Reality and Illusion in Shakespeare's Hamlet - Appearance versus Reality

Reality and Illusion in Shakespeare's Hamlet - Appearance versus Reality

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Appearance versus Reality in Hamlet

 
   Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, is a tale of a young prince who must ascertain the truth regarding his father's death. Throughout the play, the fundamental theme of appearance versus reality is constant. The majority of the main characters hide behind veils of lies and deceptions, obscuring the truth to the point that nearly nothing of their actual selves are visible. The labyrinth of deception is so twisted that only Hamlet is aware of the truth, and only because the ghost of his father revealed it to him. Hamlet, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the King Claudius are all part of this circle of deception.

 

     Hamlet, while more genuine than the rest, brings himself into the deceptions with his feigned insanity. At least in this case there is a worthwhile justification; his every action and word is reported directly to Claudius by Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Polonius or any number of other people loyal to Claudius. His insanity is a clever method of protection; he will be left alone and free as long as he is not considered a threat. Though employing quite a bit of deception, Hamlet's falseness is small in comparison to that of Polonius, the royal assistant.

 

     Polonius is obsessed with projecting the images of a trusting and generous father and a wise man overall, manipulating or deceiving everyone possible to serve his personal agenda. One way he attempts to improve his image is when he repeatedly waxes poetic and delivers lengthy discourses regarding life to his children. An example of this is when he is giving Laertes his blessing to leave for France and finishes with this idealistic advice, "This above all: to thine own self be true./ And it must follow...


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... A.C. Quote. Literary Companion to British Authors: William Shakespeare. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1996.

Danson, Lawrence. "Tragic Alphabet." Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York City: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. 65-86

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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