Claudius is Old Hamlet’s brother, uncle to Hamlet, and the present King of Denmark. He murdered the latter out of love or lust for Gertrude and the crown.
Where his brother was a warrior, Claudius prefers diplomacy to resolve international situations, just as he prefers poison to the sword. He is voluble and his language seductive and convincing. He also knows how to delegate, whether it be having Norway restrain Fortinbras, England execute Hamlet, or Laertes murder the prince when England fails. He and his chief minister spy a great deal, and his personal guards are mercenaries. His conscience is guilt-stricken by his brother’s murder, but he cannot bring himself to genuine repentance due to his unwillingness to give up all the things it brought him. He drinks a great deal and engages in many public displays of affection with Gertrude. He is not over-loved by the people, for fear of whom he dare not publically move against Hamlet, and who are easily roused to rebellion by Laertes. He pities Ophelia and likes Polonius, and is besotted with his queen. He orders that Ophelia be buried with ceremony instead of as a suicide. Though at first convinced of Hamlet’s madness, he is soon suspicious of the young man, realizes that the prince is somehow aware of his guilt, and begins to plot his death.