Comparing Shaekspeare Characters Macbeth and Claudius

The conscience is very powerful. It can either lead one in the right direction, or when ignored, can be the very cause of one’s ultimate destruction. When listened to, the conscience gives a clear evaluation of one’s current status. It will then lead one to the correct, moral decision. At this point, and there are many of these points during the course of a lifetime, one’s life can be significantly altered. One could make the conscious decision to not follow one’s conscience and therefore suffer the consequences, or listen to his conscience and reap the benefits. If one has chosen to ignore the numerous warnings by his conscience, thus will begin one’s downfall until the next point. After ignoring the conscience, it does not leave the mind. On the contrary, it stays with that person and proceeds to make the person see the wrong in the injustice he has done. The next decision made is an important one. He could realize his wrongdoing and repent, or he could allow himself to be tormented by his conscience. This torment will cause him to continue making decisions that oppose his conscience. Thus is the eternal decision by both Macbeth and Claudius. Throughout Hamlet and Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, Macbeth and Claudius experience torment by their conscience for treasonous murders committed in vain, against Duncan and Hamlet Sr., and this torment introduces them to a life of guilt and loneliness.

Macbeth visits the three weird sisters, and they predict that he will become King. What should have been a grand prediction, innocently shared with his wife, turned out to be a moment he will live to regret. Macbeth says, “If the assassination/could trammel up the consequence, and catch/with his surcease, success, that but this blow/might be the be-all and end-all here” (I, xi, 2-5). He obviously realizes that this decision, going against his own beliefs, will only bring about ill aftereffects. Macbeth can see that he will never escape this judgment; if the wrong decision is made, it will be with him eternally. More importantly though, he realizes that it is a decision, which means he “still (has) judgment here” (I, xi, 8) and therefore is not being forced to go against his conscience. Macbeth consciously decides, after being convinced by his wife, to go through with the murder. Afterwards, however, Macbeth is fearful he has made the wrong decision. “I could not say “Amen”/when they did say “God bless us!””(III, ii, 28-29). He is scared that he has gone against what is morally right, and God will never forgive him or bless him, because he is too ashamed of what he has done and does not deserve forgiveness.

After Duncan’s corpse is found, Macbeth realizes he has crossed a line, and his life can never be the same again. “Had I but died an hour before this chance/I had lived a blessed time…” (II, iii, 78-79). Macbeth says that his life was good, full of enjoyment and honor before he killed Duncan. His life before that moment was simple and now he must deal with indissoluble issues. His conscience at this moment begins to fill his mind. He analyzes all the possibilities that stem from his decision. He remembers Banquo being with him when the three weird sisters predicted his succession to the throne, and therefore, he feels that inevitably, Banquo will find out the truth. Macbeth decides to eliminate Banquo, whose posterities were predicted succeed Macbeth. He conspires to have Banquo and Fleance killed out of nervousness. He thinks he has only “scotched the snake, not killed it” (III, ii, 13) and so in order to secure his position as King, Banquo, his best friend, must be can no longer live.

Macbeth arranges for both Banquo and his son, Fleance, to be murdered. At the banquet that night, Macbeth learns that only Banquo was killed, and Fleance had run away. Aware that Fleance, still alive, has the potential to ruin his plan, Macbeth becomes “…cabined, cribbed, and confined, bound in/to saucy doubts and fears…” (III, ix, 24-25). Still, he acts jovial to cover his anxiety when Lady Macbeth speaks to him, and returns to the festivities. There, Macbeth’s mind is being tortured by his conscience because of his crimes. Once Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost, he immediately denies his involvement, telling Banquo’s ghost, “thou canst not say I did it” (III, ix, 50). He feels incredible guilt for planning the death of his best friend, and so, ashamed and in disbelief, cannot admit to Banquo what he has done. Macbeth feels that if the ghost took on “…any shape but that…” (III, ix, 102), he would not be nervous. Again, Macbeth shows his uneasiness on the throne, this time when discussing Macduff. Macduff declined his invitation to the banquet because he was in England. Macbeth is speculative of Macduff’s reasons for being in England and decides to “…keep a servant fee’d” (III, xi, 132) in Macduff’s castle to spy and make sure there are no conspiracies. Macbeth also has Macduff’s family killed so Macduff might fear going against him. This only makes Macduff incensed and full of rancor; which leads to Macbeth’s downfall.

