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Appearance Vs Reality In Hamlet Essay, Research Paper

One of the most famous and popular authors and script

writers is William Shakespeare. Shakespeare has always been able

to create interesting characters and one of the reasons they are

so interesting might be that they are complex people with their

inner selves differing from their outer selves. Are the

characters in Hamlet the same on the inside as they appear to be

on the outside? The characters in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

can be studied in a manner relating to appearance versus reality.

Some of these characters are Claudius, Rosencrantz and

Guildenstern, and Hamlet.

One character who enables us to examine the theme of

appearance versus reality is Claudius, the new King of Denmark.

In Act One, Scene Two Claudius acts as though he really cares for

his brother and grieves over the elder Hamlet’s death. This is

shown in his first speech addressed to his court, “and that it us

befitted/To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom/To be

contracted in one brow of woe” (Shakespeare I22-4). It is

shown further on in the same speech when he says, “our late dear

brother’s death” (Shakespeare I219). However, this is not how

Claudius truly feels about his brothers death, for Claudius is

the one who murders elder Hamlet. We see the proof of this in

Claudius’ soliloquy when he appears to be praying; “O, my offence

is rank, it smells to heaven./It hath the primal eldest curse

upon’t/A brother’s murder” (Shakespeare III336-38).

Another love which Claudius fakes is the love he has towards

his nephew and stepson, Hamlet. In his first speech to his court

Claudius tells Hamlet not to leave for school but to remain in

Denmark; “It is most retrograde to our desire/And we do beseech

you, bend you to remain/Here in the cheer and comfort of our eye”

(Shakespeare I2114-117). However, later in the play Claudius

develops a plan to send Hamlet away from Denmark with the aid of

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; “And he [Hamlet] to England shall

along with you [R & G]” (Shakespeare III34). Claudius also

refers to himself as “Thy loving father, Hamlet” (Shakespeare

IV350) but when Hamlet is out of the room a few moments later

Claudius has a complete change of face in which he reveals his

plan to have Hamlet executed; “Our sovereign process, which

imports at full/By letters congruing to that effect/The present

death of Hamlet” (Shakespeare IV363-65).

Even the love Claudius showed for Gertrude can be questioned

in its validity. Claudius, near the beginning of the play,

appears to be happy about his marriage to Gertrude and in the

later scene of Claudius’ soliloquy, he lists Gertrude as one of

the reasons he murdered his own brother. We can assume by this

that Claudius did appear to love Gertrude, but we cannot say for

certain. During the final scene of Laertes and Hamlet’s fight

Claudius poisons Hamlet’s drink, but does nothing to prevent

Gertrude from accidentally drinking the poison save his saying

“Gertrude, do not drink” (Shakespeare V2280).

Another character source of information relating to the

appearance versus reality theme would be Rosencrantz and

Guildenstern. Both appear to be Hamlet’s friends; “My honour’d

lord!/ My most dear lord!” (Shakespeare II2223-224) but in

reality both are just workers for Claudius who attempt to assist

in the murder of Hamlet. Hamlet realizes this and voices his

distrust of the duo, “my two schoolfellows/Whom I will trust as I

will adders fang’d” (Shakespeare IV1202-203).

One other character which allows us to take a good look at

appearances versus reality is Hamlet. The most famous example of

this theme would be Hamlet’s “antic disposition” (Shakespeare

I5171) which we learn later in the play is in fact, just a act

“I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind/is southerly I know

a hawk from a handsaw” (Shakespeare II2377-378). Hamlet is a

very convincing actor for even his own mother, “Alas, he’s mad”

(Shakespeare III4105), and father, “nor stands it safe with

us/To let his madness range” (Shakespeare III31-2), think that

he is mad.

There is also Hamlet’s use of the play to determine the

Kings guilt or innocence; “the play’s the thing/wherein I’ll

catch the conscience of the king” (Shakespeare II2606-607).

Claudius believes he is just going to see a play that Hamlet

would like him to see; he does not expect for Hamlet to use the

play to accuse him of murdering elder Hamlet. Hamlet also

appears to welcome and trust his returning friends Rosencrantz

and Guildenstern, “My excellent good friends!” (Shakespeare

II2225) but he soon learns to distrust them and leads them to

their deaths.

Hamlet’s love for Ophelia also has two different sides.

Hamlet, when wearing his “antic disposition” appears to not care

for Ophelia at all telling her, “You should not have believ’d

me/I lov’d you not” (Shakespeare III1117-119). After her death

Hamlet reveals his true feelings by saying “I lov’d Ophelia:

forty thousand brothers/Could not, with all their quantity of

love/Make up my sum” (Shakespeare V1270-272)

As you can see there are many instances of different

realities being hidden behind outward appearances in the play

Hamlet. Claudius and Hamlet, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to

an extent, have a hidden side to them that only the reader is

allowed to see. This helps keep the plot suspenseful and

sometimes humourous when the reader knows what each character

thinks of each other and then sees the opposite happen when the

characters interact.

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