The character of Claudius, in Shakespeare's "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark," is a great example of a Machiavellian character. In the events preceding the play, Claudius is the brother to old Hamlet, the King of Denmark, and stepbrother to Queen Gertrude. He is also young Hamlet's uncle. Claudius, unhappy with his current station takes it upon himself to murder King Hamlet and usurp his throne. He marries Gertrude, becoming the new King of Denmark, and father-in-law to young Hamlet. In doing this, he has followed the golden rule set forth by Machiavelli. In his book "The Prince," he states that the ultimate goal of any ruler is to obtain and keep power by any and all means necessary. Unfortunately, after Claudius gains his power, he does a poor job of holding on to it, which eventually results in his demise.
At the onset of the play, Claudius has taken the crown as his own. The murder of King Hamlet is detailed to Prince Hamlet by the ghost of his father, and through this, Hamlet is made an enemy of Claudius. The act of murder, however, was not enough for Claudius to take the throne, as Hamlet is the rightful heir, so Claudius married Gertrude. Through this marriage, the throne became his. The situation was ideal for the public as well, because Claudius was brother to the dead King and an experienced leader, in addition to the marriage. Claudius' kingship was warmly greeted at court, as he had set it up as a reprieve from the sadness over the old King's death. He gives a speech at court that includes the lines "Though yet of Hamlet our late brother's death / The memory be green." This is a great example of the mastery over language that Claudius displays in the play. In these lines, he combines the idea of death and decay with those of greenery, growth, and renewal. He makes a sly comment on the passing of the old King and the decay with it, and the renewal brought by his taking of the throne. He commits a terrible act to secure the throne, but then balances it with a joyful act that aids him in securing the people's admiration.
Machiavelli mentions in his book that "â€¦ there are fewer difficulties in holding hereditary states, and those long accustomed to the family of their prince â€¦" (Machiavelli, 3). Claudius has secured the throne, but not entirely secured the people. They are happy for the moment to have him on the throne, as he is related by blood, but he still needs some act to tie the people to him. To gain the support of his people, Claudius sends messengers to Norway to make peaceful negotiations with Fortinbras, who was previously at war with Denmark. This act shows the people that Claudius is a capable leader, and strong as well. In the manner of a Machiavellian character, Claudius has obtained power, and is now taking measures to retain it.
Soon after these events, Claudius makes his first major mistake, according to Machiavelli's teachings. He decides that Hamlet should stay in Denmark, instead of returning to his previous location in Wittenberg, where he was studying. This is a mistake because Hamlet is the rightful heir to the throne, and despite his apparent lack of interest, he is a threat to Claudius' power. Claudius attempts to make Hamlet think of him as a father figure, and tries to win him over with affection. It is only when Hamlet refuses that Claudius decides that he must die. Machiavelli would state that Claudius should have killed Hamlet from the start, and if not that, sent him far away, never to return. Despite this, Claudius keeps Hamlet in Denmark. Once Hamlet learns of the old King's murder at the hands of his uncle, he becomes a true enemy to Claudius.
Claudius expresses knowledge that he should kill Hamlet, but hesitates, stating that Gertrude would be upset with him. Throughout the play, Claudius wavers in his efforts to hold on to his power, and his throne. Several times, he experiences momentary weakness, only to steel his reserve and continue on with his plans. Eventually, he makes the decision to have Hamlet killed, as he has become too great a threat. After Hamlet kills Polonius, Claudius and Laertes concoct a plan to be rid of Hamlet. A fencing match is arranged between Hamlet and Laertes, wherein Laertes will fight with a poisoned blade. In the event that the blade does not kill Hamlet, Claudius has a goblet of wine poisoned, which will be given to Hamlet during the match. When Claudius takes the planning of Hamlet's demise into his own hands, he is acting as a true Machiavellian character should. Machiavelli stated that a person in power cannot rely on those around him to accomplish his goals. Rather, he must rely only on his own skills, using others when it suits the situation.
Another way that Claudius proves to be a Machiavellian character is through his use of spies. He does this a few times throughout the play; each to great effect. The first time we see this is in Act 2, scene 2, when he summons Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to his rooms. The two are childhood friends of Hamlet, and so the king thinks to use them to spy on him. He tells them about Hamlet's melancholy mood, and asks that they remain near him to try to find out what is ailing him. The real reason behind this, of course, is for Claudius to figure out if Hamlet knows about the murder of his father. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern show up from time to time for the remainder of the play, and always appear by the King's side.
This plan works well, until Claudius decides to send Hamlet to England. He intends to have Hamlet killed when he gets off the ship. Claudius instructs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to accompany Hamlet, although there is no mention of whether or not they are aware of Hamlet's impending fate. Unfortunately for Claudius, Hamlet discovers his treachery and changes the letter to instead instruct Rosen