The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0668 Friday, 8 April 2005
Date: Thursday, 7 Apr 2005 10:08:24 -0500
Subject: 16.0645 A Claudius Question
Comment: RE: SHK 16.0645 A Claudius Question
I'm not sure whether to be amazed or amused. Are there people on this
list who really think that the cold-blooded murder of King Hamlet by his
younger brother, Claudius, has no importance to the story?
If murder is immoral (as I think), then Claudius must be condemned out
of hand. He should be tried and (since we know he's guilty) sentenced to
whatever the rigor of the law prescribes. If he isn't, it is a gross
miscarriage of justice. And he certainly should not be allowed to enjoy
benefits accrued through his crime.
If Claudius is not condemned, then we must conclude that either he
didn't murder his brother (a very difficult point to sustain), or that
murder is not immoral. If that latter is what is believed, then we can
end the discussion at this point because our value systems are too
divergent for conversation.
If (as I believe) premeditated murder is the worst kind of homicide,
then Hamlet cannot be morally worse than Claudius, but only equally
evil. In fact, however, he is not.
There are five deaths directly attributable to him: that of Polonius,
Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Laertes and Claudius. We can dismiss the
latter two charges at the outset: he kills them while they are in
process of trying to kill him (which they do). The killing of Polonius
is a serious matter, but it is not "Murder One." He did not go there to
kill the old man, and gained nothing from it.
The deaths of R&G are problematic in another way: they are tools in a
plot by Claudius to murder his nephew, and Hamlet does to them what
Claudius was trying (by them) to do to him. I'm sure Shakespeare's
audience enjoyed the poetic justice, but without some stronger assurance
that R&G were in on Claudius's plot, I suspect many of them (like
Horatio, and myself for that matter) got a little queasy about it.
None of these homicides is as purely evil as the murder of King Hamlet,
however. Or so I feel. Is this judgment in dispute?
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