Appearance vs. Reality in HamletShakespeares Hamlet is the tale of a young prince determined to uncover thetruth about his fathers recent death. Hamlets uncle (and also the deceased kingsbrother), Claudius, marries his mother the queen, and therefore, takes the throne. In thebeginning of the story, Hamlet is told by the apparition of his dead father that it wasClaudius who in fact murdered him.
The theme that remains consistent throughout thetragedy is appearance versus reality. The characters introduced to us throughout the playappear to be pure and honest, but in reality are infested with evil. They deceitfully hidebehind a mask of integrity. Four main dishonest characters which are found to bedisguised with righteousness are Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the freshlycrowned king Claudius. The first impression presented by these characters are ones oftruth, honor, and morality; they are all plagued by evilness and lies in reality. Theirappearances serve as obstacles for Hamlet as he struggles to discover the hidden truth. The kings royal assistant, Polonius, has a great preoccupation with appearance.
He continually gives the impression of being an affectionate and caring person. He isintroduced as a father who deeply cares for his son, Laertes. Polonius speaks to Laerteswith advice which sounds sincere, yet in truth, is rehearsed, empty, and without feeling. He gives the advice to make others believe he is a strong, loving, role-model type of afather.
He is similar to a politician. He speaks strong, influential words, but does notactually mean what he is saying sincerely in the least. Polonius grants his son his blessingAnd borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine own self be true,And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell; my blessing season this in thee! (Hamlet 46). Within his speech to Laertes, Polonius advises him to not borrow from others, to remaintrue to himself, and not to lie. Polonius appears to be a caring and trusting father when infact he sends a spy after Laertes to follow and keep an eye on him.
This demonstrates hisdistrust for his son. He is not the confident father in which he is shown to be. His speechwas rehearsed to give the effect that he actually cares and is trustworthy of his son. Polonius further adds to the theme of appearance versus reality when he orders hisdaughter, Ophelia, to stop seeing Hamlet. He mischieviously lies to her, claiming thatHamlet does not love her, that he only lusts for her: Ay, springs to catch woodcocks. Ido know, When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul (Hamlet 47).
Throughout theplay, Polonius is seen as a warm and tender parent. Behind the mask, he is a devious,lying, and manipulative person. Polonius obviously contributes to the theme ofappearance versus reality by illustrating that his virtuous appearance is not true in nature,because underneath the facade he is someone completely different.Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of Hamlets closest friends from childhood.
They follow the kings instructions when asked to figure out what is troubling Hamlet. The two go to Hamlet with the illusion of being friends with Hamlet, but in truth aresimply there to abide by the kings orders. Their inquiry of his problems are not sincere.There is some irony in this situation; the boys are asked to discover the truth while hidingin a lie of pretending to be Hamlets true friends. As Hamlet realizes their underhandedmotives, he states, A dream itself is but a shadow (Hamlet 73). Hamlet understandsthat they are not the good friends he assumed they were. The king sends Rosencrantzand Guildenstern again to try to gain an explanation for Hamlets awkward behavior.
Hamlet recognizes their intentions once again and proceeds to insult them: It is as easyas lying. Govern these ventages with your finger and thumb, give it breath with yourmouth… (Hamlet 106). It is evident to see how these two buddies of Hamlet add to the appearance versus reality theme.The conduct wonderfully presented by Claudius, the new king of Denmark,illustrates him as an honest and heartfelt man. In Act One, Claudius demonstrates hisgreat skill at public speaking as he is in the presence of council: Though yet of Hamlet our dear brothers deathThe memory be green, and that it us befitted To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom To be contracted in one brow of woe (Hamlet 33).
The reality of the situation is that Claudius cares little for his brother and his death. He isjust happy to be at the head of the thrown; something he had previously longed for. Hespeaks respectfully and honorably of him and on his behalf only to be looked upon as aIn Act One, Hamlet directly insults Claudius, and yet the king continues the frontof being caring and truly affectionate towards his nephew. A normal king (or anyauthority figure) would become angry an punish anyone who would degrade them in anyway.
Claudius demonstrates to his council that he is understanding of Hamlets grievancesover his deceased father. He advises Hamlet that grieving can be harmful and not healthy. He reinforces that it is respectable and honorable of Hamlet to morn for his father:Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet,To give these mourning duties to your father. But you must know your father lost a father,That father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound In filial obligation for some termTo do obsequious sorrow.
But to persever In obstinate condolement is a courseOf impious stubbornness (Hamlet 37). Claudius further makes it difficult for Hamlet to reveal the truth about the murderof his father when Claudius announces that Hamlet shall be next in line for the throne ofDenmark. This demonstrates Claudius apparent love and trust in Hamlet, that he wouldallow him to take his place when he dies. He seems to be an honorable and virtuous manwhen he declares this: You are the most immediate to our throne, and with no lessnobility of love than that which dearest father bears his son do I impart toward youAll in all, Claudius appears to be a trustworthy king who would do anything for hiskingdom. In truth, although, he is a selfish and greedy brother. He desired all his brotheronce had. He coveted his wife and tried to be a father-figure for his son.
He wanted allbeing a king had to offer, and he achieved his position through the murder of his own fleshand blood. Behind his pure and moral mask, laid a monstrous and deceitful man.By reading the tragedy, Hamlet, one can reveal that the four characters mentionedin this essay (Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Claudius) are completelytwo-faced. They follow the theme of appearance versus reality specifically.
Each give thefirst impression of being true to their intentions, honest, and pure. It is uncoveredthroughout the play that they are all devious and cunning. These characters areimpediments to Hamlet, as he fights to discover the truth which haunts him. Bibliography: