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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
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
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