What are the contrasts between King Hamlet and Claudius?

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Claudius is the antithesis of Hamlet's father. He is vile and disgusting whilst the previous king was dutiful and honourable.

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The first difference between the two king is expressed by Hamlet himself in Act 1, scene 4:

... that these men, ...
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
... Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault:

Hamlet is indirectly referring to Claudius in this...

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instance for whom it has become customary to host celebrations at night, drinking wine and playing music in celebration of his achievements, i.e. winning the hand of the queen and becoming king.

When Horatio asks him if this is custom, Hamlet mentions that there is more honour in ignoring this habit than in following it. By implication he is suggesting that Claudius has a defect and is corrupt by following this ritual, whereas his father, by ignoring it, was not.

When his father's ghost appears and speaks to him, a few more contrasts are  made obvious. The ghost tells Hamlet when it refers to Claudius:

Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,--
O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce!--won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen:
O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there!
From me, whose love was of that dignity
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage, and to declineUpon a wretch whose natural gifts were poorTo those of mine!
So lust, though to a radiant angel link'd,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed,
And prey on garbage.

It is clear from the ghost's rant that Claudius, in contrast to king Hamlet, is immoral, a traitor, a seducer. He is wicked and lustful. He dishonoured the family by seducing Queen Gertrude. The ghost makes it clear that Claudius is not the equal of king Hamlet for he is less of a man than the previous king had been. The ghost calls Claudius garbage and Queen Gertrude's lust drove her to him.

Throughout the play there is just praise for the previous king, even Horatio mentions his honour and bravery in the battle against the Norwegian king. Claudius however, schemes and plots, all for his own benefit. He has murdered his brother, denied Hamlet the throne and then plots against him. He uses others to do his ghastly deeds. In this regard he uses Polonius to spy on Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and then Laertes to plot his death.

Clearly, Claudius is a vile, disgusting, character - the complete opposite of the much-loved, dutiful and honourable king Hamlet. 

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How are the two kings, Hamlet's dead father and Claudius, contrasted with one another throughout the play?

If Shakespeare's Hamlet, at its heart, is about how a just human should or has to behave in an unjust world--or if it is about how an incorrupt human should or has to behave in a corrupt world--then Hamlet and his father are on one side, and Claudius is on the other. 

Thinking of Hamlet as someone who can't do anything without speechifying or thinking of killing himself is unsophisticated and simplistic, at best.  Hamlet just isn't willing to rashly kill a man when there's a chance that that man might be innocent, as Laertes and Fortinbras are willing to do later.  Hamlet is a just man in an unjust world, an incorruptible man in a corrupt world.  He doesn't lightly kill a king who is the representative of God--not without proof. 

Claudius, on the other hand, is unjust and corrupt.  He assassinates a representative of God, commits incest to gain the throne, and orders Hamlet to be executed in order to protect his throne.

And apparently, according to Hamlet, his father was the same kind of man he is.  Hamlet and his father are contrasted with Claudius in that they are just and incorruptible, and Claudius is unjust and corrupt. 

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How are the two kings, Hamlet's dead father and Claudius, contrasted with one another throughout the play?

In addition to the superb answer above, King Hamlet & the Ghost can be juxtaposed with Claudius in terms of their own language and actions and not just on Hamlet's obviously biased soliloquy.

Both have killed to gain or maintain power. King Hamlet killed Old Fortinbras to gain lands in Poland.  Claudius obviously kills King Hamlet to get the throne.

Both loved Gertrude. The Ghost tells Hamlet to leave her to heaven, and Claudius tries to get her to stop drinking the poisoned chalice.

Both are blind. King Hamlet was blind to his wife and brother's incest and adultery.  Claudius is blind toward Hamlet and the effects of his incestuous and murderous crimes on the state.

Both form unnatural relationships. The Ghost, a supernatural being, elicits a mortal (his son, no less) to carry out what he should do (haunt Claudius).  Claudius' relationship with Gertrude is full of incest, adultery, deceit.

Both want revenge. King Hamlet wants revenge on Claudius, and Claudius wants revenge on Hamlet.  They both incite Hamlet to enact revenge.

Both use pawns as part of revenge. The Ghost uses Hamlet to carry out his plan, while Claudius uses Polonius' family, R & G.  All of their pawns, by the way, die.

King Hamlet (Ghost) will go to heaven, and Claudius will go to hell. The former is a victim of immorality, while the former is an agent of it.

The Ghost is a better performer than Claudius. His lines are war-like, gothic, menacing.  Claudius, especially at prayer, seems much weaker by comparison.

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How are the two kings, Hamlet's dead father and Claudius, contrasted with one another throughout the play?

The two are contrasted particularly in the soliloquy which Hamlet gives at the end of Act I, scene ii:

So excellent a king, that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!(145)
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on; and yet, within a month—
Let me not think on't! Frailty, thy name is woman—
A little month, or ere those shoes were old(150)
With which she follow'd my poor father's body
Like Niobe, all tears—why she, even she—
O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourn'd longer—married with my uncle,
My father's brother, but no more like my father(155)
Than I to Hercules.

In this passage alone, Hamlet makes two comparisons, one that his father was more like Hyperion than Claudius who was in fact much more like a half-man half-goat with a lusty attitude and poor manners.  His father was so caring to his mother that he wouldn't have the wind blow on her face too roughly.

He goes on to say that Claudius is no more like Hamlet Sr. than Hamlet to Hercules, in this case also commenting on the fact that Hamlet is not a man of action or great strength and resolve as Hercules and his father were.  If we think of Hercules' willingness to take on seemingly impossible tasks we see the contrast as Hamlet isn't even willing to do much of anything before he speechifies about it a lot and considers just killing himself instead.

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How are Hamlet's fathers and Claudius contrasted and how is Hamlet like/unlike both or either of them?

We can gather from the information that we are given about Old Hamlet that he was a traditional king in that he was a warrior and a conqueror.  We learn from Horatio that Old Hamlet brought Norway to his knees, forcing him to give a portion of his lands to Denmark. He also "smote the dreaded Poloacks on the ice."   The spirit of Old Hamlet comes back wearing his armor, and the guards remark on his warlike prowess.  Old Hamlet obviously settled disputes with forceful action.  As a result, he was viewed as honorable and admired by his men.

Claudius is much more the politician. We see in his opening speech that he is glib and persuasive.  He is able to put to rest the gossip about his hasty marriage to Gertrude by telling his audience that the marriage was a necessary political alliance that would make Denmark appear strong to its enemies:  "the imperial jointresss to this warlike state."   He hears petitions and solves problems diplomatically.  When he learns of Fortinbras's planned attack, he dispatches ambassadors to the king of Norway to stop Fortinbras's attack.  This method of solving problems through indirect means is Claudius' mode of operation.  He typically enlists others to do his bidding as we see throughout the play and does not confront problems head on.

Of course, Hamlet sees major contrasts between the two in terms of their integrity and his relationship with them.  He calls Claudius a "satyr," and his father "Hyperion."  Later in Act 3, he tells Gertrude that his father had godly appearances, and that when she married Claudius it was as if she left a "fair mountain" and travelled to a "moor."  But in terms of specifics, Hamlet is very as to how he and Claudius differed.  We can assume that since Hamlet admired his father and from what we know of Claudius that the two differ greatly in moral character.

Hamlet ironically thinks more like Claudius.  He is also persuasive, glib, charming and prudent.  He thinks before he acts. He can play Claudius' game and outsmart his uncle at every turn.  But Hamlet is essentially a moral figure, much like his father.

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