Claudius Quotes in Hamlet

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  • 0:04 Hamlet's Antagonist
  • 0:45 Unmanly Grief
  • 2:28 Most Painted Word
  • 4:10 The Primal Eldest Curse
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

As the object of Hamlet's revenge, Claudius is one of the most important characters in 'Hamlet.' These quotes reveal the ways in which he changes throughout the play.

Hamlet's Antagonist

Shakespeare's Hamlet tells the story of young Hamlet looking for revenge for the death of his father. The object of that revenge is Claudius, his uncle and the reigning king, who killed Hamlet's father in order to take the throne and also marry Hamlet's mother, Gertrude.

As the object of Hamlet's anger, Claudius is the key antagonist, or opponent of the protagonist, in the play. Part of Hamlet's plan is not just killing Claudius, but also exposing him, and a look at Claudius's major quotes over the course of the play shows how the layers of his personality are revealed, starting as outwardly regal and forgiving and ending as an exposed villain.

Unmanly Grief

The tension between Claudius and Hamlet is first introduced in Act I, Scene 2. At this point, Hamlet does not know his uncle killed his father, but is still deeply moved by his father's death and angered by his mother's quick remarriage to Claudius. Therefore, there is already obvious tension between the two.

Claudius, though, attempts to blame this tension on Hamlet's immaturity and moral failing, as he has not been unable to move past his father's death. He counsels his nephew:

'This sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet,

To give these mourning duties to your father,

But you must know your father lost a father,

That father lost, lost his -- and the survivor bound

In filial obligation for some term

To do obsequious sorrow. But to persever

In obstinate condolement is a course

Of impious stubborness, 'tis unmanly grief,

It shows a will most incorrect to heaven.' (I.ii.86-95)

This quote from Claudius does a great job setting up Claudius and Hamlet's relationship. On its surface, Claudius is assuming his role as both king and Hamlet's stepfather and giving some rather straightforward advice: that while it is normal to grieve for your father for a certain period of time, it is damaging to do it for too long. Pointing out that Hamlet's father lost a father and so did his father before him, he is saying it is just a part of life.

But we also see Claudius needling Hamlet and trying to emasculate him, calling his mourning 'unmanly grief.' In this attempt to challenge Hamlet's manhood, we see the conflict between them before Hamlet has even found out Claudius killed his father.

Most Painted Word

As Hamlet, now tasked by his father's ghost with exacting revenge, pursues Claudius and looks to get proof of his guilt, the regal facade demonstrated in the first quote starts to crack. While Hamlet will prove Claudius's guilt with his play The Mousetrap, in Act III, Scene 2, we the audience get a glimpse of that guilt in the beginning of Act III.

In Act III, Scene 1, Claudius is talking with Polonius, who observes that with 'pious action we do sugar o'er / The devil himself' (III.i.47-48). As is typical with Polonius, this is an obvious observation presented as profound insight, as all he's saying is people who do evil often present a mask of good deeds and pious behavior.

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