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Similar to many leaders throughout world history, Shakespeare's Claudius is pompous and self-serving. In Act I, Scene 2 of Hamlet, Claudius's speech to the court demonstrates his ability to manipulate others. He claims to be mourning the dead king--his brother--even as he has just married his widowed sister-in-law. He justifies the quick nuptials by claiming that his motivation in marrying Gertrude is to bring order to Denmark in a time of impending war. For the most part, everyone in the audience seems to believe Claudius's reasoning, except for Hamlet.
Later, Claudius proves that his marriage to Gertrude has nothing to do with his supposed love for her or his country. He simply wants power. He not only creates disorder in his country by killing King Hamlet, but he betrays his wife by signing a death warrant for her only child and using Hamlet's friends against him. In Act 3, Scene 3, Claudius confesses in his "prayer" that he is troubled by his murderous act, but not necessarily in a moral sense. He wants to be assured of salvation and eternal security without having to repent of his actions and give up all that he has gained. He questions,
"But oh, what form of prayer / Can serve my turn? 'Forgive me my foul murder'? / That cannot be, since I am still possessed / Of those effects for which I did the murder, / My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen. / May one be pardoned and retain th'offence?" (3.3.51-56).
Claudius's cutthroat agenda and desire for eternal salvation without sacrifice parallels King Henry VIII's reign. England's king defied the Church's doctrine of his day and seemed to have no moral anxiety resulting from his actions. Instead, he founded his own church so that he could maintain order in his country and assure himself of eternal salvation. Like Claudius, Henry VIII was willing to sacrifice family members and send them to their deaths in order to maintain power and to promote his agenda.
From more recent world history, Claudius's style of "leadership" somewhat parallels Vladimir Putin's "reign" in Russia. While one would be hard pressed to prove that Putin has actually had some of his enemies put to death, the Russian leader has imprisoned many of his adversaries. Many feel that the last election was rigged; the same could be said of Claudius's assent to the throne. Moreover, like young Hamlet, the young people of Russia have clashed with Putin's iron-fisted policies, and some, like members of the punk protest band P***y Riot, have been thrown into labor camps for speaking out openly against Putin. Both men, Claudius and Putin, do not know how to respond to the headstrong youth of their day and see them as threats to their power. So, rather than including the younger generation in developing their countries, both leaders set out to silence them.
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