Appearance versus Reality in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Appearance versus Reality in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

Things are not always what they seem. This statement is prevalent to Shakespeare's "Hamlet", emphasized in some connotations of the language used by Hamlet's character in his second soliloquy. Throughout the play there remains a conflict of appearance versus reality. In addition to revealing Hamlet's plot to catch the king in his guilt, this soliloquy uncovers the very essence of Hamlet's true conflict.

Characters such as Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Claudius are all hiding behind a mask of fallacy. Yet they appear to others as exactly what they are not. Hamlet, in his soliloquy, coincides with the idea of appearance differentiating from what is actually the truth. Hamlet portrays himself to be something far worse than he really is. He calls himself a rogue (line 555), an ass (589), a whore (592), and a drab (593). Hamlet's sense of himself is one of cowardice, derived from a crude, simplistic judgment turning on whether or not he has yet taken any action against the man who murdered his father. (lines 590-594). His self-condemnation takes several bizarre forms, including imaginings of a series of demeaning insults in the soliloquy that he absorbs like a coward because he feels he has done nothing to take revenge on Claudius. The language he uses in lines 556- 566 even contemplates the person he is pretending to be, basically saying it is possible for him to force his own soul into believing the part he is playing so much so that all the powers of his body adapt themselves to suit his acting needs. Hamlet is displaying the duality of his nature through his words, therefore opening the same appearance versus reality conflict to the other characters and situations in the play.

The harshness of Hamlet's language of the second soliloquy also helps unravel the conflict occurring in the entire play. Hamlet is undeniably committed to seeking revenge for his father, yet he cannot act on behalf of his father due to his revulsion toward extracting cold and calculating revenge. Such an issue causes Hamlet great internal struggle, as seen in his words. He speaks of "a dam'd defeat" being made.(576). His language is graphic and conveys a violent tone, as in lines 577-580, saying whoever is calling him "villain" is "breaking his pate(head)", plucking off his beard, blowing it to his face, and tweaking him by the nose.

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