In Act III of "Hamlet," what is Claudius's attitude in Scene 3?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like Macbeth, who reflects,

Who can be wise, amazed, temp'rate and furious...in a moment? No man./The expedition of my violent love/Outrun the pauser, reason. (II,iv,109-112)

Claudius, in this scene, shows what is, perhaps, his only twinge of conscience:

O, my offence is rank, it smells to heave;/It hath the primal eldes curse upon't,/A brother's murder....My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent (III,iii,36-41)

 

He wonders if prayer cannot serve to absolve him since prayer does emanate from guilt.  But,

...what form of prayer/Can serve my turn? 'Forgive me my foul murder'?/That cannot be, since I am still possessed/Of those effects for which I did the murder--(III,iii,51-54)

Claudius reasons that money and power in this world "may shove by justice," but "'tis not so above"; heaven cannot be bought by gold or through power. So, he must consider repentance; however,

Yet what can it when one can not repent?/O wretched state!/O bosom black as death!/O limed soul, that struggling to be free/Art more engaged!  Help, angels! Make assay./Bow, stubborn knees,a dn heart with strings of steel,/Be soft as sinews of the new-born babe./All may be well. (III, iii,6572)

Then, after Hamlet considers taking his revenge against Claudius in another of his soliloquies, Claudius stands, disclosing that he has been unable to pray:

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below./Words wihout thoughts never to heaven go (III,iii,97-98)

Like the blackguard Macbeth, the cupidity of Claudius, his inordinate desire for power, supercedes any pangs of conscience that he may have about his "sin of Cain," the killing of his own brother in his desire for power.