Throughout William Shakespeare’s play, the audience is in much the same position as Hamlet, who suspects that his uncle Claudius is guilty of murder but is unsure and lacks proof. Claudius acted suspiciously in quickly marrying Queen Gertrude, the wife of his late brother, King Hamlet, and thereby becoming king himself. While he justifies this haste by Denmark’s need for a king, it quickly becomes apparent that his own ambition dominated his patriotism.
Claudius offers a good example of one of the play’s themes: the difference between perception and reality. His demeanor and speech while in company differ greatly from the way he acts and talks while he is alone. In the end, Claudius is revealed as the murderer of King Hamlet. Moreover, he has been plotting to kill Prince Hamlet. When his first plan fell through, he set in motion another plot, which ultimately proves fatal not only to his nephew but also to himself and several others.
Claudius has the ability to project a regal persona and apparently was charming and persuasive in convincing Gertrude to marry him. There are suggestions that he is sexually attractive, and Hamlet resents his mother for succumbing to that attraction. Claudius is deceptive in pretending to care about Hamlet in a paternal way. He uses this fake concern as a reason to get Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet, then later persuades them to kill him. His own arrogance also causes him to underestimate Hamlet, whose suspicions are not derailed by his uncle’s public declarations.