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Hamlet
Hamlet
In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, there is a dominant and overwhelming theme that is concurrent throughout the play. Throughout the play, all the characters appear as one thing on the outside, yet on the inside they are completely different. The theme of Appearance versus Reality surrounds Hamlet due to the fact that the characters portray themselves as one person on the outside and one different on the inside. In the play, Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, appears to be kind, gentle, and caring on the outside, but in actual fact, he uses his loving behavior as a mask to cover up the fact that he is a selfish, mean, and cold murderer. The women in Hamlet appear to live happy and wonderful lives on the outside, but their happiness is used as a mask to cover up the corruptness of their lives on the inside. Finally Hamlet appears to be mad and insane, but really he is using his madness as a mask to hide his secretive quest to seek the truth behind his father’s death. Appearance versus reality is concurrent theme that develops as the Danish kingdom got engulfed in a web of a deception, corruption and lies.
Hamlet is filled with characters covering up their true intentions with a whole other person, which appears to be innocent. One character, that used deception to cover up their true intention, was Claudius. Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, is a very deceptive and cruel person. Claudius killed his brother, whom was Hamlet’s son and then married his brother’s wife in order to become the new king of Demark. No one knew that Claudius committed the murder so he did not receive any punishments for his actions. Claudius was forced to put on an false appearance that transformed him from a cold murderer to the perfect king. This illusion that Claudius puts on ensures that his secret is kept hidden. Under the illusion, Claudius is no longer a mean, and selfish guy, instead he appears in all aspects to be the perfect gentlemen. Claudius exemplifies the appearance versus reality theme, by the fact that he appears to be kind and gentle, but in actual fact he is using his kindness and gentleness as a mask to cover up the malicious murder that he so violently committed. Claudius throughout the play feels guilt for action, and thus tries to repent for his sin by praying. In his prayer he says, “My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer can serve my turn? Forgive me my foul murder? Try what repentance can…”(Act 3 Scene 3 Line 51). In this scene Claudius is not clear on what to feel. He struggles to get out his prayer, because he is unsure that he will be forgiven. He wants to repent for his sin, but he knows that he can’t because he is not truly sorry. Claudius lists some reasons why he can ask for forgiveness. He says “Of those effects for which I did the murder- my crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.” Claudius realizes that his outside wants to seek forgiveness but his inside cannot and does not want to give up the positions that he had gained by living this lie. Claudius thus realizes that he has to separate his own deceptive illusion from that of true feelings.
The women in Hamlet exemplify the theme of appearance versus reality as well. Ophelia and Gertrude display deceptive illusions to hide the corruptions of their lives. Ophelia shields her love for Hamlet in the beginning of the play, but eventually is forced to throw herself to Hamlet, at her father’s request. Ophelia pretends to be in love with Hamlet, so her father can prove to the king and queen that Hamlet’s madness comes from his love for Ophelia. Hamlet senses that Ophelia’s love is not genuine, and therefore treats her with disgust. He assaults Ophelia with words, and also with his actions, which include killing her father. Hamlet begins displaying acts of cruelty towards Ophelia, by using spiteful sarcasm. He tells her to “Go thy ways to a nunnery. Where your father… Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play fool nowhere but in his own house, farewell.” (Act 3 Scene 1 Line 121) Before this scene, Hamlet overhears the king and Ophelia’s dad attempt to form a plan to try to figure out the source of Hamlet’s unusual behavior. Their plan involves using Ophelia as the bait. Out of anger, Hamlet says to Ophelia, “I did love you once but you should have not believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not.” (Act 3 Scene 1 Line 115) Hamlet renounced his love for Ophelia and called her a fool for actually believing that he did love her. Hamlet’s bitter words caused Ophelia to break down emotionally because she was caught in trap that forced her to go against her lover. Ophelia’s emotional breakdown could have been prevented if she would have realized that Hamlet’s harsh behavior was an illusion used to conceal his feelings about his mother’s scandalous marriage. The other woman in the play, Gertrude, also displayed the theme of appearance versus reality. Gertrude refuses to believe that Hamlet tells the truth, when he tells her that Polonius is a murderer. Hamlet tells his Gertrude, “Here is your husband, like a mildewed ear. Blasting his wholesome brother. In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed. Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love. Over the nasty sky… A cutpurse of the empire and rule, that from a shelf the precious diadem stole and put it into his pocket.” (Act 3 Scene 4 Line 63) Hamlet tells her that her husband killed the old king, in order to become the new king. Gertrude refuses to believe Hamlet, despite his strong will to make her believe. Gertrude forces herself to be happy despite of the circumstances. Her whole life is an illusion, by the fact that she does not want to accept anything that will make her unhappy. Gertrude wants to live a life filled with nothing but happiness. Her illusion is the unwillingness to accept the troubles of life.
