Claudius, King of Denmark

“The Play Scene in Hamlet” by Daniel Maclise (1806-1870) Picture from:

Do I really have to get the boy killed, Claudius asked himself. He was learning to live with his demons, the voices in his head which reminded him of his foul and most unnatural crime. He did not want to be cruel again, but if needed, he would give the orders without blinking an eye. He fought cruelty by being cruel, he had to be cruel to be kind.

He remembered how it was back then. Gertrude was crying. And so was Denmark.

What if we didn’t need war? What if we could have peace instead? But it was the king who decided on the future of the country and all of its inhabitants. Old king, old rules. The great warlord, magnificent ruler of the exhausted people. He never intended to stop. He was too proud. And he was the reason they could never make peace with Norway.

And what follows is the boy. The boy who was too much like his father. He speaks of dignity and honour and Claudius was wise enough to realize that those were sometimes just synonyms for war. There was cruelty in that boy, Claudius could feel it. And sweet, frail Ophelia could feel it, too. Both he and the boy used her when it was convenient, both of them played with her young heart. Claudius was ashamed of it, using the girl for exposing the vicious boy. But he had his own love to protect.

“He’s my husband. He loves me”, Gertrude said. “I would never betray him.”

“You are not happy”, Claudius responded.

“I don’t understand you. He is your brother. Why are you saying such things? What am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know”, he said. But he knew exactly what he was supposed supposed to do. It would be his burden, not hers. She would never know, and he would suffer all his life, in silence. Break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.

After that, Gertrude was silent. There was strength in her, but there was also frailty. Each time he questioned his decision, he remembered her troubled face. It was the troubled face of all women who waited for their husbands to return home, unsure if that is ever going to happen; women who hoped for a change, but didn’t know how to pursue it; women who had no hope.

Gertrude was a woman who deserved more than what she had. It was true that her husband loved her, but Claudius was certain he could love her more. His brother was a warrior, and he was a lover.

“My dear Gertrude”, he said, by his brother’s grave, “do not weep. We shall rule together, we shall make everything even better than it was. And your son will rule after us.”

Why did Hamlet have to do such a thing? Why did he look at him with hate in his eyes, eyes which were so like the eyes of his late brother? Was it possible that Hamlet knew the truth? Those whose mind is lost often see what is invisible to the eyes of the sane. But there was method to Hamlet’s madness, and he was to blame for the horrible play. Or was it only Claudius’ guilt which made him see what wasn’t there? Conscience does make cowards of us all.

For a moment, Claudius felt ready to confess, but he knew he wasn’t entirely sorry for what he did. His brother didn’t deserve mercy, and Claudius did, or a least that was what he felt. He wanted to do good. It was him or old Hamlet, him or young Hamlet. Life or death. To be or not to be. Claudius knew prayers wouldn’t help him.

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below

Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”