Hamlet by William Shakespeare

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So Hamlet is a play ‘much concerned with death,’ but its complex debates on this theme can only be fully understood in the context of its hero’s mental state: until he cures his ‘sore distraction’ by revenging himself on his mother, all the reasoning in the world cannot make him the avenger of his father.


CLAUDIUS. Claudius’ importance in the play is immediately evident from the family tree of the Danish royals:
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(The Ghost) |
Young HAMLET (The hero of the play)

Before the play begins, Old Hamlet is King of Denmark and Young Hamlet is studying at the University of Wittenberg. Claudius, his brother, falls in love with Gertrude, the Queen, and seduces her into adultery. Then, ambitious for the throne, he poisons Old Hamlet through his ear cavity, claiming that the King has been stung by a serpent. Claudius speedily manages to get himself crowned king and marries Gertrude out of love. Although Hamlet is clearly of age to succeed his father, Denmark was an elective monarchy in Shakespeare’s day. This idea comes as a surprise to members of a modern audience (the papacy is the only surviving elective monarchy), but would have been much more familiar to contemporary Elizabethans. With Young Hamlet away in Wittenberg, Claudius presumably used his influence among the small band of aristocrats able to elect the king to get himself chosen, perhaps on the grounds of age and experience. Hamlet says, right at the end of the play, that Claudius ‘Popp’d in between th’election and my hopes’ (V.ii.65), and this is the sole reference in the text to these critical events. With Hamlet back in Denmark at the beginning of the play, Claudius refuses him permission to return to Wittenberg, and keeps a closer and closer eye on this potentially dangerous rival, whose behaviour becomes more and more suspicious and extreme. Finally, after Hamlet accidentally kills Claudius’ chief minister Polonius (clearly imagining that it was really the king he was dispatching), Claudius arranges for Hamlet’s murder under the cover of an embassy to England. On Hamlet’s return unharmed, Claudius plots with Polonius’ son Laertes to murder Hamlet, but the plot backfires and both meet their death.

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William Shakespeare
the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

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The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul