The show of piety in the prayer of Claudius is enough to stay the murderous hand of Hamlet, but Claudius himself knows it is not enough. He knows he cannot truly repent of a sin that he intends to continue to enjoy. Admittedly, the theology of Claudius — and of Hamlet, too — is too magical for most of us, but even so, it is difficult to know how to announce grace to a Protestant Claudius who cannot imagine the practical reality of repentance. Some there may be who could really spurn the usurped queen and throne; some there may be who could truly abandon middle-class wealth and the idolatry of American sexuality. But few. And so what hope is there for Claudius? Only grace.
But beware: Reliance on grace cannot become antinomianism, and freedom from the law cannot become acquiescence to sin. So if there is hope for Claudius, it must be in some kind of longing repentance that acknowledges his inability to “go and sin no more.” It must be a kind of repentance that sees him perhaps struggle and cry and continue to feel the pangs of guilt, even while knowing he is made guiltless. He must continually accept grace and continually want to be better than he is. He must be uncertain; he must be uncomfortable. Claudius must be willing to be unhappy.
There must be hope for Claudius because there must be hope for me.