Compare and contrast Macbeth and Claudius. contrast

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By rights, neither man should really be king; both have committed acts of treacherous murder to claim their respective thrones. One clear difference is that Claudius appears to feel more comfortable as ruler. This makes him much more of an obvious villain than Macbeth, who's always acutely aware of the negative, immoral consequences of his actions. When Macbeth finally meets his end at the hands of Macduff, there's a somewhat muted air, as if we've witnessed a tragic hero being put out of his misery rather than the toppling of a murderous tyrant. The death of Claudius, on the other hand, is a cause for celebration; a righteous end indeed.

Macbeth lives to a large extent within the confines of his own imagination. And it's that imagination—restless and overactive—that is all too easily played upon and stimulated to a pitch of murderous intensity by the Weird Sisters and Lady Macbeth. Although Macbeth must be held to account for his actions, he finds himself almost carried along by the designs of others—a cunning plan of worldly ambition devised by his wife; a supernatural prophecy conjured up by the witches—which lead him down a path to self-destructive bloodshed.

In contrast to Macbeth, Claudius is very much his own man. He saw an opportunity to usurp his brother's throne and took it. He didn't need the assistance of Gertrude or any malevolent hocus-pocus to get him where he is. Having taken this fateful step, he proceeds to infect his entire kingdom with moral corruption and debauchery, against which his stepson struggles throughout the entire play. Macbeth, in his turn, has dragged down his newly acquired realm to similar levels of degradation.

One can't quite imagine Claudius stooping to the level of atavistic savagery involved in the heinous murder of Macduff's family; his indelible crime was more in the acquisition of power than its subsequent exercise. Macbeth's crimes are spread out more evenly between the getting and consolidating of his kingly authority. Although, if anything, his crimes in relation to the holding of power are considerably more serious than the original murder of Duncan that brought him to his bloody throne in the first place.

luannw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Macbeth and Claudius of "Hamlet" are kings who got to be kings because they not only killed the current king, the king they killed was a relative.  Macbeth kills his cousin, King Duncan. Claudius kills his brother, King Hamlet.  Macbeth killed out of "vaulting ambition" as he identified it in Act 1, sc. 4.  Claudius killed because he wanted the queen, Gertrude, the throne, and because of his "ambition" which he tells us as he is in the chapel in Act 3, sc. 3.  Both kings are willing to commit further murders to cover their initial crimes.  Macbeth has Banquo killed because Banquo suspects him (Act 3, sc. 4).  Claudius tries to have Hamlet killed (Act 5, sc. 2) and doesn't do much to stop Gertrude from drinking the poisoned wine in Act 5, sc. 2. Both men love their wives, though those wives are quite different.  Lady Macbeth knew her husband committed murder, even helped him and planned it.  Gertrude seemingly did not know Claudius killed her first husband.

plcramer eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title character of Shakespeare's Macbeth and King Claudius from Hamlet are both motivated by their ambition and hunger for power. They both come into political power through murdering the current king: Claudius poisons his brother, Hamlet's father, and Macbeth stabs King Duncan in his sleep. Their ambitious natures and willingness to commit regicide for their own advancement leads both men to their ultimate demise. Neither character survives either play. While both murders committed by these characters occur offstage, in another room in the case of Macbeth and before the play begins in Hamlet, the deaths of these characters themselves take place onstage, where the audience can see them receive the comeuppance they deserve.

One important distinction between the two is that Claudius acted alone when he killed old King Hamlet, while Macbeth is egged on in his actions by his equally ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth.

frizzyperm | Student

I agree with the above comments.

I think an important contrast is that Claudius murdered willingly, independently and nobody else was involved, whereas Macbeth was very unwilling to murder Duncan and was reluctantly 'following orders' from his bold wife.

Both Kings are tortured by the guilt of their murders. Both feel the weight of their 'sin' and fail to find absolution. Both are dragged deeper into crime to hide their guilt and protect their stolen crown. Both pay for their crimes with their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

Macbeth is more of a warrior, whereas Claudius is more like a politician and courtier. (There was a real King Macbeth of Scotland in about the 11th century but his story is not the same as Shakespeare's play)


jameslewis13 | Student


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