Hamlet

Claudius Character Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
Hamlet’s uncle and stepfather, and the new King of Denmark. After the death of Hamlet’s father and Claudius’s brother, the former king, Claudius married his brother’s wife, Gertrude, and assumed the throne of Denmark—much to Hamlet’s chagrin and suspicion. Early on in the play, the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to Hamlet and tells him that Claudius murdered him for the throne, then charges Hamlet with avenging the murder. Hamlet’s hatred of Claudius intensifies after speaking with the ghost—but still, Hamlet is unable to take the action needed to get revenge for his father. Claudius, meanwhile, interprets Hamlet’s suspicion and anger as madness, and endeavors to find out the cause by recruiting Hamlet’s friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Claudius fears that Hamlet is onto him, and when Hamlet arranges a performance of a play whose events mirror the manner of King Hamlet’s murder, Claudius at last confesses, in a lengthy soliloquy, to his dark, dastardly deeds. Alone on stage, Claudius tries to pray for forgiveness for his actions—but admits that he knows that without truly repenting in deed as well as in word, he will never be saved or absolved. Claudius, for all his words of regret, doesn’t actually feel regret about what he’s done—he’s happy to be on the throne, to be married to Gertrude, and to have power over Denmark. However, Claudius’s illegitimate rule is the “rotten” core of the country, and as relationships within Elsinore splinter and fall apart, Claudius’s bogus claim to the throne begins to threaten Denmark’s political viability against its rivals in Norway. Self-serving, cool, and relentlessly ambitious, Claudius’s arc ties in with several of the play’s major themes, including action and inaction, appearance versus reality, and poison, corruption, and death.

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:
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon & Schuster edition of Hamlet published in 1992.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius, Gertrude, Horatio
Page Number: 1.2.187-188
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 1, Scene 5 Quotes

O, villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!

Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius
Page Number: 1.5.113
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

