How Does Claudius Die

How did Claudius die in Hamlet?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Claudius in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, is a "smiling villain," charming and courteous, but nonetheless amoral and unscrupulous. He is Hamlet's uncle, being the brother of Hamlet's father.

At the opening of the play, Claudius has married Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. The ghost of Hamlet's father informs Hamlet that Claudius actually murdered Hamlet's father. Hamlet acknowledges the ghost's point that he has a duty to avenge the murder of his father. The main plot of the play consists of Hamlet trying to ascertain solid evidence of Claudius' misdeeds, deciding to kill him, and figuring out how that murder might be accomplished. 

At the end of the play, Claudius puts poison in Hamlet's drink. Gertrude, Hamlet's mother drinks some of it by mistake and dies. Meanwhile, Laertes wounds Hamlet with a poisoned sword, but Hamlet by accident ends up with the poisoned sword and stabs Laertes with it. When Hamlet discovers that the sword has been poisoned, he stabs Claudius with it, saying:

The point!--envenom'd too!

Then, venom, to thy work.

Hamlet then forces Claudius to drink the remainder of the poisoned drink, saying:

Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane,

Drink off this potion. Is thy union here?

Follow my mother.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The true villain of the play, Claudius is a murderer guilty of fratricide and a scoundrel whose machinations are at work throughout the play as he exploits Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to further his murderous intentions against his brother's son. 

Because the ghost of his murdered father has appeared to Prince Hamlet, Hamlet devises a plan to expose the truth with the Mousetrap, a play that a traveling troupe performs. As Claudius watches this play which closely parallels his dastardly deed, he becomes conscience-stricken, and he goes into a chapel to pray. At this time, Hamlet sees him, but does not kill him because Claudius would then become a martyr and go to heaven, and he would be guilty of regicide, as well: I then revenged
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and seasoned for his passage? (3.3.84-86)

Therefore, Claudius does not die until Act V when the tragic end comes to all the family. In his deviousness, Claudius places poison on the tips of the swords and in the goblets to ensure that Hamlet will be killed by Laertes, whom he has convinced to duel the prince. After both Hamlet and Laertes are wounded with the poisoned tip on Laertes sword because this sword was switched to Hamlet, and after Gertrude drinks from a poisoned goblet, Hamlet forces the remaining drink upon Claudius and he dies.

Here, thou incestuous, murd'rous, damned Dane,
Drink off this potion. Is thy union here?
Follow my mother. (5.2.303-305)

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A critical component of the play's resolution, Claudius' death is a result of "overscheming" and growing complications.  In the end, Claudius is tripped up by his own multiple plots against Hamlet; his queen dies by drinking the poisoned wine, intended to be a back-up plan to kill Hamlet, and Claudius himself is killed when Hamlet wounds him with the poisoned sword.  The death of Claudius seems a fitting end for the court of Denmark, which has become so corrosive and so twisted that multiple deaths seem unavoidable.  Such an end to such a complex character is worthy of reading for even some of the most dislikeable people in the work are complex and emotionally intricate, making their narratives of extreme interest.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial