Why not King Hamlet

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Why was Hamlet not crowned king when his father died? Why was Claudius named king?

-- (NKovall@aol.com), February 03, 2000


This is actually a very interesting question because that's what I used to think too, my knowledge of Danish royalty & succession about nil. According to the trusty Arden Hamlet, "the succession by a king's brother rather than his son was permitted by the system of an elective monarchy, which Denmark in fact had". So actually, Claudius was a rightful successor to the throne *and* he had to have the public's support too. I think it's rather confusing, then, to hear Claudius labeled as a "usurper"...which he isn't. Even Hamlet doesn't dispute this until after he's discovered C's villainy. Note that his first soliloquy ("too too solid flesh") is all about his mother and not about C's right to the thone or even an assertion that Hamlet himself should be king. It is only later on that we get "[Gertrude's] precedent lord, a vice of kings...that from a shelf the precious diadem stole..."(III,iv,97-100) and "popp'd in between th'election and my hopes"(V,ii,65).

Another interesting quote from the Arden edition is this: "What is clear is that Claudius became king before taking [Gertrude] 'to wife' but consolidated his position by a prudent marriage." I'd like to know where it's "clear" that that is the case?

-- Virginia (vleong@attglobal.net), February 04, 2000.

Good question, Virginia. Well, in Branagh's Hamlet, you remember that the first time we see Claudius and Gertrude is the wedding ceremony (or just after the actual ceremony). Here it is apparent that Claudius has already been crowned king. Who knows for how long? Hamlet says that his dad has been dead for not quite two months. What's the lag-time between kings? Not long, I should think. And, of course, you're right about Hamlet being much more bummed about the wedding than the coronation (although that is also upsetting, but only in comparison to his father rather than what kind of king Hamlet himself might have been). So, yeah, I'd say that he's probably been king for a little while before the wedding.

-- mikken (mikken@neo.rr.com), February 04, 2000.

Wow! It was my question either. In my opinion, King and Queen must be husband and wife. Hamlet could become a King, if he is married. Gertude married Cladius because she wanted to keep the power with her. Gertude had no other choices to keep the power with her. May be, she did not know her husband was murdered.

-- jeyaseelan jeyarajah (jagan24@hotmail.com), April 07, 2001.

It is precisely because of Claudius' villainy that he is a usurper: he killed the rightful king so that he could get the throne. And he must therefore have been fairly sure he would get it, whether through fixing the election or because of young Hamlet's youth and/or absence at university. Once the villainy is clear, it is clear that he is a usurper.

The time frame of the play is indeed elusive. Some clues:

I.ii.138 Old Hamlet has been dead "not two" months

I.ii.145-148 and153-156 Gertrude has married Claudius "within a month ... a little minth" since the funeral

So, Old Hamlet dies. Not quite a month passes and Gertrude marries Claudius. But it possibly doesn't take that long for Claudius to be made king, though we don't know for sure.

Then, it is possible that a few more weeks pass before we get to I.ii, so that Hamlet can think it is two months since his father died and then realize that it's " not so much, not two" yet. But the problem here is that because Claudius is announcing the occurrence of the marriage in I.ii, it seems as though the marriage has only just occurred. Perhaps this is a bit of dramatic license: we need to know that they are married. Or perhaps WS, as he seems to do so often in the plays, is deliberately confusing our sense of time's reality, increasing the fanciful theatricality of the play.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), December 05, 2001.

I also knew very little about the Danish system of succession, and have puzzled this question for a time. However without the knowledge of the Danish order of royal succession I had a few theories. One is the issue of prudence: when King Hamlet dies, his son is absent at university. The news of the death and the return of Hamlet would both take some time, distances being greater without aeroplanes etc. So in the interests of prudence a new ruler for the Kingdom of Denmark would have to be named; of course, Claudius was on hand to take over... Aside from this, I also considered the war-like principal of the state. We know that Hamlet's father fought a duel with the King of Norway in which each party staked their entire kingdom on the outcome. The King of Norway, the old Fortinbras, lost the duel, his life, and his kingdom: his son was disinherited by this rather random incident. If entire kingdoms can change hands as easily as this, it seems hardly surprising that Claudius was able to make good his usurpation and ascend the throne, with very little issue being made.

-- Ms E Bull (elb110@orange.net), January 24, 2003.

hamlet was not named king becuz gertrude ahd sexual relations with king hamlet b4 marriage.. which caused hamlet to be born.. this is why hes not king..he was a bastard

-- josh fishr (hamlet45@hotmail.com), December 16, 2003.

What proof do you have that Hamlet was a bastard? Can you refer to the text? But he's still the heir to the throne, so I don't know that it would make a difference even if he was.

-- Lisa (asilchamberlin@hotmail.com), February 02, 2004.

Anyhow, Claudius is a bigger bastard.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@fastmail.com.au), February 02, 2004.

I think Claudius is a really likeable chap.

-- Patrick Walker (the_right_hand_of_doom@msn.com), February 03, 2004.

Yeah, well your email address is 'the right hand of doom ...'. Need I say more?

Although, Gertrude likes him too for a while. He certainly has some likeable traits. But he's still a bigger bastard than Hamlet.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@fastmail.com.au), February 03, 2004.

Well, Gertrude liking Claudius is irrelevant. She's not too "ethical" of a character either.

-- Matt (ljossberir@hotmail.com), December 21, 2004.

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