Claudius is a major antagonist in Shakespeare's Hamlet. He is King Hamlet's antagonist in that he murders his own brother. He also functions as one of Prince Hamlet's antagonists, because he married Queen Gertrude so quickly after the funeral. Once Hamlet discovers that Claudius killed his father, there...
Claudius is a major antagonist in Shakespeare's Hamlet. He is King Hamlet's antagonist in that he murders his own brother. He also functions as one of Prince Hamlet's antagonists, because he married Queen Gertrude so quickly after the funeral. Once Hamlet discovers that Claudius killed his father, there is yet another reason for Hamlet to dislike his uncle and plot revenge.
Claudius's murder of King Hamlet reveals his character to be vicious and cruel, a fact that does not escape Prince Hamlet's notice. The son fully intends to avenge his father's death, but he is unable to take action through most of the play. The antagonist, Claudius, who is an external conflict for Hamlet, brings about Hamlet's internal conflict of indecision.
Hamlet wrestles with his conscience and the morality of killing. He knows that he must avenge his father's death as he has promised his father's ghost, but he is unable to bring himself to take decisive action. He even contemplates suicide as an option to escape the moral quagmire that he faces. Thus, Claudius functions also as a catalyst to Hamlet's soul-searching.
King Claudius suspects that Hamlet is his enemy, and he is prepared to remove him, just as he removed Hamlet's father. The king orders Hamlet's friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on him while he attempts to get close to Hamlet for Gertrude's benefit. Claudius must believe in keeping his enemies close in order to keep his own power intact. He knows that Gertrude wants her son to be happy, so in front of the queen, Claudius tries to be friendly to Hamlet. Hamlet sees through any attempt to win him over, and no matter what Claudius tells him, Hamlet will never see his uncle as anything but a murderer.
Claudius forces Hamlet to discover who he really is. He compels Hamlet to consider how far he would go in his quest for revenge. It is only when he is pushed to the extreme that Hamlet will act. Nothing about his decision is easy; otherwise, he would take the chance he has to kill Claudius when he is defenseless and praying. However, Hamlet rationalizes that since Claudius is praying, his soul will be redeemed, and that would not be the proper revenge. The truth is that Hamlet makes excuses for his own inaction, and it is his battle with Claudius that reveals this fact.