“‘Forgive me my foul murder’! That cannot be; since I am still possess’d of those effects for which I did murder-.” (III.ii.52-6) The hypocritical Claudius proclaims the aforementioned prayer, but is Claudius’ prayer superficial? Shakespeare’s Hamlet is teeming with deceit, incest, and hypocrisy; all of which are clearly portrayed through Claudius. Shakespeare obscures Claudius’ sinister characteristics through hypocrisy, but as the play develops, Claudius’ Mephistophelian nature becomes evident.
In the early acts of Hamlet, there is no direct evidence of Claudius’ villainy.
Claudius’ first appearance depicts him giving a speech to Queen Gertrude, Hamlet, Polonius, and other attendants. Claudius explains, “Though yet of Hamlet our
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Joseph Bertram recognizes Claudius’ false remorse and sincerity and says, “To look at him no one would imagine the foul crimes of which he is guilty, the murder of a brother, and the filthy, animal sin of incest. Not the mark of Cain, but a clear conscience seems to show itself on Claudius’ brow; he seems to emanate health and brightness of soul, and a gracious spirit of nobility. And yet as he wrote the play, Shakespeare, even as he imagined Claudius seeming so splendid, had also imagined him guilty at the very moment of two horrid, ugly crimes.” (Bertram 140) Although the audience is currently unaware, Shakespeare begins the chronological revealing of Claudius’ evil nature with his hypocrisy.
As the play continues, the audience becomes more aware of Claudius’ malicious nature.
Horatio and Marcellus have previously seen the apparition, whom they believe resembles King Hamlet. Horatio notifies Hamlet of their findings and urges Hamlet to go on watch with Marcellus and him. Horatio spots the ghosts and exclaims, “Look, my lord, it comes.” (21) The Ghost and Hamlet engage in dialogue and the Ghost admits, “I am thy father’s spirit.” (23) The Ghost reveals, “A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark is by a forged