Claudius & Hamlet (2681 words) Essay

Published: 2021-07-23 15:15:06
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Claudius & HamletClaudius & Hamlet,would the inhumane and sick character please step forth. Upon reading the sampling of “Hamlet” criticismsin 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 goodand gentle king, enmeshed by the chain of causality linking him with hiscrime. And this chain he might, perhaps, have broken except for Hamlet”(Jump, 125). Although Knight’s views of Hamlet and Claudiusare almost the extreme opposite of my interpretation, I understand howhe developed this interpretation. Hamlet becomes sick and cynical afterthe death of his father, whom he greatly admired, and the hasty remarriageof his mother to his uncle. Hamlet thinks his father was an “excellentking,” who loved his mother so much “that he may might not beteem the windsof heaven/ Visit her face to roughly” (I, ii, 140-141).
However, his mothermourned for “a little month” and then she married a man who was “no morelike father/ Than to Hercules” (I, ii, 153-152). These extraordinaryevents cause him to launch into a state of melancholy and depression inwhich he desires “that this too too solid flesh would melt” (I, ii, 129). In this melancholy, Hamlet loses becomes disenchanted with life, and tohim the world seems “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable” (I, ii, 133). Later in the most famous of his soliloquy’s, Hamlet contemplates committingsuicide because he is troubled by “the slings and arrows of outrageousfortune” (III, i, 58).
His disinterest for life, and his wishes for deathare a definite indications of Hamlet’s sickness. Hamlet’s sickness is also shown throughhis strong relationship, bordering on obsession, with his mother. Throughoutthe play he constantly worries about her, and becomes angry when thinkingof her relationship with Claudius. In his first soliloquy, Hamlet becomesenraged when he thinks about her “incestuous sheet,” and in frustrationhe makes the irrational generalization that, “Frailty, thy name is woman!”(I, ii, 146). In the closet scene, Hamlet treats his mother cruelly, andhe 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 thebloat king tempt you again to his bed. ” (III, iv, 182). He is overly concernedwith his mother’s relationship with Claudius, and this is just a part ofhis complex sickness. Wilson Knight also claims that Hamlet is”inhumane. ” This is clearly demonstrated through his relationship withthe fair Ophelia.
Hamlet originally professes his love for Ophelia duringhis visitations to her closet, and through the love letter which he writesto her. However, during the nunnery scene, when Ophelia tries to returnHamlet’s gifts, he retorts “I never gave you aught,” (III, i, 97) and hegoes on to tell her, “I loved you not” (III, i, 119). Later in this scenehe tells Ophelia that she should go to a nunnery. He viciously insultsthe women whom he said he loved, and this greatly disturbs her. DuringThe 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 fatallystabbed 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 hetells Claudius that Polonius is “at supper. .
. not where he eats, but wherehe is eaten” (IV, ii, 18-20). Hamlet’s harsh and cruel treatment of Opheliaand his murder of her father lead to the madness which eventually overtookher. 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 herin such a cruel manner, her life would not have ended so soon. Hamlet also reveals an inhumane and cynicalside at the grave scene. When Laertes proclaims his love for Ophelia andhis sorrow for her death, Hamlet rushes from his concealment and jumpsinto the grave after Laertes. Hamlet insults Laertes when he states, “Fortythousand brothers/ Could not, with all their quantity of love,/ Make upmy sum” (V, i, 234-236).
He is so cynical that he doubts that Laertes issincere, even though there is no proof that Laertes is not being perfectlyhonest. His concern for his sister was shown when he gives her brotherlyadvice before he goes away. At the funeral when the priest implies thatOphelia should be buried “in ground unsanctified have log’d,” (V, i, 239)Laertes protests, and he claims that Ophelia shall become a “ministeringangel” (V, i, 251). Hamlet had no right to doubt Laertes and to challengehim at this time of great grief, but Hamlet has become so cynical thathe has no regards for Laertes, and he intervenes and causes a fight. Wilson Knight also states that Denmarkwas place of “healthy and robust life, good-nature, humour, romantic strength,and welfare” (Jump, 125). The two clowns of act five, scene one displaythe general welfare of the state.
The clowns, as in most Shakespeareanplays, are symbols of the common people of the land. When we first encounterthe clowns they are discussing the circumstances of Ophelia’s death, butthey soon begin to joke with each other in a merry fashion, and the FirstClown tells the Second Clown a joke. Later in the scene, the First Clownengages into his work and he sings an amusing song. This indicates thatthe common people are relatively satisfied, and they are in the positionwhere 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 melancholystate, Hamlet can only see this as something which “makes traduc’dand tax’d of other nations” (I, iii, 18). However, this custom revealsthat the country is prosperous enough so that they can “bray out. ” Thefact that the people have something to celebrate shows that at least thecourt is content with their lives, and they are taking time to enjoy theprosperity of Denmark.