Once more, Macbeth demonstrates to the audience his torment when he revisits the three weird sisters. He feels he must know what is to become of him. They tell him to beware of Macduff, to fear none born of a woman, and not to fear until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill. Macbeth feels at ease after hearing this advice. He has already suspected Macduff of treason, which has been confirmed. He becomes confident with the last two pieces of advice because every person is born of a woman, and he cannot understand how a forest can move. This relaxed attitude only leads Macbeth to more torment because instead of developing a plan of action, he has believed what he wanted to; that he “…shall live the lease of nature…” (IV, i, 99). Macbeth’s final torment is shown when Macduff tells him that he was “…untimely ripped” (V, xiii, 16). He tries to remain dauntless, although he knows his doom is on Maduff’s sword. Although he might have had followers in the beginning, he now fights by himself, for himself; all alone.

Claudius is very similar to Macbeth. He, too, murdered his King, Duncan, for selfish reasons, to which he also felt threatened. He addresses his country, and in his speech unnecessarily justifies his marriage to his deceased brother’s wife. “Have we…/with mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage, /in equal scale weighing delight and dole/taken to wife” (I, ii, 12-14). This shows the anticipation that someone might question his marriage. So what might seem as a diminutive, sundry comment, is actually one made by a man who has committed a heinous crime: murder. Claudius knows that Hamlet is the only person who has enough sense to actually accuse him of killing Hamlet Sr.. So when Hamlet appears to be going insane through his conversations with and letters to Ophelia, Claudius becomes suspicious. He does not lead on about this suspicion to anyone though, so he appears oblivious to Hamlet’s motive.

This all changes after the play performed at the banquet. Hamlet feels “the play’s the thing/wherein (he’ll) catch the conscience of the King” (II, ii, 633-634). So he makes the storyline of the play directly parallel to that of the murder of Hamlet Sr.. However, before the play is seen that evening, Claudius purposely overhears Hamlet and Ophelia conversing in the hall. Careful analysis of the situation leads Claudius to believe that “there’s something in his soul…and (he does) doubt the hatch and the discourse/will be some danger; which for to prevent, /(he has) in quick determination…” (III, i, 178-182). Claudius then decides that the only way he will be safe from Hamlet’s incense, is to send him to England. During the performance that night, Claudius is startled by what he sees. The character Gonzago, is murdered through poison, and then the murderer marries Gonzago’s wife. Claudius is filled with guilt and dread by what he has seen and leaves the room. After telling Guildenstern and Rosencrantz to take Hamlet to England, Claudius tries to pray. He realizes that his “stronger guilt defeats (his) strong intent” (III, iii, 44). He seeks retribution for his action committed in vain. He can see now that the initial motive for Hamlet Sr.’s murder does not at all compare with the guilt and anxiety he feels now. And although he tries to pray and ask for forgiveness, he knows that he is “still possessed of those effects for which (he) did the murder: (his) crown, (his) ambition, (his) queen” (III, iii, 57-59). He can never be purged of his sins, for he still wants the crown, the queen, and still has the ambition, yet is tormented by his conscience for wanting those still. He feels the same as he did before killing Hamlet Sr., only now he is also filled with guilt. So now he feels, considering all his emotions, that he still has a good chance to retain his crown, ambition, and the queen, and once he is rid of Hamlet, he is also rid of his guilt. In the end, Claudius is alone when Laertes says, “the King, the King’s to blame” (V, ii, 351). He is left to fend for himself against Hamlet, although he asks, “defend me friends!” (V, ii, 355). No one comes to Claudius’ rescue, and he dies, never being forgiven for his sins.

Macbeth and Claudius are very comparable. Not only by succeeding their Kings through murder, but by their motives in doing so. Macbeth was caught up in a prediction made by the three weird sisters and let his ego get the best of him. Claudius was jealous of Hamlet Sr. because he was King, and because Claudius wanted Gertrude as his wife. Once filled with the idea that it was possible for him to become King, his ambition got the best of him. After Macbeth and Claudius had killed their Kings, different events took place that led them to the same destination: death. Macbeth continued to kill out of nervousness and anxiety, and eventually his entire kingdom abhorred him and welcomed his death. Similarly, Hamlet figured out Claudius’ sin and let all the people know what was going on behind closed doors, and when Claudius died, no one was there to help him. Macbeth and Claudius, tormented by their conscience, live a life of guilt and shame, and wind up alone.





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26 June 2014