|“||What if this cursed hand were thicker than itself with brother's blood - Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens to wash it white with snow.||„|
|~ King Claudius|
King Claudius (also simply known as Claudius, but only directly referred to as The King in the play) is the main antagonist of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet and its film adaptations. He is the King of Denmark, brother of King Hamlet, second husband to Queen Gertrude, and uncle to Prince Hamlet (the hero of the story). He murders his brother in order to usurp the throne and marry his former sister-in-law Gertrude; Prince Hamlet learns of his uncle's treachery and vows revenge, setting the play in motion.
In the Play
Claudius first appears discussing Hamlet's depression and an imminent Norwegian invasion led by Prince Fortinbras (whose father King Fortinbras was slain in battle by King Hamlet). That night, the ghost of King Hamlet tells Hamlet that Claudius killed him by pouring poison in his ear in order to marry Gertrude and claim the throne.
In order to ensure that no one is suspecting that he is planning to avenge his father's death by killing Claudius, Hamlet pretends to act crazy, but this leads Claudius to have two of Hamlet's closest friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to secretly spy on Hamlet. When Hamlet commissioned a play based on the events of King Hamlet's murder, Claudius (who was watching the scene) walks away from the room, providing proof of his guilt behind the murder of King Hamlet.
Taking refuge in a church, Claudius prays for forgiveness while Hamlet eavesdrops, planning to kill him from behind. However, Hamlet cannot bear himself to do it, unwilling to send his uncle to Heaven, so he takes out his rage toward Gertrude for marrying Claudius. However, this leads to the death of Claudius' adviser Polonius, who was accidentally stabbed by Hamlet while he was spying on him and Gertrude. Upon learning of Polonius' death, Claudius decides to banish Hamlet to England and secretly plots to have him executed by the King of England.
However, this was foiled as Hamlet returned back to Denmark (thanks to some pirates who treated him with respect), having gotten Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be sent to their execution in England as punishment for their treachery against him. Claudius then decides to take action by arranging a swordfight between Hamlet and Polonius' son Laertes, who is bent on avenging his father and his sister Ophelia, who previously committed suicide after being forsaken of her love for Hamlet. As part of the plan, Laertes tips his sword with poison while Claudius puts the same poison on a wine cup as a token of congratulation in case that fails. Around the same time, Prince Fortinbras arrives to lead an invasion against Denmark with his army, hoping to avenge his father by taking control of the Danish throne.
During the sword-fight between Hamlet and Laertes, Claudius watches as Laertes strikes Hamlet with the poisoned blade, and in the scuffle, they switched blades and Hamlet strikes Laertes with the same blade. However, things get out of hand when Gertrude accidentally drinks the poisoned wine and succumbs to her death, much to everyone's horror (including Claudius, who is now wracked with extreme remorse for this). Finally realizing that things have gone out of hand and that he has been used, a remorseful Laertes reconciles with Hamlet and reveals Claudius' plot. This motivates a furious Hamlet to kill Claudius by stabbing him in the back with the poisoned blade and forcing him to drink the poisoned wine to avenge his parents' deaths.
Following Claudius' death, Hamlet and Laertes succumb to their deaths, and in his final words, Hamlet announces Prince Fortinbras as the new successor to the throne. Upon arriving with his forces and learning about the events from Hamlet's friend Horatio, Prince Fortinbras (declaring himself the new King) orders for Hamlet to be buried with full honors.
He has been portrayed by several actors over the years, including:
- The late Nikolai Massalitinov in the first adaptation known, in the Moscow Art Theatre production of Hamlet (1911–1912).
- The late Eduard von Winterstein in the 1921 film.
- The late Basil Sydney in the 1948 film.
- Anthony Hopkins (who also portrayed Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Red Dragon, Edward Bailey in Red 2, Sir John Talbot in The Wolfman, and Ted Crawford in Fracture) in the 1969 film.
- The late Alan Bates (who also played Richard Dressler in The Sum of All Fears) in the 1990 film.
- Derek Jacobi in the 1996 film.
- Kyle MacLachlan (who also played Cliff Vadercave in The Flintstones, Calvin L. Johnson in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Donald Love in Grand Theft Auto III, Isaac Izzard in The House with the Clock in its Walls, Earl Raymond Diggs in Tales From the Crypt, and Dale Cooper's doppleganger in Twin Peaks) in the 2000 film.
- Patrick Stewart (who also played Dr. Jonas in Conspiracy Theory, Nettlebrand in Dragonrider, Rafe Bentley in Masterminds, Pharaoh Seti I in The Prince of Egypt, King Goobot in Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, John Bosley in Charlie’s Angels, Darcy Banker in Green Room, Zobek in the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow games, Locutus in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Director Avery Bullock in American Dad!) in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2008 filmed stage play.
- Clive Owen (who also played the Professor in The Bourne Identity, Clayton Verris in Gemini, and Commander Arun Filitt in Valerian and the City of 1000 Suns) in Ophelia.
- Claudius is the inspiration for Scar in The Lion King; Both are brothers to a king and uncles of the main character, succeed in killing their brothers in order to take over, and try to kill their nephews, just to make sure they do not take over. However, unlike Claudius (who marries Gertrude to obtain the throne and expresses dear remorse for killing his brother), Scar does not marry his sister-in-law Sarabi and holds no guilt over killing his brother.
- Claudius is also the inspiration for Miraz in The Chronicles of Narnia and Sir Edgar in Ella Enchanted.
- He is also the inspiration for the Disney version of Hades. Both are brothers to a king and uncles of the main character and try to take over their home.