Perhaps this custom was not followed in the timesof Old Hamlet because his reign was not as prosperous as Claudius’ or perhapsthe court is more content now that Claudius has the thrown. The renewal of the drinking custom mayexpose a positive side of Claudius’ reign. This fits Knight’s observationthat Claudius is “a good and gentle king” (Jump, 125). Claudius is a skilleddiplomat who seems to be well liked by his people. His diplomatic skillscan be seen in his good relationship with the king of England.
They areon such close terms that the British king is willing to host Hamlet fora recovery period. Claudius also demonstrates his skills through his dealingswith Cornelius and Voltimand. He wisely advises them to go to Norway tonegotiate peace with Fortinbras. This is in sharp contrast to Old Hamletwho plunged Denamrk into war with Norway.
The people are also rather fondof Norway. Their fondness of Claudius is indicated through the actionsof Rosencratz and Guildenstern. Claudius employs them to find the causeof Hamlet’s “antic disposition. ” This shows how Claudius is truly concernedwith his step-son’s well being.
Rosencratz and Guildenstern take an immediateliking to Claudius, and they are “give up in the full bent,/To lay services freely at feet” (II, ii, 30-31). This isa clear illustration of how Claudius’ subject support him. Another indicationof the people’s support of Claudius is that he was elected by the peopleto become king. Hamlet was the heir apparent, but Claudius was electedby the people.
This might be an indication that the people desired a changein the way that the country was governed, so they elected Claudius insteadof Old Hamlet’s son. Old Hamlet was also stuck in purgatory, and he wasunable to go to heaven “till the foul crimes done in m days of nature/are burnt and purg’d away” (I, iv, 12-13). This indicates that Old Hamletmay not have been as pure as the reader is led to believe, and perhapsClaudius truly was the better king. Although I see the validity of Wilson Knight’sinterpretation of the play, I disagree with his views. Hamlet is not the”sick, cynical, and inhumane prince” which Knight describes. His sadnessis great, but under the circumstances it is not excessive.
His father,who he looked up to was recently killed, and his mother married his unclewithin a month. To add to his troubles, he receives a visit from the ghostof his father which urges him to “revenge foul and most unnaturalmurder” (I, V, 24) of old Hamlet. It is only logical that under these circumstances,Hamlet would be under great duress, and it would not be abnormal for himto express grief or appear to be “sick. “Wilson Knight also overlooks the positivesides of Hamlet. At the end of the nunnery scene, Ophelia laments the that”a noble mind is here overthrown:/ The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’seye, tongue, sword” ( III, i, 153-154).
Hamlet is the renaissance man whois well rounded in all areas. He has a tremendous acting abilities, andhe is a scholar who analyzes everything and is very philosophical, as wasshown in his assessment of life in the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy. Hamlet’s philosophical side is also brought to light in the prayer scene. At this point he has the opportunity to kill Claudius while he is attemptingto repent. However, Hamlet does not take action because he desires killClaudius “when he is drunk asleep, or in his rage/ Or in the incestuouspleasure of his bed,” so that “his soul will be as damn’d and black/ Ashell, whereto it goes” (III, iii, 90-96). Here, Hamlet’s honor code andChristian code are in sharp conflict.
If Hamlet did not debate the murder,and he instantly killed Claudius without hesitation, then he would be “sickand inhumane. ” However, his contemplation of the ramifications of his actionsshow that he is thinking clearly, and he has not turned into a sick andcynical prince who is obsessed with revenge. One of the points which Wilson Knight mayuse to prove his interpretation is the exchange between Ophelia and Hamletin the nunnery scene. At this point Hamlet is rather cruel to her, butthere is “method to his madness.
” In the middle of the scene he asks Ophelia,”Where’s your father?” (III, i, 131). This indicates that he has becomeaware of Polonius’ presence. It is after this point that Hamlet launcheshis most vicious attack upon Ophelia when he criticizes that she ” jigs,ambles lisps, and “make wantonness ignorance” (III, i, 147). Hamlet is not being “inhumane. ” He is cruel to Ophelia because he believesthat she is collaborating with Polonius to spy on him, and is trying todeceive Polonius into thinking that he is mad. Knight also claims thathe treats Getrude cruelly, but he “must be cruel only to be kind” (III,iv, 178).
