The Theme of Disguise in Hamlet

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Deep within the scorching desert sands lurks a creature, moving cautiously into position as it readies itself for a strike upon its unsuspecting prey. The prey detects a slight disturbance in the sand, but anticipating no danger, carries on about its normal activities. Then suddenly, the comfortable silence is broken by the onset of splashing sand followed by a short struggle. Before long the quietness returns to the sandy landscape, where everything seems to be the same as it was before, except that it is not. The lurking creature, a chameleon was hungry prior to the strike, but now is quite content. In this situation, it is obvious that the chameleon killed its prey, however, what is not so obvious is how the chameleon was able to achieve that end. At first glance, the chameleon does not seem to possess a wide range of arsenals when compared with other creatures in the animal kingdom. Nonetheless, it does have one element most others do not, and that is its ability to disguise and camouflage itself in order to blend in with its surrounding environment. This characteristic is important to the survival of the chameleon as it serves a dual purpose with regard to offense (such as catching its prey) and defense (such as hiding from other predators). Similarly, just as a chameleon alters its external appearance in order to deceive its prey, so too do certain characters in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet; namely Hamlet, Claudius, and Polonius, who disguise their appearances, using a variety of tactics to achieve a particular end. The characters in Hamlet modify their appearance by acting differently as a means of a defense mechanism as well as an offensive one. The theme in the play of Hamlet consists of many instances in which the external appearance of things appears to be true when in reality it is the opposite. Not surprisingly, the main character of the play Hamlet becomes the master of disguise and deception. Hamlet seeks revenge against Claudius shortly after he learns of the King’s involvement in his father’s death, a “murder most foul” (Act I, Sc. 5, 27). The revenge by Hamlet will take some time to execute; therefore Hamlet must devise a plan to divert attention away from himself. He does so by pretending to act in a mad manner such that his intended subjects (i.e. Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude, and Ophelia) will be completely unsuspecting.
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