What If Claudius Was Innocent?

Here’s a thought that came to me over the weekend.  What if the “ghost of Hamlet’s father” really was an evil spirit that was just trying to cause trouble? What if Claudius didn’t really kill Hamlet’s father?  How would the play change?

Other than Claudius’ actual words (“a brother’s murder”), how much evidence is there that he admits to his crime?  If we snipped that bit out could he just as easily be dealing with guilt over the “crime” of marrying his brother’s wife?

More importantly, what does this do to the character of Hamlet?  We go through the entire play assuming that Hamlet is doing the right thing, and Claudius is the bad guy. What if it was reversed? What if we really didn’t know? Or, even better, what if we knew (somehow) that Claudius was innocent, and that Hamlet spends the play chasing the wrong guy?


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3 thoughts on “What If Claudius Was Innocent?

  1. I love plot hypotheticals like this. We’re taking the ghost’s word for it–and Hamlet’s word for what the ghost said, and there’s not really any investigation into whether there were other circumstances at play. Maybe Claudius and Gertrude killed Hamlet Sr. but he had it coming. Maybe H Sr. thought they killed him and was wrong. I want to see a full-length POV switch to explore it, like Wide Sargasso Sea did for Jane Eyre.

  2. Yes, and except for the fact that Macbeth and his wife murder Duncan, Banquo and the MacDuffs, maybe the two are just living a shared delusion induced by the weird sisters.

    It’s fun to play hypotheticals, but only if there’s ambiguity to play with. Saying that all we’ve got to counter the notion that Claudius murdered the king is Claudius’s admission that he murdered the king is absurd on its face. There’s no ambiguity about his confession, and we’re not taking anybody’s word for it but Claudius’s. Granted, Hamlet doesn’t hear him confessing, but we do. Why would Claudius confess and attempt to ask forgiveness for a murder he didn’t commit?

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