Hamlet and Claudius are seen as well matched adversaries. Do you agree with this statement?

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Claudius committed a murder in order to get possession of the Danish throne. It is natural that he should suspect Hamlet of plotting to do something similar, since Hamlet was his father's legitimate heir and successor. As Macbeth says when contemplating the murder of King Duncan:

But in these cases
We still have judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which being taught return
To plague the inventor. This even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips.     (Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 7)

(It is interesting that in Act 5, Scene 2, when Hamlet forces Claudius to drink what is left of the poisoned wine in the goblet which killed Gertrude, he is in fact commending the ingredients of Claudius' poison'd chalice to his own lips.)

Claudius refuses to permit Hamlet to go back to Wittenberg but keeps him a virtual prisoner at Elsinore. If Hamlet had freedom to travel he might seek assistance from some foreign power to stage a coup against Claudius, just as Malcolm does in Shakespeare's Macbeth. Claudius is not satisfied with keeping Hamlet confined to the castle. He keeps his nephew under tight surveillance, using Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Gertrude, and even Ophelia as agents. No doubt Claudius has other unidentified courtiers and servants spying on Hamlet as well.

Hamlet is resentful but he is not plotting against Claudius until he meets with his father's ghost in the last scene of Act 1. Now he and Claudius become adversaries. Claudius almost seems to have brought his suspicions into reality. Hamlet decides to pretend to be mad. Why? Because he knows it will be hard to conceal his new knowledge and his new mission from the wily king, who is a shrewd judge of human character. The king might be able to read Hamlet's thoughts in his behavior and his facial expressions or in slips of the tongue. If Claudius was suspicious of Hamlet's intentions when Hamlet had no intentions, how much more so would he become when he sensed that Hamlet was not only plotting to overthrow him, but that Hamlet might suspect that Claudius was guilty of murdering his father. Claudius, too, must hide his thoughts and feelings from his nephew. As Gertrude comments:

So full of artless jealousy is guilt,
It spills itself in fearing to be spilt. (Act 4, Scene 5)

Hamlet knows he is in extreme danger because his uncle has all the power. Claudius could easily have him killed--and he actually attempts to do just that when he sends Hamlet to England with a sealed letter calling for Hamlet's execution. Both these men are afraid of each other, and for the same reason. Claudius is afraid Hamlet will try to kill him to retrieve the throne, and Hamlet is afraid Claudius will try to kill him to prevent him from doing so. Claudius has the power, but Hamlet is loved by the people and is the legitimate successor to his father.

When Hamlet stages the play which replicates the murder Claudius committed, Claudius is horrified. He fears that his nephew has supernatural knowledge, perhaps picked up from exotic books he read at Wittenberg. After all, the story about a poisonous snake biting King Hamlet in his garden is pretty thin. Do they even have poisonous snakes in Denmark? This is why Claudius decides that Hamlet must die, regardless of his concerns for his wife's feelings for her son. And this is also when Hemlet decides that Claudius must die. The King's violent reactions during the pivotal play within a play have shown Hamlet and his good friend Horatio that Claudius is guilty. Hamlet tells Horatio:

O good Horatio, I'll take the ghost's word for a
thousand pound!    (Act 3, Scene 2)

Hamlet is temporarily delayed in attacking the King because he is sent to England and captured by pirates, then released for ransom. But the fact that the main theme of this play is the adversarial relationship between Hamlet and Claudius, their battle of wits, is highlighted by this statement by Hamlet to his mother:

O, 'tis most sweet
When in one line two crafts directly meet.  (Act 3, Scene 4)




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