Why didn't Hamlet inherit the throne?

One can only speculate, but it seems likely that Claudius manipulated the rule of succession while Hamlet was away at school in order to ensure that the young prince didn't inherit his late father's throne. If not, it may be because the Danish crown has a different system of inheritance than other monarchies.

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It is never explicitly stated anywhere in the play why Hamlet did not become King of Denmark upon the death of his father, so one can only speculate. However, some explanations are more plausible than others. One of the most plausible is that Claudius took advantage of Hamlet 's absence...

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It is never explicitly stated anywhere in the play why Hamlet did not become King of Denmark upon the death of his father, so one can only speculate. However, some explanations are more plausible than others. One of the most plausible is that Claudius took advantage of Hamlet's absence at school to manipulate the rules of succession in his favor. We know how devious Claudius is; he did, after all, murder his own brother. That being so, it's entirely possible that Claudius resorted to chicanery to get his hands on the throne.

On the other hand, it may be the case that Claudius didn't need to change the rules after all. For one thing, Danes elected their king, and it seems likely that Hamlet—young, inexperienced, and away at school—would lose to Claudius, especially if Claudius had Gertrude's support.

Furthermore, Gertrude is described as "imperial jointress to this warlike state." This is an allusion to legal jointure, a feature of the Tudor legal system whereby a man could leave his estate to his widow rather than to his children. It's possible, then, that there was some sort of mechanism in place that allowed Gertrude to become queen regnant and any future husband to be king consort. Even if this is indeed the outward form that Gertrude's marriage to Claudius takes, in substance, it's clear that he's the one who's in charge.

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