Hamlet closed a couple months ago, but I'm still thinking about it. We published our abridgement of the script, and there's been a little interest in that from other producers. Whether anyone uses our script for their production remains to be seen. Even abridged, the play is still in the public domain, so there are no royalties from using our version. The best we can hope for is that other producers will buy multiple copies of the script for their casts. Public domain or not, it's still illegal to photocopy the published version.
I still think a little about Claudius' character. Even now, I really don't see him as being particularly evil. He murdered his brother, which hardly qualifies him as a saint, but aside from that he doesn't seem such a bad sort. Not until he starts plotting with Laertes to kill Hamlet, and even then there's an obvious self-defence element involved.
One of his last comments about Hamlet is during the climactic duel, when he leans over and tells his wife, "Our son will win." This is a universal part of his character. He consistently, from the first, refers to Hamlet not as his nephew, but as his son. Even leaving out the very real possibility that he actually is Hamlet's father, for we really have no idea just how long the affair with Gertrude preceded her widowhood and remarriage, this is an attitude you'd expect in a step-father who genuinely wanted to include his wife's children as members of his own family. It's only when Hamlet is doing things that cause trouble, such as killing Polonius, that Claudius refers to him as "your son." He never refers to himself to Hamlet as anything other than his father.
Honestly, Hamlet is rather a problem child. He's 30 years old and still in school, hardly a sign of the sort of maturity you'd expect in a prospective king. To my way of thinking—and, naturally enough, that way of thinking informed my performance—Claudius wanted to be king, but that political ambition was always secondary to his passion for his brother's wife. More than anything else, he wanted Gertrude. The fact that he became king may very well have been because the Danish council felt that Hamlet still wasn't ready.
Is Claudius a good king? Mostly, I think, yes. Shakespeare contrasts him a bit unfavorably with his brother. Old King Hamlet was a man of action, a consummate soldier, and Claudius apparently isn't. Still, where old Hamlet would have raised his own army and engaged young Fortinbras in pitched battle, at the cost of who knows how many killed, Claudius averts the whole issue through diplomatic channels. Kenneth Brannagh's violent cinematic climax aside, there's really nothing in the script that suggests young Fortinbras still has designs on Denmark beyond being allowed to move his army through Danish territory to get at Poland.
When the play begins, Claudius seems to have everything he wants. He's just married Gertrude, he's been confirmed as king, and he has no reason to expect that the ambassadors he's sending to old Norway won't succeed in averting war (though he's preparing for it, just in case)(and in our version he isn't sending the ambassadors, because the whole Fortinbras subplot is gone). The only real annoyance is Hamlet, and while he could obviously temporarily eliminate that problem by letting him go back to college, he'd prefer to keep him around. He's not worried that the young man will cause problems, really. Hamlet's only beef with him is that he's married his mother. He can work through that. His wife is likely past the age where she can have more children, so Hamlet is the heir. Even if Claudius wants to get rid of him, and there's nothing to suggest he does, he needs him.
Once Polonius is dead, and the circumstances make it obvious that Hamlet thought it was the king behind the arras, it all changes. Claudius was already sending him to England. Only now, instead of dispatching him as an ambassador sent to collect overdue tribute payments, and with any luck get himself together, the plan changes. Hamlet has proven dangerous, so he'll have to be eliminated. England can do it, and with the right handling the reports of his death sent back to Denmark can be worded so that it appears he simply died.
The last thing Claudius wants to do is get his wife mad at him. She's already disturbed by Hamlet's diatribe following the play and Polonius' death, but she's also seen her son talking to thin air and claiming it's her dead husband. How much did she believe, and how much was she simply humoring him? Hamlet, after all, has been harping on how angelic looking his father was, compared with the diabolical Claudius. A bit odd, really, when you consider how often the actor playing the King doubles as the Ghost, so the two actually look pretty much like the same person. They might even be twins. Shakespeare never says if old Hamlet is ten years older than his brother, or ten minutes. In any case, the comparison only works if two actors are used, and even then it's just as likely the one playing Claudius will be the better looking one.
In any case, to Gertrude, there's no doubt her current husband looks just fine. Beyond Hamlet's perception, and the Ghost's declarations, how much evidence do we have that Gertrude actually loved her first husband? It's entirely possible she only met him a few days before they were married. He may have been in love with her—she's usually damned attractive, after all—but that doesn't mean she cared about him beyond the scope of duty. In medieval times, you didn't really expect queens to love their husbands that much, though certainly some did. It wasn't as if an attractive young princess had much choice in who she was going to marry. Perhaps she'd been carrying on with Claudius right from the beginning. More than one director has suggested that the reason young Hamlet didn't become king after old Hamlet was killed was that he wasn't legitimate and the council knew it. Making Claudius king, and allowing him to marry Gertrude, would have the important legal effect of legitimizing any previously illegitimate offspring. Hamlet couldn't succeed his purported, but not actual father, but he could succeed his actual father. (Who says you can't find really good stuff in Shakespeare?)
I'll end this with an excerpt from the play. This is Claudius' "confession," Act III, Scene iii, and features me as the King, and Justin Eberhard as Polonius.