Claudius is the antagonist in Shakespeare's Hamlet, and is the main force working against Prince Hamlet, the protagonist. Claudius is the brother of the late King Hamlet who he has killed and then married his widowed wife, Gertrude. Hamlet's late father, King Hamlet was the king of Elsinore, but now Claudius has both the crown and the queen, and this does not sit well with Prince Hamlet. At the beginning of the play Hamlet is visited by the ghost of King Hamlet and is told that Claudius is responsible for the King's death and that Hamlet needs to avenge his father's murder. Claudius senses his stepson's displeasure with the situation and tries to have Hamlet killed before Hamlet has the chance to get revenge for his father's murder. In the midst of fearing Hamlet and having to deal with his own conscience Claudius must appear strong and confident in the eyes of his people.
The Prince Italian political theorist Nicolo Machiavelli stated that the strongest leaders are the ones who are able to carefully balance appearances to his benefit, strategically using them to strengthen his regime. Claudius does indeed appear at first as an ideal Machiavellian leader. However, as the play develops Claudius loses his composure, largely due to his concern over the potential threat of Hamlet. Claudius shrewdly emphasizes the contrast between his marriage and Hamlet's death, using phrases such as, "defeated joy- and "with an auspicious and dropping eye."" These carefully chosen remarks make Claudius appealing to the popular sentiment by remembering his popular brother, and on the other hand, with his celebration of his marriage, the King proves that he is ready to move on and attack his new role with vigor. Claudius further establishes himself as a leader by taking swift and decisive action. When faced with the threat of Fortinbras, Claudius takes immediate diplomatic measures, sending Cornelius and Voltemand to create an alliance with Norway.