Contrasting Claudius And Macbeth Essay, Research Paper
One Author: Two Tragedies: Two Very Different Murderers
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth are both classic tragedies. Each tragedy’s list of characters contains an ambition-driven murderer: Hamlet, Claudius and Macbeth, Macbeth. On the surface, both characters seem alike in their murderous appetite for the coveted throne. However, a closer analysis reveals that Claudius and Macbeth differ in their characters, personality, and behavior.
Both Claudius and Macbeth create their problems (and eventual downfall) when they commit murder. However, their methods for dealing with their conflicts are opposite. The difference in character is evident by their contrasting ways of dealing with adversity. After Macbeth murders King Duncan, he realizes that the guards of the King’s bedchamber are key witnesses. As a result, Macbeth instinctively kills the guards in an attempt to conceal his crime. Macbeth’s character is again revealed when Macbeth plots to have Banquo and Fleance killed because he sees them as a threat to his throne. Macbeth’s actions confirm that he has no integrity. He cannot take responsibility for his mistakes. Instead, he tries to escape the consequences of his crime by committing more crimes. Claudius deals with his problems differently than Macbeth. Claudius does not kill Hamlet because he knows of Claudius’s crime. Claudius even has the opportunity to jail Hamlet when he kills Polonius, but Claudius doesn’t. Instead, Claudius exiles Hamlet and sends two diplomats with him. Unlike Macbeth, Claudius does not murder without a motive; he does not murder to avoid the consequences of his actions. Claudius has integrity, and he is responsible and rational.
Personality is another distinction between Claudius and Macbeth. Claudius is independent and self-confident. The concept for the murder is his own, and he commits this crime without an accomplice. At no time does Claudius feel guilty for his crime. On the contrary, Macbeth is jumpy, rash, and easily persuaded. Macbeth is nervous and unsure about the crime he is about to commit, but Lady Macbeth persuades him to follow through with the plan. He is “too full of the milk of human kindness” (I, v) to commit murder by himself (Cliff). Therefore, Lady Macbeth must “pour spirits in thine ear” (I, v). Unlike Claudius, Macbeth does not use his own judgement. Instead, he is dependent upon Lady Macbeth to decide his actions.
Although Claudius and Macbeth are both murderers, their methods of murder (and their general behaviors) contrast. Macbeth stabs King Duncan and his guards. Claudius pours poison in King Hamlet’s ear. Furthermore, Macbeth behaves with regard to the advice of others. Not only does Macbeth heed the advice of Lady Macbeth, but he also behaves according to the prophecies given by the three Witches. Because the Witches inform Macbeth that he is to become king, he becomes anxious and cannot wait any longer to become king. As a result, he is overcome with greed and murders King Duncan in order to satisfy his desire for the throne. Macbeth also behaves foolishly when he overconfidently engages in a sword fight with Macduff. Macbeth believes that he is in no danger because an apparition informed him that he would not be killed by a man “of woman born” (IV, i). Macbeth behaves spontaneously, with so much trust in the word of others that he takes no time to rationalize for himself. Claudius, on the other hand, behaves thoughtfully, and does not need the advice of others to determine his actions. Unlike Macbeth, Claudius has neither an accomplice nor an advisor.
Ambitious murder is virtually the only similarity between Claudius and Macbeth. They are distinct in their characters, personality, and behavior. These differences become evident through their actions. Claudius is a responsible, thoughtful man with integrity, while Macbeth is a careless, spontaneous man who is easily persuaded.