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

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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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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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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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