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Karla Diaz Topics in Brit. Lit. Bender How Claudius’ Greed Leads to his Downfall Throughout many literature works we have seen how ambition and greed drive characters to the peak of success or to their downfall. The true definition of ambition is “a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work,” while greed is an “intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.” In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Claudius kills his brother, the king, to attain the throne. It can be argued that his actions where ambitious or greedy but it is because his intentions are tainted by darkness that they classify as greedy. Not only does his greed overpower any other emotion, it eventually leads him to his death. Greed is a desire to have more than what is needed. Claudius was the King’s brother so we can assume he was well off financially. But, Claudius was obviously not content with his position and desired to take his brother’s place. We see this when he marries Gertrude, making incest one of the main themes in the play. To rule the kingdom Claudius had to kill his brother, but why did he marry Gertrude? Gertrude, being a woman, had less power than Claudius. There is never a clear reason given as to why they decided to marry. Many approaches could be taken. For example, Claudius decided to marry the queen to become the king. Or he married her because he wants to surrogate his brother’s place, not just as king but as husband. In act I scene ii, we see Claudius trying to fit into the role of a father for Hamlet, he asks Hamlet to stop mourning his deceased father and think of him as his new dad. Again, Claudius wants to be the old king’s replacement. However, Hamlet rejects him. It is around that point in the play that Claudius begins to plot all these schemes to kill Hamlet. If Hamlet had accepted Claudius as his new father the story might have changed. But Hamlet had too much fidelity towards his father to replace him. Claudius, though, sees Hamlet’s fidelity as rebellious, even
Karla Diaz Topics in Brit. Lit. Bender taunting. Because he could not get his nephew’s/stepson’s love and affection he decides to get rid of him. If Hamlet does not love him, then he will love nobody else. Claudius needs to feel reassurance but Hamlet does not help him feel any of that. Instead, Hamlet makes Claudius feel empty and meaningless. Greed has been often been linked with low self-esteem, habitually forcing the person who suffers from greed to seek a substitute that can fill their voids (Burton). There have even been studies that relate psychological disorders, such as Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissist Personality, to greed. Regularly, greed is related to people who have power, this can be financially, military wise, educationally, etc. The point is that it is people who have a superior positon tend to let their need for more power turn into a selfish need that eventually becomes greed (Lefty). Claudius is a clear example of this. He was born into royalty, so he has power, but he was not the first son, which means he does not get as much “power” as his older brother. We have seen how jealousy has caused a rivalry even between brothers, some of these cases involving murder. Killing a sibling to steal their power is something we continuously see with Shakespeare, like in King Lear and As You Like It. If we look even further back, we have the story of Abel and Cain. It is very common to feel jealous of a sibling. Claudius even shows a moment of weakness on Act III scene iii. When Hamlet is about to kill him in his chamber, Hamlet stops himself because Claudius is repenting of his sins. For that brief moment we glimpse at a Claudius that acknowledges that he has done wrong. He admits that killing his brother is something horrible but asks God not to take away the position of king that he has recently attained. That is when his greed returns to overpower any other feelings he could have.
Karla Diaz Topics in Brit. Lit. Bender Claudius never gets his hands dirty; any plan he has to kill Hamlet is carried out by someone else. He is a very smart character who uses his charm as good speaker to get what he wants. He convinced Gertrude to marry him, Laertes to follow his plan to kill Hamlet, and the royal court of his marriage and any other action(s) he took. Being a good speaker aids him to achieve his goal. It was not through hard work that he got the position of king. Instead he used his tools and corrupted them by using them cause deceit, murder, and other punishable sins. It’s ironic that he asks God for help, since he knows that his actions are not really approved as good. Going back to the psychological disorders, manipulation is one of the symptoms that these disorders are related to. Claudius actually “manipulat[es] others for [his] own benefit, without conscience, and often break[s] the law in the process (Lefty).” Not satisfied with committing one murder, Claudius eventually ends up killing most of the characters in the play. Of course, this was not intentional but it shows how others have suffered because of his greed. Ultimately, Claudius ends up dying due to his own wicked plan. Claudius clearly needs help but it was obviously a bit hard for him to receive any help during the time period he lived in. If the time period might of been closer to when psychological studies were being conducted, Claudius might have been a different character all together. However, this will never be the case and thanks to Hamlet we can see what greed can do to people. Claudius had no necessities but he still wanted more if he had learned to conform with what he had, or what was rightfully his, he might have had a better ending instead of his tragic end.
Karla Diaz Topics in Brit. Lit. Bender Works Cited Adler, Alfred. "Greed in Today's Society | The Unbounded Spirit." The Unbounded Spirit RSS. N.p., 09 June 2012. Web. 03 Dec. 2015. . Burton, Neel. "Is Greed Good?" Psychology Today. N.p., 6 Oct. 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2015. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201410/is-greed-good Lefty, Natural. "Greed Is a Psychological Disorder." Thom Hartmann. N.p., 14 Oct. 2010. Web. 03 Dec. 2015. http://www.thomhartmann.com/users/natural-lefty/blog/2010/10/greedpsychological-disorder Lerman, Lisa G. (2002) "The Slippery Slope from Ambition to Greed to Dishonesty: Lawyers, Money, and Professional Integrity," Hofstra Law Review: Vol. 30: Iss. 3, Article 12.