Claudius, the Unorthodox Tragic Hero

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An Aristotelian’s tragic hero is a person of nobility who is ill-fated by a defect - seemingly intertwined with attributes that make him/her prosperous - in his/her character. Usually the protagonist, a tragic hero is commended for his/her honorable traits and is depicted to be the victim in most works of literature. In Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, the traditional portrayal of a tragic hero is defied: in lieu of being the victim, the tragic hero becomes the culprit of the play. By instilling the antagonist, King Claudius, with honorable qualities like that of a tragic hero, Shakespeare demonstrates that a person is never at the extreme ends of the moral spectrum but rather at the center: a person can never be solely good or evil but rather composed of a blend of morally good and bad elements.

Examining the character of King Claudius in Hamlet, one detects his respectable qualities; one of them being that he is an exemplary leader - which is accentuated during the coronation of his kingship. In his inaugural speech, Claudius illustrates his capability of being an efficient leader by addressing the three important events occurring in Denmark: the death of old king Hamlet, Claudius’s marriage to Queen Gertrude, and the developing threat of Norway. Claudius acknowledges that the death of old King Hamlet is of tremendous importance, by plunging into it first. Taking into consideration that the old King Hamlet was idolized by the citizens of Denmark and that his death was still recent in their minds, Claudius cleverly states his request – forget old King Hamlet and concentrate on me – in an innocuous way: “That we with wisest sorrow think on him [old King Hamlet]/ Together with remembrance of ourselves” (I. ii. 6-7). Clau...

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...veness from God because he withholds the rewards – his queen and his crown - that bonds him to his past crimes; rather than healing, through God’s forgiveness, his deteriorated soul, Claudius chooses to retain the rewards of his greed. By murdering his brother and forgoing forgiveness, Claudius illuminates his greediness, which led to his tragic fall.

Works Cited

Edwards, Philip. "Tragic Balance in 'Hamlet'." Tragic Balance in 'Hamlet'. Brandeis University, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. .

Knight, G. Wilson. "Hamlet Is Corrupt, Not Claudius." Corruption in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Ed. Vernon Elso Johnson. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. 82-89. Print.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992. Print.
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