Role Reversal in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Role Reversal in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

Throughout William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, the audience attaches to the young protagonist Hamlet. Throughout the play, his wit, and his underdog situation, compel the audience to root for him, and thus wishing evil upon his foe, Claudius. As the play progresses, Claudius seems weasel-like as he rubs the situation in Hamlet's face, and indulges in decadent rituals while enjoying his scandalous throne. In act three, scene three, however, the humble side of Claudius is visible for the first time. As he prays for forgiveness in his soliloquy, we see that he truly regrets his spiteful crime. This soliloquy deepens the play as it pulls the audience's emotions towards the middle, creating more mystery and suspense.

Until this moment, Claudius puts on fronts of genuinity, yet they seem only for the purpose of public image. For example, when he exalts Hamlet as "the most immediate to our throne", despite its paradoxical nature, he is simply disguising his evil. However, in this soliloquy, he is alone (hence, SOLiloquy), and has no one to impress. Therefore the pure truth can come out. His immense sense of guilt, triggered by "mousetrap" has shone through his burning desire, as he expresses that his "stronger guilt defeats my strong intent"(40). This concession accurately describes the situation as his guilty conscience is winning over, creating remorse in his head. As Claudius brings himself to his knees helplessly, begging "help, angels!"(69), the audience can feel compassion for him, as his emotions are truly honest.

The role reversal increases even more when Hamlet enters the scene as Claudius is kneeling. The audience has just been exposed to his humble regretful prayers, and caused to feel compassion. Meanwhile Hamlet comes to the scene with a sword, sinister as can be. The contrast is evident. Despite earlier character expositions, the contrast of a praying man and a man with a sword makes Hamlet appear evil and Claudius appear pure. The setting speaks for itself. This paradoxical situation puts the viewer or reader in suspense, perhaps even confusion. However, it limits the predictability, and by this creates a more interesting scenario.

Perhaps the best proof that of the role reversal comes when Claudius' repentance even convinces Hamlet not to take Claudius' life. Hamlet convinces himself that he would be "then reveng'd to take him in the purging of his soul"(85).
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