Of all the characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet I find the role of Claudius to be the most intriguing and crucial role in this tragedy. Claudius is the most controversial, the most mysterious and the most talked about character in this play. Many people look at Claudius and only see a villain, but there are additional sides to him that are often overlooked. Claudius the father, the husband, the ruler and the mortal individual. In this play the characters are not super-human beings. They make mistakes, just as Claudius does, but it goes to show that they are only human.
Claudius, the father is very recognizable in Scene 2 of Act 1. He states to Hamlet starting at Line 109 "…think of us as of a father: for let the world take note, you are the most immediate to our throne, and with no less nobility of love that that which dearest father bears his son do I impart toward you." Hamlet is "Our chiefest courtier, cousin and our son." (Line 119) Here Claudius is speaking to Hamlet and saying that he is loved and accepted even since he is not Claudius' natural son. Claudius seems to have no trouble speaking to his son Hamlet in front of a crowd. But when the two men are alone, Claudius is at a loss for words and cannot figure out what to say, or when to say it. It could be that the King feels so guilty about murdering King Hamlet that he is unable to speak to Hamlet in private, for fear of his true self emerging.
Along the same lines, Claudius is also a great and sovereign leader. When young Fortinbras came to demand the surrender of those lands lost by his father to King Hamlet, Claudius handled the matter with such ease and grace. He informed Fortinbras that a letter was going to be sent to the King of Norway telling him "…to suppress his (Fortinbras) further gait herein." (1. 2. 30.) Claudius realized that a war at the beginning of his rule would not look good, especially since there had been the thought of "incest" going around. He did not want to be blamed for tainting the Queen’s bed and for destroying the mighty kingdom. Another interesting thing about Claudius is that in his formal speeches he uses the plural form of "we" implying that the crown also has a say in official matters.
Claudius, the husband is a little less easy to recognize, but still just as important. The Queen is identified as "…our sometime sister, now our queen, th’ imperial jointress…" by Claudius (1. 2. 8.) The personal life of the King and Queen is kept just that; not much is known of them outside of what Hamlet says. Yet even that can not be taken seriously, for we do not know the truth behind the matter. Beside what we do not know about the husband in Claudius, we can be sure that he did treat Gertrude with respect and dignity or she would not have stayed with him, or even married him in the first place.
The King is also a villain, a murderer, a conspirator and a liar. Claudius, during Act 3, Scene 3, reveals to the readers that he did murder King Hamlet. During Claudius’ first few lines in Act 1 Scene 2 he says, "The memory be green, and that it us befitted to bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe…" and this is a bit ironic that he is speaking of grief, especially since he is not grieving and he was the cause of all the grief.
During all that is going on in the play, we the readers realize that Claudius is a mortal, human being. He has emotions, he makes mistakes and he goes through trials. Claudius possesses a conscience, one which hardly makes him cowardly but rather makes him an erring human being, not an inhumane monster. Claudius states in Act 111 Scene 3 Lines 70-72 "O wretched state! O bosom black as death; O limed soul, that struggling to be free art more engag’d." This quote shows how Claudius' heart has changed due to his actions and the reactions of others. His heart is heavy