The play’s the thing,
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius
Page Number: 2.2.633-634
Explanation and Analysis:
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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: 3.3.102-103
Explanation and Analysis:
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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), Polonius
Page Number: 4.3.33-35
Explanation and Analysis:
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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
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Inside the walls of Elsinore, Claudius—the new king of Denmark—is holding court. With him are his new wife Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Two courtiers, Voltemand and Cornelius, enter the room to take a letter from Claudius. Claudius announces that he has written to the new King of Norway—Fortinbras’s uncle, an “impotent... (full context)
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Claudius says that he knows Laertes has a request for him, and tells the young man... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Claudius then turns his attention to his “cousin” and “son” Hamlet, asking why “the clouds [of... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Claudius speaks up and accuses Hamlet of mourning out of “impious stubbornness.” Such outward displays of... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...ramparts of Elsinore in the bitter cold, waiting for the ghost to appear. Sounds of Claudius and his courtiers feasting and drinking merrily echo from inside the castle, and Hamlet tells... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
Women Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...now wears his crown.” In other words, the ghost confirms that the “incestuous” and “traitorous” Claudius killed the king by pouring poison in his ears while he slept in the garden.... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
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...Hamlet really is in love with her. Polonius suggests Ophelia go with him to see Claudius, so that they can inform him of the “violent” affection Hamlet has developed for Ophelia. (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
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Claudius and Gertrude warmly welcome Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two of Hamlet’s childhood friends, to Elsinore. Claudius... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Polonius fetches Voltemand and Cornelius and brings them into the hall. Claudius asks them for the latest news from Norway. Voltemand reports that the king has put... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Claudius asks if there’s a way they can test Polonius’s theory. Polonius suggests “loos[ing]” Ophelia onto... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
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Claudius and Gertrude leave, and Polonius greets Hamlet. Hamlet’s demeanor towards Polonius is cool and removed,... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
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...go off to find Ophelia so that he can put the plan he formulated with Claudius earlier into action. Polonius bids Hamlet farewell and exits. As he does, Hamlet calls him... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...become popular—but laments that just as the children have surpassed the professionals, so too has Claudius surged in popularity within the walls of Elsinore now that he is the King. His... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
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...to stir up the anger and vengefulness he would need to man up and murder Claudius. (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
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...like the murder of [his] father before [his] uncle,” he’ll be able to judge, by Claudius’s reaction to the material, whether the man is really guilty of murder. Hamlet is worried... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern gather in the hall of Elsinore. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
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Claudius tells Gertrude to leave so that he and Polonius can enact their plan of getting... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...Ophelia a prayer book and orders her to pretend to read it while he and Claudius hide. Polonius notes that pretending to do “pious action” is something of a sin, but... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
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...is devastated that Hamlet has gone mad and fallen so far from grace and nobility. Claudius and Polonius come out of hiding to comfort Ophelia. Claudius states that whatever is going... (full context)
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Polonius obsequiously agrees with Claudius’s plan, but suggests that before sending Hamlet to England, Claudius should make one final attempt... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
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...the circumstances of Hamlet’s father’s murder. Hamlet asks Horatio to keep his eyes carefully on Claudius during that scene to gauge his reaction. If Claudius doesn’t seem guilty, then it’s possible... (full context)
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Trumpets sound, and Claudius enters with Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and some other members of court. Claudius greets... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
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...and asks how she’s liking the play. Gertrude responds that the queen “protests too much.” Claudius asks if what’s coming next in the play is startling or offensive, but Hamlet insists... (full context)
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Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
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...Ophelia cheekily deflects. Lucianus pours poison in the king’s ear, killing him, at which point Claudius stands up from his seat. Gertrude asks Claudius what’s wrong, and he announces that he... (full context)
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Hamlet is merry and mischievous as he asks Horatio if he saw how Claudius fled at the sight of his own dirty deeds reflected on stage. Horatio agrees that... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 3
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Claudius talks with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He tells them that he is so disturbed by Hamlet’s... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave, Polonius enters and tells Claudius that Hamlet is on his way to Gertrude’s room. Polonius plans to hide himself behind... (full context)
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Alone, Claudius at last admits to having murdered King Hamlet in a lengthy monologue. He describes his... (full context)
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Hamlet enters and sees Claudius praying. He is grateful to at last be alone with the man, believing now is... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 4
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...Hamlet urges her to “throw away the worser part of it,” repent, stay away from Claudius, and “throw [the devil] out” of her life. He begs her not to let Claudius... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
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...is carrying with him is not one of diplomacy, but rather an edict signed by Claudius which orders Hamlet’s death. Hamlet says he has a plan to “hoist [Claudius] with his... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 1
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Gertrude, Claudius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern are gathered in the hall. Claudius asks Gertrude what’s bothering her—she asks... (full context)
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Claudius calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern back in, and orders them to go find Hamlet and bring... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
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...that Rosencrantz—and Guildenstern, too—“soak up the king’s countenance,” doing his dirty work only to allow Claudius to wring them dry again and again. Rosencrantz asks, a final time, where the body... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 3
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
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Claudius tells some of his advisers that while Hamlet is a dangerous presence in Elsinore, he... (full context)
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Rosencrantz enters and tells Claudius that while Hamlet refuses to divulge where he has buried Polonius, he is outside under... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
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Claudius says that he is concerned for Hamlet’s “safety,” and so has decided to send him... (full context)
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Alone in the hall, Claudius speaks aloud, hoping that the King of England will follow the instructions in the letter... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 4
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...march his troops through their territory. Fortinbras tells his captain to make sure to let Claudius know that if there’s anything Claudius wants from them, they will do it for him.... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 5
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
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...man shrouded, entombed, and covered in “sweet flowers” even as Gertrude asks her to stop. Claudius enters and greets Ophelia calmly, asking how she’s feeling; she responds with a confusing tale... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
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...in the “cold ground”—she swears she will inform her brother of what has happened. Bidding Claudius and Gertrude “good night,” she leaves the hall. Claudius asks Horatio to follow Ophelia and... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
...messenger comes into the hall. The messenger reports that Laertes has taken up arms against Claudius—and that he has the support of the Danish people, who cry in the streets “Laertes... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
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...them to stand down while he meets with the king. When he lays eyes on Claudius, he tells the man he has come to avenge his father—were he calm in the... (full context)
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Claudius says he shares in Laertes’s grief over the disintegration of Ophelia’s mind. He offers to... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 7
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Claudius and Laertes discuss Claudius’s innocence in Polonius’s murder—which Laertes has come to believe. Laertes, however,... (full context)
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A messenger enters the hall carrying letters from Hamlet—one for Claudius, and one for the queen. Claudius offers to read them aloud for Laertes. Hamlet’s letter... (full context)
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Claudius asks Laertes to help him in coming up with a new way to get rid... (full context)
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Claudius tells Laertes that if he truly still loves his father—and still wants to avenge him—he... (full context)
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Claudius tells Laertes that when Hamlet arrives home, Laertes should keep a distance from him rather... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
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Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, a group of courtiers, and a priest approach bearing a coffin. Noticing the... (full context)
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...also dives into Ophelia’s grave. Laertes curses Hamlet, and the two of them begin fighting. Claudius, Gertrude, and Horatio all beg for the men to stop fighting, and a pair of... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
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...and stole the papers they were carrying. When he opened the letters, he realized that Claudius was trying to order Hamlet’s execution. Hamlet tells Horatio that he wrote a new letter,... (full context)
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Horatio is stunned by Claudius’s cunning and cruelty. Hamlet says he is more determined than ever to kill the man... (full context)
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...florid language to compliment Laertes and praise the man’s good, strong nature, then states that Claudius has bet on Hamlet in a fencing match against Laertes. Osric asks if Hamlet accepts... (full context)
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Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, Osric, and many lords and courtiers bearing trumpets, fencing rapiers, and wine enter... (full context)
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Osric hands Hamlet and Laertes their swords, and they prepare to duel. Claudius says that he will blast the castle’s cannons in honor of the winner, and reward... (full context)
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Though Claudius insists the queen has just swooned at the sight of such action, Gertrude insists the... (full context)
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...are dead—but there is no one important left to hear the news. Horatio points to Claudius and says that even if he were still alive, he would not thank the ambassador,... (full context)