The struggle between Hamlet and Claudius is undoubtedly a fascinating one and I agree wholeheartedly with the above statement. Their battle, like most doesn’t (for the most part) consist of weapons, but rather of psychological warfare and mind games and is an incredibly captivating battle to follow.
It became conspicuous to me very early on in the play that Hamlet and Claudius are both extremely intelligent characters. Claudius is awfully good at keeping up his duplicitous facade which proved to me that he is a very ‘tuned in’ person. “What wouldst thou have Laertes?” He appears to be one of the most affable, friendly and nice characters in the play at first glance but when we learn of the heinous crime he committed, it made me believe that his kind exterior is merely an act or mask to hide his true evil self. This false duplicitous act as noble king must take a lot of commitment to keep up and the fact that he manages to do so without making anyone suspicious makes me think that he is a very crafty, clever character.
Hamlet is also an extremely intellectual character. He employs an “antic disposition” in an attempt to get away with carrying out his filial duty: getting revenge for his father’s “foul and most unnatural murder.” This antic disposition he employs is obviously a well thought out plan and proved to me that Hamlet is a very introspective thinker and a very clever man.
The fact that both characters are so very intelligent plays a huge role in the type of battle they endure. They deal with their struggle through a series of mind games. It is a battle of wits and intellect and because both characters are pretending to be something that they’re not, it makes for a very intriguing struggle. Hamlet uses a lot of sprezzatura- a defensive form of irony when he employs his “antic disposition.” He calls Polonius a “fishmonger” and talks complete nonsense on numerous occasions throughout the play, all in an effort to make people believe that he has in fact gone completely mad.
The only person that eventually sees through Hamlet’s ‘madness’ is Claudius, the usurper king and Hamlet’s uncle. Claudius knows when Hamlet puts on ‘The Mousetrap’ that his so called madness is feigned. It is here that Claudius realises that is life is in grave danger. Claudius then plays along with Hamlet’s mind games and tells Gertrude that he is sending Hamlet to England to prevent him from being arrested for his “rash and bloody deed” [killing Polonius in the arras]. However, we the audience, know that Claudius just wanted Hamlet out of the way so that no-one else would become aware that it was he who was the cause of King Hamlet’s death. Their mind games make Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, a very different, original and enrapturing play, adding to the fascinating qualitied that Hamlet and Claudius’ struggle possess.
It became transparent to me that both characters have very admirable qualities which also added to my utter fascination of their struggle. Although Claudius is unquestionably the villain of the play, he appears to be a very kind, people pleasing person. He seems to be a loving husband and he’s certainly not just your average evil villain like those of fairy tales who do nothing but go out of their way to make people’s lives a misery. Perhaps this is all part of his act, but it can be very hard to hate Claudius at times while reading the play.
Hamlet also has a list of good qualities. He’s noble, commendable and moral. He is referred to as “noble Hamlet” on countless occasions throughout the course of the play which really outs emphasis on this characteristic he’s endowed with.
However, although Claudius is unquestionably the villain of the play and Hamlet the hero, at times I preferred the character of Claudius to that of Hamlet. Claudius is a heinous villain but he is also a charismatic, affable, good- natured individual. While reading the play, I felt like I should hate him, but I have to admit, at times I found it difficult. He really does come across as a likeable and his personality completely clashes with that of Hamlet. Although noble, Hamlet, at times can be an anti-hero. He’s not your average gentle, kind, lovable, innocent hero who you feel deeply sorry for because they are such a genuinely nice person. He is a world-weary, depressing character and at times I felt his grief and self-pity made me feel less sorry for him and not as inclined to root for him as I would for other heroes in other stories, plays or movies. I really felt alienated from pity and lacked sympathy for him. However the fact that I didn’t know whether to root for Hamlet or Claudius fascinated me because such confusion had never happened to me before.
I think the contrast between Hamlet’s indecisiveness and Claudius’ decisiveness further made me fascinated by their struggle. Hamlet is a completely indecisive character. He is very introspective and overthinks everything. He cannot kill Claudius and “revenge” his father’s “foul and most unnatural murder” not, I learned, because he is incapable of murder, but because he is paralysed by his overthinking and his indecisive nature. I know he can kill because he killed Polonius in the arras, but only out of rashness. The whole play revolves around Hamlet’s indecisiveness and inability to kill Claudius. Hamlet knows he is indecisive and exclaims that perhaps he is “thinking too precisely on th’event”.
In complete contrast to this, Claudius thinks nothing of trying to kill Hamlet. He firstly tries to get him sent off to England to be killed and when this plan, much to Claudius’ dismay, fails, he attempts to get Hamlet killed in a fight with Laertes. He unlike Hamlet is not paralysed by thought and does succeed in what he set out to do.
In conclusion, I wholeheartedly agree with the thesis statement: “The struggle between Hamlet and Claudius is a fascinating one” I was riveted by their battle of wits and intellect and by the good a bad qualities that both characters possess. I was intrigued by the fact that at times I like Claudius more as a character than Hamlet, and I think that the contrast between Hamlet’s indecisiveness and Claudius’ decisiveness made their struggle even more spellbinding.
By Grace McLeish 5th Year BCS