As appearances play an important role in today's society, so they also play an important role in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. From the first scene to the last, Shakespeare elaborates on the theme of appearance versus reality through plot and character.
The play's plot is full of incidents and events that are not what they appear to be. One such incident is Ophelia's ambiguous death. When, from the Queen, the audience first learns of her passing, the girl's death seems very peaceful, poetic and accidental. But later, during the Graveyard Scene, when the clowns are discussing her death, they classify it as a suicide. Does Ophelia, as it appears, absent-mindedly set foot too far into the murky waters and, held down by her heavy garments, meets with her untimely death? Or, does she, mad with grief caused by Hamlet's "insanity" and her father's death, willingly march to her muddy grave? Another example occurs when Laertes, Ophelia's brother, and King Claudius devise the Triple-Pronged plan. They set up a duel between Hamlet and Laertes. Since both young men are presumably using bated swords, this confrontation appears to be a simple, ordinary fencing match, no one will get hurt. Despite its harmless appearance, this duel proves deadly, for not only does Laertes plan to use an unbated and poisoned sword, but Claudius also prepares a poisoned drink for Hamlet.
There are also many spy plots set up during the play which may also be considered as deceiving events. These spy plots demonstrate the appearance versus reality theme since they are invisible to the spied upon, but weave a web of dishonesty. In Act II, Scene...
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Findlay, Alison. "Hamlet: A Document in Madness." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. New York: AMS Press, 1994. 189-205.
Hopkins, Lisa. "Parison and the Impossible Comparison." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. New York: AMS Press, 1994. 153-164.
Rose, Mark. "Reforming the Role." Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York City: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. 117-128
Wiggins, Martin. "Hamlet Within the Prince." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. New York: AMS Press, 1994. 209-226.
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