Villainy and its Effects on Honour and Certainty – Hamlet Polished Critical Essay

Prompt: Discuss the ideas developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the ways in which individuals struggle to restore honour and certainty to their lives.

An antagonist often correlates directly with a classical villain – deceitful, manipulative, and power-hungry. As a society we tend to disregard that they too, struggle with being human; this struggle sends them into a spiral to restore honour to one’s name and certainty to one’s future. William Shakespeare’s works are a delicate example of this; in the fictional tragedy Hamlet, the main antagonist Claudius is a complex character, he lacks the predictability and emotions of a classical villain for he takes responsibility for his actions. Throughout the novel, the protagonist Hamlet, describes his uncle as a man who is cunning, lacks morals, and is highly manipulative, however, by labeling Claudius with these offensive phrases, it is hard for Claudius to escape these prejudices. In addition, one could argue that Hamlet is less of a hero than Claudius. Claudius chooses to own up to his actions; as opposed to Hamlet who is indecisive which ultimately and shamefully causes the “death of six innocent people”. Therefore, in  Hamlet, William Shakespeare asserts that one may be viewed with a negative connotation from previous implications, but even through the endeavour for an individual to gain redemption and ones existing redeeming qualities to move forward, these actions are not forgiven.

In moments where an individual has a blaze of certainty through acting upon ambition, it is hard for one to distinguish the future and the impact the event can hold later on; thus, neglecting their desire to gain honour and certainty. After Claudius kills his brother the late Hamlet, he reveals his mental state and reasoning by proclaiming it was for the sake of, “My crown, my own ambition, and my queen” (Shakespeare, 3.3.54-56). During his soliloquy in act three, Claudius recognizes that his “offense is rank” and “smells to heaven”; he truly reflects back on his crime and realize what horror he’s committed. During his prayer, he comes to the conclusion that since he is “still possessed/Of those effects for which I (he) did the murder”, he can not make amends with God for the fear of losing what he has gained; he is willing to endure the consequences of his actions. This scene shows how headstrong Claudius is; willing to face head on his consequences and not willing to let go the sacrifices he made. Initially, not asking for redemption or certainty, as long as he can maintain the rewards. In turn, this action to willingly choose a destructive route to reap the benefits of his action will narrow an individual’s path to restoring honour and certainty.

No matter how “unnatural”, Gertrude and Claudius were in love; this showed that Claudius was not void of emotion, rather, her was able to love back; however, this contributed towards Claudius failed attempts at restoring his honour and certainty. At the end of Act 4, Claudius explains to Laertes,

The Queen his mother

Lives almost by his looks, and for myself,

My virtue or my plague, be it either which,

She’s so conjunctive to my life and soul

That as the star moves not but in his sphere,

I could not by her (Shakespeare 4.7.11-16).

In this scene, Laertes had asked Claudius the reason as to which Claudius has not yet arrested Hamlet for the crime against Polonius. Claudius proceeds to tell him of two main reasons, one of the very reason is because Getude loves her son and Claudius loves Gertrude, to do this act would be a betrayal to her love. By using phrases such as “conjunctive to my life and soul” and “as the star moves not but in his sphere”, Claudius establishes his need for her; by using phrases that are dependent and reliant on each other, such as a life and soul, he solidified how interconnected and in love they are. Through Gertrude and Claudius’s romance, Claudius was on a small step towards redemption; Gertrude was in no way a barrier, instead she acted like a catalyst towards Claudius for she broke down his appearance and allowed his reality to shine through.

Claudius had treated Ophelia with tremendous amount of kindness and sympathy; this is what Hamlet had lacked to show; yet another example as to Claudius’s human quality. In Act 4, after Polonius’s death, Ophelia was heartbroken and devastated, after leaving the scene, Claudius speaks about his sympathy for the “poor” Ophelia:

Oh, this is the poison of deep grief. It springs

All from her father’s death, and now behold!

O Gertrude, Gertrude,

When sorrows come, they come not single spies

But in battalions. First, her father slain.

Next, your son gone, and he most violent author

Of his own just remove. The people muddied,

Thick, and unwholesome in their thoughts and whispers

For good Polonius’ death, and we have done but greenly

In hugger-mugger to inter him. Poor Ophelia

Divided from herself and her fair judgment,

Without the which we are pictures, or mere beasts (Shakespeare 4.5.49-62).

In this monologue,  Claudius expresses his sorrow towards Polonius’s death and how Ophelia had to cope with it alone, “Oh, this is the poison of deep grief. It springs/All from her father’s death, and now behold!” Later on, he addresses Gertrude about how darkness and bad news comes in “battalions” meaning that grief does not come one at a time, however it comes in waves and like an army, all at once. He then continues on about the atrocities as in how first her father was “slain” and then right after, her brother taken away. Concluding his monologue by pointing out the thief that robbed Ophelia of her own memory. It can be seen through this monologue, Claudius does indeed feel pity and sorrow towards other people’s emotions. This proves to be contrary to others high held perceptions to his “villainy”; the very title that degrades his nature. Moreover, it shows that just because an individual had committed a inhumane action, it does not mean they are incapable of feeling sympathy and sorrow, the title that we, as readers, previously place upon a villain.

Tormented by his own emotions as a result of his hideous action against his brother, Claudius struggles to establish an honorable title in others eyes, this is due to the limited knowledge others have of him. Accordingly, Claudius has many instances of  empathy, sorrow, and sympathy; from his willingness to accept the punishments of his action, Gertrude’s proving love towards him, to his sympathy for Ophelia’s misery, it can be shown that he truly is a human with qualified emotions. What makes Claudius is a villain is that he is portrayed as wrong in every action he does and it is hard for readers to distinguish this apart from his human nature, because the moment one sees another in a specific matter, it is hard to revision the image for we ourselves are afraid of change. There is simply no reason to hate Claudius for if it were not his dark presence, you would not see Hamlets light; these two characters sustain a balance between light and dark. For one without the other would cease to exist.

