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What does Claudius reveal in his asides to the audience in Shakespeare's Hamlet?

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bignuk | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 4, 2009 at 3:07 AM via web

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What does Claudius reveal in his asides to the audience in Shakespeare's Hamlet?

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srodgers1029 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 4, 2009 at 4:50 AM (Answer #1)

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Claudius has a few asides scattered throughout the play.  I believe the first occurs in Act 3, Scene 1.  Claudius and Polonius are scheming to find out what is bothering Hamlet, and Polonius is instructing Ophelia as to how she should behave when Hamlet enters, at which time Polonius and Claudius will spy on their conversation.  Polonius claims

. . . that with devotion's visage
And pious action we do sugar o'er
The devil himself.

In other words, people are really good at pretending to be things they are not because we get so much practice at it.  This strikes Claudius (as it should the audience since we already have an idea of what Claudius has done), and to himself (an aside!) he says

O, 'tis too true!
How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience
The harlot's cheek, beautied with plast'ring art,
Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it
Than is my deed to my most painted word.
O heavy burden!

What this tells us is that he is feeling pretty bad about something he has done, and he feels like he is putting on a fake face for those around him.  This aside lets us know that Hamlet's suspicions are grounded and that the ghost of his dad has a reason to be upset.  We realize that Hamlet has a reason to be depressed and that Claudius is a very bad man.

By the way, if this is not the aside to which you were referring, be sure next time to include the act and scene in your question.  You will get a much faster reply.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 4, 2009 at 7:39 AM (Answer #2)

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Perhaps the most telling of the asides of Claudius is his final one in Act V, Scene 2 when Hamlet's mother willingly drinks from the cup intended for her son.  While this self-sacrificing act of Gertrude reveals her maternal love, the aside of Claudius reveals his selfishness and lack of true feeling for the wife he has taken from his dead brother:

King. Gertrude, do not drink.

Queen.  I will, my lord; I pray you pardon me....

King. [aside]  It is the poisoned cup; it is too late. (V,ii,266-269)

Instead of stopping the combat between Laertes and Hamlet, Claudius again tries to cover his evil by allowing the duel to continue, demonstrating more interest in the completion of his designs than concern for his dying wife.  When Hamlet asks, "How does the queen?" (V,ii,287), Claudius callously lies, "She swoons to see them bleed"(V,iii,288).  It is not until the queen cries out

...O my dear Hamlet!/The drink! the drink! I am poisoned (V,ii,289-290)

that the treachery and sang froid of Claudius is revealed.  Incensed by the heinous murder of his other parent, Hamlet makes Claudius drink the rest of the poison:

Her, thou incestuous, murd'rous, damned Dane,/Drink off this potion.  Is thy union hre?/Follow my mother. (V,ii, 304-306)

 

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jseligmann | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted November 4, 2009 at 5:03 AM (Answer #3)

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Claudius' aside to the audience? You really need to be more specific in your question. An aside is a small remark made to no one in particular, for no one is on stage to hear it. A soliloquy is a major speech made alone by a character that expresses his innermost, and mostly private and hidden, feelings.

That said, I assume you mean an actual aside. Well, there is a rather telling aside by Claudius that is muttered early in the play (Act 1, scene 3). Polonius speaks to Ophelia first, and then Claudius, left alone, speaks briefly to himself (and, if you will, to the audience):

POLONIUS:

Ophelia, walk you here. Gracious, so please you,

We will bestow ourselves. Read on this book,

That show of such an exercise may colour

Your loneliness. We are oft to blame in this—

'tis too much proved—that with devotion's visage

And pious action we do sugar o'er

The Devil himself.

 

KING:

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 burden!

What The King says here, echos Polonius' remarks: we may try to cover up the evil we do, but the truth is still the truth no matter how we try to hide it.

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