In "Hamlet," why is Claudius a bad guy?

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tdot-teacher's profile pic

tdot-teacher | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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Bad and good are too simple to apply to Hamlet (the protagonist of the play) and Claudius (the antagonist). There are certainly a number of acts that Hamlet commits which might easily be labelled 'bad' such as his poor treatment of his mother (despite any apparent justification), his treatment of Ophelia, and his guilt-free switching of the letters to cause the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Similarly, Claudius has some noble qualities such as a strong leadership skills and excellent strategic capabilities. Nonetheless, Claudius is often considered 'bad' because his role is opposite to that of the protagonist, Hamlet.

When I teach literary terms, I always emphasize that the protagonist-antagonist relationship is not simply a question of good and bad. Rather, it is a relationship of opposite qualities pitted against each other to create conflict. Hamlet would not be so memorable a character (nor Hamlet so memorable a play) if Claudius were not so excellent an antagonist. He is the villain of the play, not necessarily because of ‘bad’ qualities, but rather because he sits squarely opposite Hamlet, the protagonist of the play and the character who secures the sympathies of the audience.

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pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Claudius, through his love of power, has poisoned his brother and assumed the throne.  Additionally, he has lusted after his brother's wife, so in one act of treachery and murder, he satisfies two urges: to be King and to have Gertrude for his own.

Claudius is manipulative and selfish.  As with others who attain power through evil deeds, Claudius is suspicious and engages in spying on Hamlet.  He is an individual preoccupied with protecting his power.

He is not a good and worthy King, he is more concerned for himself than for his kingdom.  The definition of a good King usually stems from his devotion and commitment to his country not to his desire and lust for power.

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podunc | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Hmmm. I'm not sure "bad" is a strong enough adjective for Claudius, but here goes:

Claudius is the king of Denmark, a position he attained by murdering his brother, the rightful king. To add insult to injury, Claudius also married Gertrude, the king's wife and Hamlet's mother. He is willing to do whatever it take to secure power for himself, and has no scruples about his methods.

Even though he is both Hamlet's uncle and stepfather, he also makes arrangements to have him killed. He sends Hamlet to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be executed by the English king. It is Hamlet, however, who ultimately succeeds in killing Claudius.

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dianamaldonado | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Claudius isn't a bad guy, he just made a bad decision. He really wanted to be king and was going to do anythig possible to become king. 

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pelusoe | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Yes Claudius is a bad guy. He knew exactly what he was doing when he killed his brother, so now he has the title of king and all this false power. The only way he got to be king was by cowardly killing king Hamlet, he didn't fairly recieve his title. Stealing his brother's wife isn't he best trait to have, all of these bad deeds that he was done, he pretty much got away with until hamlet seeks revenge. 

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chubaca | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Claudius is a bad guy because he commited a murder and try to get away with it. He also wants to get rid of Hamlet because he knows hamlet knows of the crime he commited. Another reason is that Claudius married and is sleeping with his brother's wife 

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jarrah25 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Because he did something shady- not only did he kill his brother, but he also took his wife and stole his kingship

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jesshd | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Claudius is not necessarily a "bad guy" in my opinion. I say this because although he made extremely bad mistakes by killing King Hamlet, taking his spot on the throne, and marrying his wife, later on in the play we find out that he regrets killing him and asks for forgiveness. He says this in his prayer when Hamlet is about to murder him. So he is a bad guy in a way for what he did but we can't just label him as a complete bad guy. We also don't know anything about the rest of his life. Maybe he had something bad happen to him in his childhood and is all stupid in the brain. We don't know. But personally, I wouldn't call him a total and complete bad guy. Everyone makes mistakes (some worse than others) but if that's the case then we're all "bad guys".

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ham4hamlet | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

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Claudius character I believe suits him very well he portrays the typical antagonist that Shakespeare would include in his plays. So it is expected that he would be considered a bad guy. In reality though, he really isn't a bad guy, I feel that he just got a bit too carried away with his ambitions, similar to Shakespeare's other  play, Macbeth. 

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hamletislikethebest | Student | eNotes Newbie

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Yes.  Right from the beginning we find out that Claudius married his "dead" brother's wife.  Further along in the story, we find out that Claudius actually poisioned King Hamlet, his own brother, just so he could become King.  These are most certaintly not traits of a "good" guy, so, that only leaves one other option...

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ilovehamlet | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

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he killed his brother..hamlets father...right there you can tell he doesn't have any feelings at all and proves that he just wants power..he does want to be forgived..but you can't get back someone life..

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hamlet930 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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He killed his brother and took his wife and his rule, and got away with it well sort of.

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hamlet-lover | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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I dont believe that Claudius is a bad guy, I think that  greed was what impolsed him to do what he did.

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monkstir75 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

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i think we are over analyizing this play.  Obviously King Claudius was abused as a child.  If my father would beat me with a spiked mallet, sexually abused me, etc.  I would kill my brother, marry his wife, and pretend his son was now mine as well.  So lets not be so harsh on Claudius because we don't even know him. 

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