Homework Help

Broadly describe how and to what extent king Claudius suffered from his guilty...

user profile pic

nayems | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 8, 2009 at 8:51 PM via web

dislike 1 like

Broadly describe how and to what extent king Claudius suffered from his guilty conscience.

in "Hamlet" - pls make the answer very broad.

2 Answers | Add Yours

user profile pic

parkerlee | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted August 9, 2009 at 4:05 PM (Answer #1)

dislike 3 like

Right when he is ready to murder Claudius to avenge his father's death, Hamlet witnesses Claudius making his mea culpa (acknowledgement of guilt). Although Hamlet thinks his uncle is under grace at this moment, Claudius realizes that he has not really repented for as much. He understands that his words are merely "lip service" to go through the act of confession, but that his heart is not really in it. By this, one can understand that although Claudius is revulsed by his acts, he is nevertheless glad to benefit from the consequences thereof: he has his brother's wife Gertrude now as his own, and he is king in his stead.

How can one honestly 'be sorry' and 'be glad' at the same time? Claudius at least sees the absurdity of the situation and the hypocrisy of such pretention.

Ironically, Hamlet does not follow through with his plan to kill Claudius at this point, thinking that Claudius will die forgiven and expiated for his sins. This scene is pivotal, for if Hamlet had indeed killed his uncle at this point, he would have had his vengeance and the horrible bloodbath which ensues would have been avoided.

user profile pic

jagtig | Salutatorian

Posted August 10, 2009 at 6:19 AM (Answer #2)

dislike 0 like


Here's a link to the speech where Claudius bemoans his guilty conscience and his resultant inability to pray.

My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;

And, like a man to double business bound,

I stand in pause where I shall first begin,

And both neglect.  - III,iii,40

Earlier, at the point where Polonius is coaching Ophelia to prime Hamlet so that he and Claudius may overhear what is bothering him, Claudius also bursts out with regret and guilt.


Aside] O, 'tis too true!

How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience!

The harlot's cheek, beautied with plastering art,

Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it

Than is my deed to my most painted word:

O heavy burthen! - III,i,49

That's about it. Claudius is clearly a conspirator and murderer, however nothing is written concerning justification or motives other than lust, ambition and greed. King Hamlet is generally taken to be innocent and undeserving of his fate, however a producer could make him less undeserving of his poisoning in the garden and it would be a different play with Hamlet made to seem more wicked than is the usual.

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes