Love or Ambition:
The Plutonic Pursuit of Claudius, Callimaco, and Hamlet
Humanism is the reflection of the qualities pertaining to being human, for better or for worse. Throughout the books: Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike, Mandragola by Niccolo Machiavelli, and Hamlet by William Shakespeare, various human conditions are seen, especially those related to personal ambition. In analyzing the three primary male characters in each of these works and their plutonic pursuit of women, one can ascertain that their intentions are not virtuous, striving to obtain the woman’s favor out of an unconditional love that they hold for them, but rather their pursuit is fueled primarily by the pursuit itself and the prize to be won at the end of their trials. Through justification and by methods which give little to no concern for others, these three lead characters will do almost anything to obtain the object which will make their vain pursuit successful.
In the book Gertrude and Claudius by William Shakespeare, Claudius is hopelessly drawn to his brother’s wife Gertrude who is also the queen of Denmark. Claudius and Gertrude’s relational beginnings are of a seemingly innocent nature, being founded upon good discourse, whereas Gertrude doesn’t possess any plans to have a more intimate relationship with Claudius beyond friendship and has no desire to be unfaithful to her husband. For many years, Claudius attempts to hold back his desire for Gertrude knowing that she is his brother’s wife and is therefore unattainable in both terms of practicality and righteousness. Claudius travels to foreign lands for long periods of time, placing great distances between him and Gertrude, perhaps in part because he fears that he will act upon his feelings if they are too close. But eventually when Claudius is older, he begins to lean more heavily toward the idea of pursuing Gertrude and eventually surrenders to his desires as he attempts to use all of his efforts to obtain her for himself.
Claudius uses several methods to win Gertrude over to him. He attempts to seduce Gertrude with words of his affection for her. He uses the unhappiness that Gertrude has in her relationship with Horwendile to strengthen and justify his own cause. He also showers Gertrude with gifts and even has many tucked away in case if they are needed for the sole purpose of obtaining her affection, as Claudius admits, “Toward the bottom, beneath layers of folded silks and worked leather and carvings of ivory and cedar - reserved treasures had his wooing of Geruthe (Gertrude) needed them” (Updike, p.154). Eventually Claudius’ tactics are successful as he and Gertrude commit adultery together. Meanwhile, the two possess little to no concern as to where their relationship can possibly go as they attempt to conceal their engagements from the world.
Giving into the sinfulness of an intimate relationship with an already married woman and ignoring the consequences of his actions for both their lives, Claudius’ pursuit of Gertrude doesn’t appear to derive from his long time love of her as he proclaims to Gertrude, “…I live only in your company. The rest is performance” (Updike, p.92). Claudius justifies his actions by using the jealousy and hatred that he holds for his brother as well as the idea that love is greater than the laws of marriage. This can be seen when Gertrude remarks, “This is sin.” Claudius responds, “Not by the laws of love” (Updike, p.90).
Once Claudius’ prize is won, he does not wish to cease their engagements, and the inevitable consequences for their actions are realized as Horwendile discovers their love affair and reveals to Claudius of how he will discipline them. Claudius, unwilling to take responsibility and punishment for his immoral deeds as well as the pain that he has forced his brother to bear, decides to slay his brother as an alternative while hiding the entire ordeal from Gertrude. Claudius’ shallow drive for Gertrude is further...
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