Hamlet - Appearance vs. Reality
Teacher: Ms. Ramlogan
Course code: ENG 4U
December 6, 2010
Hamlet is one of the greatest plays of Shakespeare. The main theme, “Appearance vs. Reality” encircles throughout the play and remains constant. It’s about those characters that play their roles behind the veil of duplicity. Within the play, everything appears to be true and accurate, but in reality it’s vice versa. Five of the main characters that hid behind the mask are Hamlet, King Claudius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guilenstern. From behind this mask, their appearance is genuine and sincere, whereas in reality, they’re plagued with lies. They often appear to be only one way whilst they really are something entirely different.
The most prominent figure in the play is Hamlet. He mourns so deeply regarding the death of his father and his mother’s remarriage with his uncle that he appears insane, yet in reality he takes the advantage of his insanity to avenge his father’s wrongful killing. Another reason is, his love for Ophelia. He is deeply hurt due to the ignorance of Ophelia that he uses it to advantage, by showing hate towards her, in order to make others think that his madness is due to his rejected love. He uses his madness to manipulate and deceive the other characters, while in reality he is carrying out his master plan. He plays his role extremely well by showing his madness that he is able to convince Polonius that it’s all due to his rejected love, Ophelia. Besides this, he is also able to catch Claudius’s guilt. Hamlet’s illusionary madness assists him to accomplish his task, “I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king and queen molt no feather. I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and, indeed, it goes heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire-why, it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.”- Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2, lines 293-303.
The second player is Claudius, who is a multi-faced character. His ambition was to acquire the crown of king Denmark, by killing his brother King Hamlet and marrying with his sister-in-law. He was ruthless in pursuing his dream, even to the point of murder. Throughout the play, he pretends to be innocent and upset at front of Hamlet, because of King Hamlet’s death, while in reality he fears from Hamlet’s awareness. Claudius convinces the whole kingdom of his sorrow for King Hamlet’s death, yet he does that to fulfill his aim. He even investigates the reason of Hamlet’s madness, not for the betterment of Hamlet but for himself, “Whose whisper o’er the world’s diameter, as levels as the cannon to his blank transports his poisoned shot, may miss our name and hit the woundless air. Oh come away! My soul is full of discord and dismay” - Claudius, Act 4 Scene 1, lines 41-45. This quote articulates that Claudius is worried about Hamlet’s mental position, while in reality, he is fearful of him discovering the bitter truth.
As far as Polonius is concerned, he appears to be a loyal servant to his kingdom who is willing to take on tasks, but in reality he is selfish and evil, who is not concerned about his kingdom but his own comforts. Polonius appears to be happy, caring and supportive to his son, Laertes. He gives his son advice that shows how sincere he is, but in actual it is hollow and without feeling. Polonius is a large spy in general. He gives his blessing to his son, Laertes to go away and sends a spy to keep an eye on him. This proves his lack of faith for anyone, he appears to be a trustworthy father, but in actual, he lies about his trust for his son by sending a spy to watch him. He further ads to the theme appearance vs. reality by ordering Ophelia to boycott Hamlet. He lies to her that Hamlet doesn’t love her, while he does love her. Throughout the play, Polonius appears to be honest, but in reality, he manipulates people. His character shows that his appearance is not his true nature; behind the mask there lies someone entirely different.
Two of Hamlet's childhood friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are also victims of the theme appearance vs. reality. They were sent and given bribe by King Claudius and Queen Gertrude to find out the cause of Hamlet’s madness. Both of them go to Hamlet pretending to be his fast friends, while in reality, they are only there because the king ordered them to find out the truth. In Act 2 Scene 2 line 278, Guildenstern states, “What should we say my lord?” completely denying the fact that they were sent for by the king and queen. Both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern show there appearance of being Hamlets friends, but in truth they have a hidden reason for visiting to Hamlet.
Throughout the play, there are several discrepancies between appearances vs. reality. It appears that everyone is full of deception and ulterior motives. Within the play, everyone appear to be true and honest, whereas in truth, they wear the veil of duplicity. By viewing the controversies going on in Denmark, it is justifiable to state that there is truly something rotten in the state of Denmark.
~ Copyright © Surabhi Kaura 2010
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