R. Matt O MalleyIntroduction to ShakespeareDr. Kay Roberts Hamlet Prince of Denmark: Claudius, a More Humane Villain Claudius, newly crowned king of Denmark, is not your typical Shakespearean villain. Most, like Lady Macbeth, are pure evil through and through, showing little remorse for their dirty deeds. For this reason it is always easy for the hero to slay them down without a second thought. Claudius however, as it is shown to us in act III scene iii of Shakespeare s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, adds a new element of humanity in his character. After he sees the production, put on by our hero Hamlet, he goes to the chapel to pray to God for forgiveness. During this prayer he talks to God, the angels, and himself continually asking how he could be forgiven even though he will not give up the things which he obtained from this murder. With this passage Shakespeare sets up a more believable, humane villain. He does this through use of diction, alliteration, and sentence type. The diction in this passage shows us a man, like most men, tugged by two forces, good and evil. He knows to be good he needs to pray and beg for forgiveness. However he also falls to the all to common tragic flaw of greed. The guilt he feels, unlike most Shakespeare villains, is what is what lets us identify with him. When Claudius uses words such as prayer, repent, forgive, and mercy we think of a devote person searching for a pardon for what he knows was a terrible sin. However when these same words are paired with the likes of murder, lies, offense, faults and death we can tell that sin was not a venial one. To further deny his admittance through the pearly gates he refuses to give up those effects for which (he) did the murder (III, iii, 55). By coupling these two types of words we gain a whole person, someone we can see some of ourselves in, but to make sure we realize that he is the villain Shakespeare creates images with these same words that show us a man with more evil than good. These images range from sense of smell, O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven (III, iii, 37) to visual, O, bosom black as death! to letting us hear the sin that has hardened him, and heart with strings of steel. (III, iii, 70) All these add up to a vicious person, but humane none the less. Another device used to show us the good and the evil in Claudius is alliteration. The two most common sounds in this passage are O and S. To me this again demonstrates the two sides of Claudius that makes him nothing less that a man, a corrupted man. On the one side we have to O s, twenty-three in all, that show his pain and remorse, O, offense, foul, forgive, crown, corrupted. Its like he is crying out for help and salvation, but he knows that with weight of his murder along with the earthly wealth that he gained from it he has given up any chance for forgiveness. Basically he is sobbing from self-pity and moaning for forgiveness that is not going to come with this heavy sin. The sin is the other thing he is preoccupied with. We know this because of all the S sounds made; smells, cursed, possessed, lies, stubborn, strings, steel. The sin is always coming back. No matter how much he prays, moans or begs the sin is always there.
Sentence type is also used to show the new and humane Shakespearean villain, Claudius. In this passage there are three different types of sentences used; there is the declarative, the interrogative, and the exclamatory. The declarative and interrogative claim nine sentences each; where as the exclamatory has only four. The declarative and the interrogative are inter woven throughout the beginning of the passage and the exclamatory are all bunched together at the end. As we proceed to the close of the passage the sentences get shorter and more excited. All of this shows a kind of debate or battle going on with Claudius. He asks a question and then is rebutted with the true answer. The questions get shorter and shorter as the answers get more desperate. They finally explode with the exclamations at the end of the passage. However, Claudius being the whole person that Shakespeare has created concludes with a simple, calming,optimistic statement. I think this could be another we sympathize with him; he doesn t give up even though the odds are stacked against him. He committed an appalling murder, but he keeps questioning, looking for a way out. In this play, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare introduces us to a new kind of villain. He doesn t let us walk away with simple line of good and evil like in most of his plays. We are left questioning. Is he really repenting or is he just being greedy and want it all? He is confused like most us, but does that make him better or just a hypocrite? Where does this leave Hamlet? Shakespeare is making Claudius go back and forth with himself and God cements in a guilty quality that humanizes him and makes him recognizable to us all, bet he also makes a true dilemma for Hamlet. That is the purpose of this passage to create for us, through use of diction, alliteration, and sentence type, three dimensional characters that have more real issues to ponder on than a simple you re bad, therefore you must die.