Claudius and Hamlet Claudius & Hamlet, would the inhumane and sick character please step forth. Upon reading the sampling of “Hamlet” criticisms in John Jump’s “Hamlet (Selections)” I disagreed with a few of the critics, but my analysis was the most different from Wilson Knight’s interpretation. He labels Hamlet as “a sick, cynical, and inhumane prince” (Jump, 124) who vitiated a Denmark which was “one of healthy and robust life, good-nature, humor, romantic strength, and welfare.” In his book, The Wheel of Fire, he continues this line of thought to conclude that Claudius is “a good and gentle king, enmeshed by the chain of causality linking him with his crime. And this chain he might, perhaps, have broken except for Hamlet” (Jump, 125). Although Knight’s views of Hamlet and Claudius are almost the extreme opposite of my interpretation, I understand how he developed this interpretation. Hamlet becomes sick and cynical after the death of his father, whom he greatly admired, and the hasty remarriage of his mother to his uncle. Hamlet thinks his father was an “excellent king,” who loved his mother so much “that he may might not beteem the winds of heaven/ Visit her face to roughly” (I, ii, 140-141). However, his mother mourned for “a little month” and then she married a man who was “no more like [his] father/ Than [he] to Hercules” (I, ii, 153-152).
These extraordinary events cause him to launch into a state of melancholy and depression in which he desires “that this too too solid flesh would melt” (I, ii, 129). In this melancholy, Hamlet loses becomes disenchanted with life, and to him the world seems “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable” (I, ii, 133). Later in the most famous of his soliloquy’s, Hamlet contemplates committing suicide because he is troubled by “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (III, i, 58). His disinterest for life, and his wishes for death are a definite indications of Hamlet’s sickness. Hamlet’s sickness is also shown through his strong relationship, bordering on obsession, with his mother. Throughout the play he constantly worries about her, and becomes angry when thinking of her relationship with Claudius.
In his first soliloquy, Hamlet becomes enraged when he thinks about her “incestuous sheet,” and in frustration he makes the irrational generalization that, “Frailty, thy name is woman!” (I, ii, 146). In the closet scene, Hamlet treats his mother cruelly, and he accuses her of being involved in the plot to kill his father. Once again, he dwells on her “enseam’d bed/ Stew’d in corruption” (III, iv, 92-93). In his parting words to Gertrude, Hamlet instructs her to not “let the bloat king tempt you again to his bed.” (III, iv, 182). He is overly concerned with his mother’s relationship with Claudius, and this is just a part of his complex sickness.
Wilson Knight also claims that Hamlet is “inhumane.” This is clearly demonstrated through his relationship with the fair Ophelia. Hamlet originally professes his love for Ophelia during his visitations to her closet, and through the love letter which he writes to her. However, during the nunnery scene, when Ophelia tries to return Hamlet’s gifts, he retorts “I never gave you aught,” (III, i, 97) and he goes on to tell her, “I loved you not” (III, i, 119). Later in this scene he tells Ophelia that she should go to a nunnery. He viciously insults the women whom he said he loved, and this greatly disturbs her. During The Mousetrap, Hamlet once again has no regard for Ophelia’s feelings, and he mocks her by putting his head in her lap and bantering with her.
Hamlet is also responsible for the death of Ophelia’s father, Polonius. In the closet scene, Hamlet mistook her father for the king, and he fatally stabbed him. Gertrude called this “a rash and bloody deed” (III, iii, 27). He later shows that he has no remorse for this inhumane actions when he tells Claudius that Polonius is “at suppernot where he eats, but where he is eaten” (IV, ii, 18-20). Hamlet’s harsh and cruel treatment of Ophelia and his murder of her father lead to the madness which eventually overtook her. She became distraught by Hamlet’s rejection and the death of her father.
This madness caused her to commit suicide by jumping from the bridge. Therefore, Hamlet can be held responsible for her death. If he hadn’t treated her in such a cruel manner, her life would not have ended so soon. Hamlet also reveals an inhumane and cynical side at the grave scene. When Laertes proclaims his love for Ophelia and his sorrow for her death, Hamlet rushes from his concealment and jumps into the grave after Laertes. Hamlet insults Laertes when he states, “Forty thousand brothers/ Could not, with all their quantity of love,/ Make up my sum” (V, i, 234-236). He is so cynical that he doubts that Laertes is sincere, even though there is no proof that Laertes is not being perfectly honest.
His concern for his sister was shown when he gives her brotherly advice before he goes away. At the funeral when the priest implies that Ophelia should be buried “in ground unsanctified have log’d,” (V, i, 239) Laertes protests, and he claims that Ophelia shall become a “ministering angel” (V, i, 251). Hamlet had no right to doubt Laertes and to challenge him at this time of great grief, but Hamlet has become so cynical that he has no regards for Laertes, and he intervenes and causes a fight. Wilson Knight also states that Denmark was place of “healthy and robust life, good-nature, humour, romantic strength, and welfare” (Jump, 125). The two clowns of act five, scene one display the general welfare of the state. The clowns, as in most Shakespearean plays, are symbols of the common people of the land.
When we first encounter the clowns they are discussing the circumstances of Ophelia’s death, but they soon begin to joke with each other in a merry fashion, and the First Clown tells the Second Clown a joke. Later in the scene, the First Clown engages into his work and he sings an amusing song. This indicates that the common people are relatively satisfied, and they are in the position where they can appreciate humor and find some enjoyment from their lives. Another indication of the “good-nature” of the state is the drinking custom of Claudius’ court. In his melancholy state, Hamlet can only see this as something which “makes [them] traduc’d and tax’d of other nations” (I, iii, 18).
However, this custom reveals that the country is prosperous enough so that they can “bray out.” The fact that the people have something to celebrate shows that at least the court is content with their lives, and they are taking time to enjoy the prosperity of Denmark. Perhaps this custom was not followed in the times of Old Hamlet because his reign was not as prosperous as Claudius’ or perhaps the court is more content now that Claudius has the thrown. The renewal of the drinking custom may expose a positive side of Claudius’ reign. This fits Knight’s observation that Claudius is “a good and gentle king” (Jump, 125). Claudius is a skilled diplomat who seems to be well liked by his people. His diplomatic skills can be seen in his good relationship with the king of England. They are on such close terms that the British king is willing to host Hamlet for a recovery period.
Claudius also demonstrates his skills through his dealings with Cornelius and Voltimand. He wisely advises them to go to Norway to negotiate peace with Fortinbras. This is in sharp contrast to Old Hamlet who plunged Denamrk into war with Norway. The people are also rather fond of Norway. Their fondness of Claudius is indicated through the actions of Rosencratz and Guildenstern. Claudius employs them to find the cause of Hamlet’s “antic disposition.” This shows how Claudius is truly concerned with his step-son’s well being. Rosencratz and Guildenstern take an immediate liking to Claudius, and they are “give up [themselves] in the full bent,/ To lay [their] services freely at [his] feet” (II, ii, 30-31). This is a clear illustration of how Claudius’ subject support him.
Another indication of the people’s support of Claudius is that he was elected by the people to become king. Hamlet was the heir apparent, but Claudius was elected by the people. This might be an …