Shakespeare's Hamlet has a lot of seeming techniques that highlight the tensions and gaps between reality and appearance. This is the difference between what appears to be happening and what actually happens.
The play's characters deceit can be used to make appearances and realize reality. Shakespeare created characters that act under the cover of deceitfulness. Although characters' actions might seem real, they are not.
Hamlet is an excellent dissembler, as Claudius. "Seeming" is a problem in Hamlet's relationships to Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as well as his relationship with his mother Gertrude. This essay will analyze Hamlet and show the theme deceit in the context of the conflicts surrounding the tensions or gaps that exist between reality and appearance.
Deceit in Appearance, Reality
Shakespeare introduces the theme of appearance and reality at the start of the play in order to emphasize tensions and conflicts. Shakespeare portrays Hamlet as someone who doesn't know reality, who is unable to believe in it and who seeks revenge for his father's death.
Hamlet uses reasoning to solve the crime by testing Claudius in order to find out if he is responsible for the death of King Hamlet. The struggle Hamlet makes to solve the problem logically may be obvious to readers. The ghost is not believed by Hamlet. Along with Laertes, the king uses deceit to his advantage.
He devises a plan to find the truth. The audience learns that King Hamlet didn't die from snakebite. Claudius, the new King of Denmark poisoned King Hamlet. The appearance of the truth is that all characters believe the old King died from snakebite. This is the notion of reality and appearance as presented in the play.
Readers noticed that Claudius' actions during the death of King Hamlet are only cosmetic. Claudius gives the impression of being concerned and grieving for his brother's passing. This is evident in his speech to the court, where he states that "and that it befitted to bear out our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe" (Shakespeare 3, 3).
Claudius refers to his brother as "a dear friend" (Shakespeare 4,). These actions are only a façade. Claudius killed the King Hamlet. This is also evident to the audience when Claudius prays. Claudius prays, "O, my offense, it smells like heaven." It hath the primal oldest curse upon't, his brother's murder" (Shakespeare 6, 6).
Gertrude's love for Claudius is a perfect example of both reality and appearance. Claudius begins the play by expressing his love for Gertrude. Later, however, he reveals that Gertrude was also one of the reasons he murdered the old King Hamlet. Claudius gives the impression of being in love with Gertrude.
Hamlet uncovers the truth behind the death of the King and is unable to settle his differences. Hamlet is asked by the dead King to take revenge for his unnatural death. Hamlet's response can be interpreted as a curiosity to discover the truth behind the murder.
He said, "Haste me, to know that with wings as swift and meditation-like thoughts or the thoughts love may sweep to my vengeance" (Shakespeare 20, Shakespeare). Shakespeare portrays Hamlet's strong desire for revenge as love. This urge is intense and deeply disturbs Hamlet.
Shakespeare presents both appearance and reality in Gertrude (Hamlet's mother). Hamlet is aware that his mother is making an appearance to mourn his father's death. The family is mourning the old King, but readers only know Hamlet. Hamlet is aware that his mother is showing signs of grief. The signs of grief are only a façade and not the real thing.
Hamlet's ghost also shows appearance and reality in an attempt to expose the deceit inherent in the play. Although the ghost is real, it appears to be an apparition. Hamlet discovers the truth through the ghost. Hamlet is told by the ghost what caused his father's death. This is based on the statement that "revenge [his] foul and most unnatural killing" (Shakespeare 25,). Hamlet, however, does not believe in the ghost.
To find out if it's real, he comes up with an appearance that resembles madness. Guildenstern states that "But with crafty madness keeps him aloof when he would bring us on to some confessions of this true status" (Shakespeare 29, Guildenstern). Hamlet can only get revenge by appearing mad. As Hamlet's madness becomes reality, the relationship between appearances and reality is blurred.
Ophelia is told by him that he believes me. Virtue cannot inoculate our old stock, but we shall enjoy it." (Shakespeare 28, Shakteare 28). This proves that even Ophelia can't distinguish Hamlet's madness from reality and he assumes it is real.
Shakespeare uses appearance and reality to portray deceit in love between Hamlet, Ophelia. There are two sides to this love. Hamlet appears to be mad and neglects Ophelia, telling her that "You shouldn't have believed me, you didn't love me" (Shakespeare 30,).
We do however see the love Hamlet feels for Ophelia following her death. Hamlet said that "I loved Ophelia: forty million brothers, Couldn't, with all their love, Make up my sum." (Shakespeare 30,).
A play-within a play presents reality and appearance. Hamlet creates a play in order to show the events that took place. Claudius doesn't believe Hamlet will use his play to prove that he was responsible for the death the old King Hamlet. He claims that Hamlet will use the play to reveal his guilt. "I observe my uncle's looks before I make my decision. If I do blench, my course will be known" (Shakespeare 27, Shakespeare 27).
This play-within a-play plays a significant role in shaping relationships with the King. Hamlet directs the play by controlling emotions and expression. His actors are told by Hamlet that acting too much can make them appear uncivilized. Claudius is shocked by the murder of Priam in Pyrrhus.
This play shows Hamlet what he already knows about the death and burial of King Hamlet. Shakespeare believed that acting should reflect the realities of life but with moderation.
Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and other characters also emphasize the difference between appearance and reality. Their words can lead to confusion among the audience that they are Hamlet's friends. They refer to Hamlet, for example, as "My most dear lord!" And My most dear lord!" (Shakespeare29).
These Claudius workers are only trying to kill Hamlet. Hamlet, however, realizes their motives. He shows that he doesn't trust Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. Hamlet refers to them in this context as "my two schoolfellows", whom he will trust as much as he will adders fang’d (Shakespeare 27, Hamlet).
Except for Laertes, all characters show appearances and realities. Laertes, although he is a minor character in the drama, has a significant role. He is loyal and honorable, but he also has inner conflicts. He is a man who has more virtues than any other character. He dies as a result of his virtue, which is probably a matter of fate.
The play is full of deceitful characters who create many gaps between reality and appearance. Although most characters seem real, they may have ulterior motives.
Shakespeare shows how deceit is intertwined in his play with reality and appearance. All characters have to question everything in order to see the truth. Because of how they look in relationships, characters can't easily see the truth. The play's tension is created by the gap between reality and appearance. Dramatic plots rely on reality and appearance.
Hamlet said that appearances can be deceiving and that things may not appear as they seem. All characters in the play appear real and honest throughout. In reality, however, their ulterior motives are hidden and they display duplicity. As they plot their secrets, deceitfulness and appearance can create tension between characters.
Shakespeare shows Hamlet that it was futile to search for truth in a state like Denmark. Reality and appearance are not the same. In the end reality must break down and the characters must face their actions, even the virtuous Laertes.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Washington, DC: Washington Square Press, 1992. Print.
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