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5 thoughts on “Villainy and its Effects on Honour and Certainty – Hamlet Polished Critical Essay

  1. Dearest Judy,
    Fantastic work, as I have come to expect! Your essay was awesom; you offered a lot of great insight and introduced me to a perspective of the menace that is Claudius that if infrequently discussed. Thank you for your wisdom and insight – I am very greatful I loved your consistent use of the text to prove the basis of your argument as it would make it very difficult to argue, based on what you presented, that Claudius is in fact a villain. Dang, girl – keeping ’em on their toes. I loved the way you eneded your essay by touching on the necessary good and evil within people, wow! I believe the goal of an essay is generally to leave your audience with something to ponder on and by ending it like such you were able to do just that. Truly a wonderful essay.

    If I may sugget any edits it would be a quick comb through for gumps. Little things such as an “an” in the start of your essay and removing the space in “indeed” would elevate your already spectacular piece. 🙂

    Once again, great work, Judy!

    Much love,

    1. Dearest Ibukun,

      You are such a delightful individual, thank you for your support. Regarding your comment, I think it’s great that you were able to understand the ideas I was trying to convey for I have problems with that at times. Ah how I hate gumps, no matter how much I re-read, there is always a grammatical error, nevertheless, thanks for your advice, I shall go and fix it right away. Once again, thank you SO MUCh for taking your time to not only read, but comment on so many of my blogs. MUCH LOVE <3


  2. Dear Judy,

    I must say that I found your ideas very intriguing! You are certainly right in saying that readers are often blinded by the spotlight shining on Hamlet, and that we often forget Claudius’ internal struggles and his pursuit of living the life he desires, just as other human beings have done and will continue to do so. We often forget the humanity in Claudius’ actions; thanks to your post, I can certainly see Claudius in a more relatable light.

    To improve, I would suggest watching out for minor mistakes like the use of commas and semi-colons (“…his actions; as opposed to…”/”…hold later on; thus, neglecting…”), incomplete dependent clauses (“Initially, not asking for redemption or certainty, as long as he can maintain the rewards.”/”Concluding his monologue by pointing out the thief that robbed Ophelia of her own memory.”), extra words (“What makes Claudius is a villain…”), spelling (“…sees another in a specific matter…”), the lack of apostrophes in possessives (“Hamlet[‘]s”/”Claudius[‘]”), and the use of personal pronouns (“we”). Also, I would encourage you to introduce more matter to your paragraphs – perhaps you can spend more time talking about why the ideas you explore in each paragraph are important to humanity as a whole. However, your ideas are quite compelling and I truly enjoyed reading your piece nonetheless!

    I found the idea that Hamlet is less of a hero than Claudius to be very interesting. Having never studied Claudius in detail, I now see, after reading your piece, that Claudius is a flawed human being, just like all of us, and not just as Hamlet’s primary antagonist. I liked how the quotes you used demonstrated Claudius’ ability to feel emotion and a human capacity to love. This enforced his “human” side and I felt that I understood Claudius in a way I never did before. I also liked the sentence “There is simply no reason to hate Claudius for if it were not [for] his dark presence, you would not see Hamlets light,” as it expressed a truth that never occurred to me. As always, you are a brilliant writer and you allowed me to develop new and might I add, very interesting ideas! Thanks for that!

    Once again, Judy, I want to commend your brilliance as a writer. Your ideas completely intrigued me and I found Claudius to be more relatable, thanks to your piece. In light of the things I learnt from your post, it truly makes me wonder about the reality that we can all find Claudius within ourselves. Life can be filled with regret, yes, but can it not also be filled with unexplainable joy, one that comes as a result of one’s own efforts that, no matter how unconventional, is only driven by our drive to live a life acceptable to our own standards? But, those are just my thoughts. In any case, amazing work Judy!

    Ever yours,

    1. Dear Jieo,

      Thank you so much for the in-depth advice you offered! Regarding your comment on matter, I understand that sometimes I have trouble wording what the “universal truth” is, thank you for pointing that out and I shall improve on it in my future essays. In addition, in the near future, I will for sure comb through this essay with a more fine tooth comb and fix the errors that you had pointed out. I’m happy that I was at least able to show you as a reader how Claudius was just a flawed human like anyone of us.

      Thank you once again!!


  3. Dearest Judy,

    I love that you wrote your essay on Claudius and talked shined an optimistic and understanding light on his character, as this is something we hardly ever see. I know what it is like to feel that was as almost everyone knows about my obsession with Wuthering Heights and my love for the main antagonist Heathcliff. I thought that your understanding of your character was clear and I sincerely appreciate the risk you took to delve into a character other than Hamlet and Ophelia. It is the harder route but it is noticeably worth it, great job!

    As for improvements, I would recommend a sweep for grammatical gumps more than anything as it is often times that we don’t notice the weird little kinks in our actual sentence structure (something I am notoriously guilty for). Also, I would recommend that you perhaps also take a look at expending some of the ideas in each paragraph as it your say was effective as well as your mean, however we lacked the matter slightly. Having said that however I may just be saying that because I don’t totally understand Claudius’ character as much as you my love.

    Overall, this was a great essay as it was both to the point but also unique in its character choice. Like I’ve mentioned in previous comments, you are always taking risks with your choices and they are ALWAYS EFFECTIVE. BRAVO HUN!

    With love,

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