The Unprincipled Family
The dangerous relationship of Claudius, the king, and Hamlet, the king’s nephew and stepson, contain two elements that are pervasive enough to categorize it as such. Treachery and paranoia are those traits.
Treachery is one of the basic unprinciples of the relationship, as is shown in the scene of the fencing match and the planning that goes around it. In a scene that relates to the planning of the match itself, the king and Laertes, a man whose family is dead because of Hamlet, have plotted the death of Hamlet through various things. All of which are to happen to Hamlet in the course of the match:
King.”And wager on your heads. He, being remiss,
Most generous, and free from all contriving,
Will not peruse the foils, so that with ease,
Or with a little shuffling, you may choose
A sword unbated, and, in a pass of practice,
Requite him for your father.
Laertes.I will do’t
And for that purpose I’ll anoint my sword.
I bought an unction of a mountebank,
So mortal that, but dip a knife in it,
Where it draws blood, no cataplasm so rare,
Collected from all simples that have virtue
Under the moon, can save the thing from death
That is but scratched withal. I’ll tough my point
With this contagion, that, if I gall him slightly,
It may be death.”(IV, vii, 134-148)
So in fact, within this quote there are two foul plans, the use of an unbated ‘ foil, which is more than technically cheating in a fencing match, but then, adding insult, the use of a poison tipped foil. With the use of contagion’ and the unbated’ foil, Claudius and Laertes are making sure that they win. This is still not enough for them, however they move on to another backup scheme to win: a poisoned chalice:
King.”When in your motion you are hot and dry-
As make your bouts more violent to that end-
And that he calls for a drink, I’ll have prepared him
A chalice for the nonce, whereon but sipping,
Our purpose may hold there. -“(IV, vii, 157-162)
Claudius introduces a poisoned chalice, which, as the third option, or in better terms, the third method is used to kill Hamlet. After being stabbed by Hamlet, Laertes, in his final breaths pronounces the treachery of the king:
Laertes.”The treacherous instrument is in thy hand,
Unbated and envenomed. The foul practice
Hath turned itself on me. Lo, here I lie,
Never to rise again. Thy mother’s poisoned
I can do no more. The King, the King’s to blame.”(V, ii, 317-321)
As Laertes states quite bluntly, the king is to blame. Claudius indirectly causes the deaths of almost everyone in the area of the match (fig.1)
But that is not all. Claudius proves himself not only conniving, but also extremely paranoid. He believes (rightly) that Hamlet is out to get him. But even realizing that, he takes extreme measures. For example, in Act 3, scene 3, he dispatches Hamlet to England, with the ever-present Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Notably, he Hamlet has done nothing to Claudius at this point; he hasn’t fought, talked harshly, or abused him in any way. Apparently that does not matter to Mr. Guilty-Conscience , a.k.a. Claudius, who ships him off at the first sign of trouble (madness ):
King.I like him not, nor stands it safe with us
To let his madness range. Therefore prepare you.
I your commission will forthwith dispatch,
And he to England shall along with you.
The terms of our estate may not endure
Hazard so near’s as doth hourly grow
Out of his brows (III, iii, 1-7)
Essentially Claudius is saying, “He’s nuts! Take him away (from me!)” Specifically Claudius states that he does not like the madness’ that Hamlet expresses, and as the only logical recourse’ is to send Hamlet away. Even if the previous quote is too general he states it again, “to this speedy voyage”(III, iii, 24) another stage to his paranoia is the fact that he spies on (III, i), or has Polonius (III, iv) spy on Hamlet. The conspiracy theories finally add up until the only way he knows Hamlet’s out of the way is to order him killed in secret and in seclusion from Denmark (in England). This instance is best shown by the events told by Hamlet to Horatio:
Hamlet.Up from my cabin,
My sea gown scarfed about me, in the dark
Groped I to find out them, had my desire,
Fingered their packet, and in fine withdrew
To mine own room again, making so bold,
My fears forgetting manners, to unseal
Their grand commission; where I found, Horatio-
Ah, royal knavery! -an exact command,
Larded with many several sorts of reasons,
Importing Denmark’s health, and England’s too,
With, ho, such bugs and goblins in my life,
That on the supervise, no leisure bated,
No, not to stay the grinding of the ax,
My head should be struck off. (V, ii, 12-24)
Essentially, the king had Hamlet sent to England, but on arrival wanted him killed. After this quote came the fencing match. Again the excess planning was given through the paranoiac delusions of the King.
As Hamlet and Claudius’ relationship progressed, the dangerous situations increased both in intensity (a progression to violence, madness) thorough confrontations, and in number. By the end of the play, their arguments become more evident as one conversation relating to the conflict happens at least once a scene. The treachery and paranoia state that danger shows the power of the most evident relationship in the play.