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King Claudius Quotes
 

Claudius is different from other Shakespearean villains.... He is not jocular or sardonic like Aaron, Richard Duke of Gloucester, Iago, or Shylock, but like them he is a killer.

MAURICE CHARNEY, Shakespeare's Villains

In his most impressive form ... Claudius is a pre-Macbeth: dignified, authoritative, masterful, even touched with majesty and potential nobility. Here is the would-be lion who seems every inch a king -- except that, when tested, the crucial inches can't be there. In his subtext he knows this, he will kill by stealth, like the jackal, when blocked. He cannot openly confront his opposite -- which may partly account for the hectic raging in his blood.... Claudius may be "haunted" from the first, as the text makes him later, by his first murder, even in public may momentarily turn inward to brood on his insecurities; but the frank force of his passion, his drive for power, is not surrendered, it erodes.

MARVIN ROSENBERG, The Masks of Hamlet

Claudius doesn't make a bad king, minus the brother-killing thing.

SHMOOP, Hamlet: Shmoop Literature Guide

Claudius is a mere harlequin-king; he is "kindless," i.e., lacking even in natural feelings; he is "this slave's offal"; his actions are "royal knavery," with all the social slur implied in the word "knave." These terms suggest a man, not only bad, but small and insignificant and weak. But even this is not enough: Hamlet declares him physically disgusting, a "satyr," a "mildew'd ear"; he is a toad, a bat, a common alley cat; and according to many modern texts, he is a "bloat king." This is strong language, so strong and spoken with such intensity and bitterness, that one may well ask how far the diatribe was justified. In contrast to all this, the other characters seem to treat Claudius with a strange consideration, not to say reverence. On the actual stage, even more telling than the mere speeches that dominate our impression when we read, are the appearance and actions of the character. Claudius may be a criminal; but are not his crimes heroic rather than contemptible and low?

JOHN DRAPER, Hamlet of Shakespeare's Audience

Claudius is kingly, but there is enough in the play to suggest that this kingliness is merely a kind of role. Claudius derives strength from his sense of the automatic authority of the king.

MARTIN SCOFIELD, The Ghosts of Hamlet

Claudius is revealed to himself by a play within a play. Claudius's moment of truth is beyond the edge of what can happen to a wise audience. Faced with his own guilt, he drowns the stage in light, storms out of the theater, and tries to find solace in prayer. For him, self-recognition ends his experience of theater. For you, the wise watcher who is watching this scene in Hamlet, self-recognition should be a process that lasts the whole measured time of the play. Claudius sees only himself; you in the audience are mainly seeing Claudius, but, while watching him, you do not forget who you are. He is not so wicked that you do not know that he is of one species with yourself.

PAUL WOODRUFF, The Necessity of Theater

Intelligent, crafty, never appearing to be doing what he is actually doing, affable, relentless in his drive to power, Claudius is cynical and pragmatic. And like the new-style ruler Machiavelli idealizes in The Prince, Claudius understands the necessity of legitimizing his rule by all available means. He creates the appearance of an uninterrupted continuation of the old order by marrying the queen of the brother he has killed and treating the rightful heir as his son and successor. Usurpation and murder are concealed by a carefully fostered ideology of divine right.

ALVIN KERNAN, Shakespeare, the King's Playwright

Claudius is smooth, less lion than the serpent old Hamlet called him, a winner by the "witchcraft of his wits."

MARVIN ROSENBERG, The Masks of Hamlet

Claudius is in a shaky situation politically, right from the beginning of the play -- no matter how masterfully he glosses it over. And young Hamlet is at the heart of his problems. As Queen Elizabeth knew too well (from both sides of the issue), a successor with a valid claim to the throne is always a magnet for rival factions. And young Hamlet is far more attractive metal than most. While Hamlet's threat to Claudius' life and throne isn't stated explicitly until later in the play -- even by Hamlet -- that threat is present and palpable from the beginning. That unspoken but ever-present undercurrent explains many words and actions in the play that otherwise seem inexplicable or troublesome.

STEVE ROTH, Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country

Claudius is prima facie unmanly. Murder by ear is so esoteric that it makes the body (our own as well as the king's) seem hideously vulnerable. Quietly tipping his vial in the orchard, Claudius resembles a gardener tenderly watering a prize plant.

CAMILLE PAGLIA, Break, Blow, Burn

Claudius acts out the part of God's deputy on earth magnificently. When threatened by a rebellious subject, he bravely confronts him with the bold words "There's such divinity doth hedge a king/That treason can but peep to what it would/Acts little of his will" (IV,v). And even as he dies he projects the invulnerability of annointed majesty, "O, yet defend me, friends, I am but hurt." In the manner of other Renaissance absolutists, Claudius stages his greatness on all possible occasions. Each time he drinks, a cannon is fired, forcing the gods in the skies to speak back to him in the echo, as if they were conforming to his authority.

ALVIN KERNAN, Shakespeare, the King's Playwright

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