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|GR: Claudius' character (long)
Written by Jezkalyn
(5/27/2003 10:54 a.m.)
I have been rereading the play taking special note of Claudius (and Gertrude's) character. As an former actress, I have been trained to try to see the positive in every character. Sometimes that is not entirely possible, but if you can't find a plausible rationalization for yourself as an actor, the performance will not be believable. With that in mind, the DH just signed a contract to play Claudius next January. Funny, that? Anyway, there has been a lot of discussion in our house about what makes Claudius tick. Here is what I see:
Act 1, scene 2: The way he controls the whole scene I think is very telling of his nature. He is strong, dynamic, diplomatic (more or less) and runs this "meeting" succincly and very carefully.
He starts with his marriage:
Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death
Very politic. Get the whole issue out of the way. He leaps in and address' the issue of the marriage to G very diplomatically, giving equal measure to the sadness of his brothers passing and the joy of the marriage.
Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
Ah, there's the rub....he admits to a battle with himself, but he is definitely out for Number One.
nor have we herein barr'd
In the end, he thanks everyone for their input on the matter, and then he puts an end to it. 'Nuff said.
Now follows, that you know, young Fortinbras,
He then launches into the real worry of Denmark at the time: Fortinbras. Veeeeery smart. In a way, it is the old political question: does a leaders personal life keep him from being a good leader? I don't want to get into a politcal discussion, but as it pertains to Claudius, it is something to think about. Perhaps he really believes, and I would be inclined to agree with him, that in the present climate of the play, he is better fit to be king.
When he sends Voltemand on his errand, he does so strongly and without discussion ending it with:
Farewell, and let your haste commend your duty.
This tells me that Claudius is a man of action. He works from the gut. Actions speak stronger than words.
Next on the docket, Laertes. "...what woulds't thou beg, Laertes..." I love the use of the word "beg." It reinforces his position to everyone within earshot. But in this matter alone does he defer to someone else: Polonius. For anyone who needs proof that Polonius and Claudius were in cahoots, I think it is here.
The head is not more native to the heart,
Who is the head, who the heart? Who the hand and who the mouth? It doesn't matter, they are in it together, IMO.
And, finally, Hamlet himself.
'Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet,
Claudius is a realist, but he tempers it with a compliment to Hamlet's sweetness. Once again, very diplomatic.
but to persever
He is a man's man.
We pray you, throw to earth
He is a man of the earth. As seen later on when he can't get his thoughts away from the earthly in order to pray. I wonder how many times he uses the terms "earth," "nature," or "world" in this play? Indeed in this speech alone, he uses "nature" twice, "world" and "earth" once.
To wrap it up, he is off the the king's rouse - or drinking celebration. He plans on enjoying his time.
Shakespeare lays the foundations for Claudius' character from the first time you meet him. To summarize, he is diplomatic, a realist, a mans man, a man of action, and a man of the earth.
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