At the center of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the uncertainty of Claudius’ guilt. Hamlet receives information that Claudius murdered Hamlet’s father from a ghost. Because the information comes from a ghost, in the form of his father, Hamlet attempts to verify the claims made by the spirit, namely that Claudius poisoned King Hamlet while he was sleeping. Hamlet’s staging of “The Mousetrap” is a failure on this count because it does not confirm the report of King Hamlet’s ghost or confirm Claudius’ guilt.
Hamlet, by staging “The Mousetrap” hopes to observe his uncle and determine his guilt based on Claudius’ reaction to the play. However, the play cannot confirm Claudius’ guilt because of one main logical objection: “The Mousetrap” is a play about regicide. Claudius, being king, would have numerous reasons for being upset about the content of the drama. As he is king, the play deals with the tenuous grasp kings have upon their reign. At any moment, an assassin can attempt to usurp the throne. Claudius should be upset to see a king who is murdered in his sleep as this is his position. Gertrude is not upset because the play is not about the murder of a queen.
Therefore, Claudius’ reaction to “The Mousetrap” does not indicate guilt because it is impossible to determine if Claudius is upset by the play because he has enacted a similar scheme or because he fears that a similar plot is afoot to unseat him from his throne. He already seems to fear Hamlet and harbor doubt as to the solidity of his rule, especially with Fortinbras bearing down upon Denmark.