He is concerned that his mother will die in sin, and be stuckin purgatory along with his true father. In order to prevent this, Hamlettries to make her see her wrong doings, and the only way to go about thiswas to act harshly. Another point to counter Knight’s claimthat Hamlet is inhumane is the Prince’s relationship with the scholar Horatio. Horatio is Hamlet’s friend from Wittenberg who comes to Elsinore to seeOld Hamlet’s funeral. He is a noble stoic who is by far the most pure characterin the play.
Horatio is one of the few characters who never tries to deceiveanyone, and who doesn’t get involved in any crooked plots. Before the Mousetrap,Hamlet calls Horatio “as just a man/ As e’er conversation cop’d withal”(III, ii, 55-56). This connection between Hamlet and Horatio is so strongthat at the end of the play when Hamlet is dying, Horatio is moved to attemptsuicide because he is “more an antique Roman than a Dane” (V, ii, 345). The strong connection between Horatio and Hamlet is important because thepure and wise Horatio would not associate himself with a “a sick, cynical,and inhumane prince. ” This is further evidence which casts doubt upon Knight’sanalysis of Hamlet. Wilson Knight also suggests that the stateof Denmark is “one of healthy and robust life, good-nature, humor, romanticstrength, and welfare.
” (Jump, 125). However, there are a great deal oftextual evidence which indicates that this is an incorrect conclusion. When Bernardo and Francisco are keeping guard, Francisco notes that “tisbitter cold,/ And I am sick at heart” (I, i, 7-8). The guards are representativeof the common people of Denmark, and his comment can be interpreted thatthe entire state of Denmark is sick at heart due to the recent death ofOld Hamlet and Claudius’ ascension to the thrown. Upon seeing the ghostof Old Hamlet, Horatio comments, “This bodes some strange eruption to ourstate” (I, i, 69). Even the scholar who was hesitant to believe in ghostsis now convinced that Denmark is headed for trouble.
After the ghost makeshis second appearance, Marcellus notes, “Something is rotten in the stateof Denmark” (I, iv, 90). Theses observations in the first act are clearindications that Denmark has transformed into a state of chaos. The most glaring weakness of Wilson Knight’sinterpretation of Hamlet is his conclusion that Claudius is “a good andgentle king, enmeshed by the chain of causality linking him with his crime”(Jump, 125). Knight dismisses the murder of Old Hamlet too easily. As JohnJump states, “Claudius was no impulsive offender, suddenly acting our ofcharacter. He deliberately and treacherously poisoned his mistress’s husband,a man who was his brother and his king” (Jump, 125).
Claudius is saddledwith the responsibility for the murder of Old Hamlet, but he does not evenconsider repenting until the he realizes that Hamlet is planning to seekrevenge. However, when he thinks about repent, he wonders “May one be pardon’dand retain the offence?” (III, iii, 67). Claudius sees the benefits ofrepenting, yet he does not want to give up the prizes of his sin. Ultimately,Claudius rises and his “thoughts remain below” even though his “words flyup” (III, iii, 98-99). The King is unable to repent because his prayersare insincere.
Is this a good and gentle king?Not only is Claudius unable to repent,but throughout the play he is extremely manipulative of many of the othercharacters. When Laertes challenges that Claudius is responsible for themadness of his sister and the death of his father, Claudius deftly avoidsthe situation, and he forms an alliance with Laertes. Claudius suggeststhat Laertes uses, “A sword unbated, and, in a pass of practice/ Requite for your father” (IV, vii, 137-138). Cladius further thickensthe plot by adding that he will prepare a “chalice for the nonce, whereon but sipping/ If he by chance escapes venom’d stuck,/ purpose may hold there” (IV, vii, 159-161).
Claudius engineers this viciousplot, and it results in the death of Laertes, Hamlet, and Gertrude. Duringhis reign the “kind and gentle” King concocted a plot which resulted inthe death of three members of the Danish royalty, he murdered his brother,the former King of Denmark, and entered into an incestuous relationshipwith his brothers wife. While constructing Wilson Knight’s argument,I gained a full understanding of how he derived his interpretation of theplay, and I began to support his interpretation. However, as I began todeconstruct his argument, I realized that there are many weaknesses tohis interpretation, and I realized the strengths of my interpretation. This is the challenge of literature.
It can be interpreted in so many differentmanners, and at times the vastly different interpretations can greatlyconfuse students. It is the students responsibility to take criticismsinto consideration, but to derive their own unique interpretation basedupon their studies.

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