Claudius Soliloquy Essay

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In literature, characters are often portrayed as pure good or as pure evil, with few shades of complexity. Shakespeare, however, defies this paradigm by creating a host of complex, multidimensional characters, wherein villains and heroes possess equal depth. In Hamlet, Claudius is primarily a malevolent king, guilty of fratricide, regicide, adultery, and incest. Though Claudius’ offences are grave, Shakespeare employs his guilt-ridden soliloquy in Act III, scene iii to add dimension to his character, ultimately rendering Claudius more human in the eyes of the audience. As the soliloquy begins, Claudius perceives the grievous nature of his crimes and expresses desire for divine absolution. His use of olfactory imagery to describe his “rank” offence which “smells to heaven” [III, iii, 37] reveals his knowledge of his own corruption, while his Biblical allusion to the “primal eldest curse” [III, iii, 38] of the sin of fratricide illuminates his recognition of the magnitude of his brother’s murder. He nonetheless expresses hope that there is “rain enough…show more content…
Claudius is not able to pray for forgiveness, because his “stronger guilt defeats [his] strong intent” [III, iii, 41]. He realizes that he cannot be forgiven his “foul murder”, for he is still in possession of his crown and of his queen, the “effects for which [he] did the murder” [III, iii, 55]. Though Claudius’ “words fly up”, his prayers are not supported by genuine penitence, and his thoughts therefore “remain below” [III, iii, 98]. Despite his calling upon angels for help, Claudius knows that his prayers will remain unheard, as “words without thoughts never to heaven go” [III, iii, 99]. Though Claudius’ reflections on his guilt as he struggles with his conscience add depth to his character, his prayers are insincere and he is ultimately unable to attain absolution through

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