Explore the ways in which Hamlet makes use of the idea or motif of theatrical performance

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Hamlet makes use of the idea of theatrical performance through characters presenting themselves falsely to others – from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern spying on Hamlet to gain favor with the King, to Hamlet himself playing the part of a madman – and through the play within the play, The Mousetrap. This essay will discuss the ways in which Hamlet explores the idea of theatrical performance, ‘acting’, through analysis of the characters and the ‘roles’ they adopt, specifically that of Hamlet and Claudius. The idea, or the theme of theatrical performance is not an uncommon literary element of Shakespearean works, the most famous of which to encompass this idea being As You Like It. This essay will also briefly explore the ways in which Hamlet reminds its audience of the stark difference between daily life and dramatization of life in the theatre. The motif of acting is a central literary device of Hamlet – the audience witnesses Hamlet, as well as the other characters of the play, adopt ‘roles’ as no one is truly who they ‘seem’. This is first addressed by Hamlet in the beginning of the play when he responds to his mothers’ request to “cast thy nightly colour off”, and not to forever mourn his father as “all that lives must die,/Passing through nature to eternity”. He expresses that his “shows of grief” can ‘seem’ as “they are actions a man might play”. This is the first instance the play directly addresses the motif of theatrical performance, as it insinuates that Hamlet is the only one who truly mourned his fathers loss – this is especially stressed during his first monologue, in which he expresses moral struggle with his mothers marriage to Claudius, and his suggestion she never mourned her husband: “Within a month?/Ere yet the sa... ... middle of paper ... ... Guildenstern. Finally Shakespeare includes The Mousetrap, the play Hamlet prepares to ‘trap’ Claudius and reveal his involvement in his fathers passing, to further highlight the playing of these roles by the characters of Hamlet. Hamlet also makes use of the motif in Hamlet’s instruction to the players; in telling them how to act convincingly not only does Shakespeare confirm Hamlet is feigning madness, he is further instructing his actors how to realize their roles. Hamlet makes extensive use of the idea of theatrical performance; from revealing characters to not be what they seem - as they act to be - to Hamlet’s play The Mousetrap and his instruction of acting to the players. The extensive use of the stage in the stage directions, as well as numerous monologues and asides, have Hamlet itself acting as a literary device for the motif of theatrical performance.

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