlet scores the second hit. Gertrude lifts the poisoned cup to drink in Hamlet's honor. Claudius tries to stop her, but can't tell her why without revealing his plot. She drinks. (full context)
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Gertrude falls. Claudius claims Gertrude fainted because she saw Hamlet and Laertes bleeding, but Gertrude says the wine... (full context)
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Laertes, who knows he's dying of his wound from the poisoned sword, reveals Claudius's treachery. (full context)
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Hamlet stabs Claudius and then forces him to drink the poisoned wine. Claudius dies. (full context)