The character that best exemplifies the theme of appearance versus reality is Hamlet. Hamlet acts, as he was a mad man. He acts very strangely, which in turn creates the illusion that he is insane. He appears to be mad in order to conceal his true feelings and intentions. Hamlet’s true intention is to avenge his father’s death by killing Claudius. Hamlet does not let anything get in the way of avenging his father’s death. He kills three innocent people, Rosencrate, Guildenstern and Polonius without having feelings of guilt. His malicious actions were actually expressing the way he felt. As the story progresses, Hamlet becomes a very cruel and cold hearted person who cares for no one. His madness over takes him. After Polonius’s death, Hamlet gets into a fight with Laertes, Polonius’s son. Leartes wants to avenge the death of his father. It isn’t until much later that Hamlet realizes that Leartes is upset over his father’s death. Hamlet contributes Polonius’s death to his madness, when he says to Horatio, “If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away, and when he’s not himself does wrong Laertes, then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it. Who does it, then? His madness. I’t be so, Hamlet is of the fraction that is wronged; His madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy.” (Act 5 Scene 2 Line 233) Hamlet is telling Horatio that the madness that was within him killed Polonius. The separation between Hamlet and his madness proves that his madness is just an appearance. Hamlet knows that his madness is a just a mask used to cover up his true feelings. Hamlet’s true feeling is that he does not care for anyone but himself. Hamlet has a mask of madness that he uses to conceal his true feelings. Hamlet’s madness, though just as an illusion proves that he does not have care for Ophelia. Hamlet always harasses Ophelia with condescending words that belittle her existence. Hamlet harasses Ophelia with his actions too. Hamlet murders Ophelia’s father, which totally destroys Ophelia. Ophelia is forced to commit suicide because she can’t handle the destructive force of her father’s death. At Ophelia’s funeral, Hamlet says “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not make up my sum…” (Act 5 Scene 1 Line 269) If Hamlet loved Ophelia so much, then why did he treat her so poorly? Hamlet’s madness is used to cover up the hatred he had for Ophelia as well as for his mother. Hamlet treats his mother with no respect at all. He threatens her, and forces her to see the way he sees reality. In Act 3, Hamlet sits his mother down in her bed and tells her that her husband Polonius is a murderer and that she should have not married him because he is no good. When Hamlet is telling his mother the bad things about her husband, he is not polite and sincere about it at all. He is literarily yelling and screaming at her. This rash behavior is not madness- it is Hamlet. This is one of the few occasions were Hamlet expresses his true feelings without the use of deception.
It seems like no one in Hamlet can express what their true motives are. Deceptive illusions are used frequently in Hamlet to provide protection from the destructive force of truth. All the characters are corrupt, and thus rely on deception to get what they want. The only non-corrupt characters in Hamlet seem to be Rosencrate, Guildenstern who; when asked their true intention, he replied “My lord, we were sent for… by the King and Queen to discover your secrecy.” (Act 2 Scene 2 Line 292) the dumb fools revealed to Hamlet that the King and Queen sent them to find out what was bothering Hamlet. With the exception of these two characters, the theme of appearance versus reality is the fundamental basis for all actions of the characters in the play.

Melancholy, grief, and madness have pervaded the works of a great many playwrights, and Shakespeare is not an exception. The mechanical regularities of such emotional difficulties as they are presented within Hamlet, not only allow his audience to sympathize with the tragic
prince Hamlet, but to provide the very complexities necessary in understanding the tragedy of his lady Ophelia as well. It is the poor Ophelia who suffers at her lover's discretion because of decisions she was obligated to make on behalf of her weak societal position. Hamlet provides his own self-torture and does fall victim to melancholia and grief, however, his madness is feigned. They each share a common connection: the loss of a parental figure.
Hamlet loses his father as a result of a horrible murder, as does Ophelia. In her situation it is more severe because it is her lover who murders her father and all of her hopes for her future as well. Ultimately, it is also more detrimental to her character and causes her melancholy and grief to quickly turn to irretrievable madness. Critics argue that Hamlet has the first reason to be hurt by Ophelia because she follows her father's admonitions regarding Hamlet's true intentions for their beginning love. In Act 3, Hamlet begins with his malicious sarcasm toward her. "I humbly thank you, well, well, well," (Act 3 Scene 1 Line 92) he says to her regarding her initial greetings. Before this scene, he has heard the King and Polonius establishing a plan to figure out his unusual and grief-stricken behavior. Hamlet is well aware that this plan merely uses Ophelia as a tool, and as such, she does not have much option of refusing without angering not only her father but the manipulative King as well. Hamlet readily refuses that he cared for her. He tells her and all of his uninvited listeners, "No, not I, I never gave you aught." Furthermore, Ophelia cannot know that Hamlet's attitude toward her reflects his disillusionment in his mother . . . to her; Hamlet's inconstancy can only mean deceitfulness or madness. She is undeniably caught in a trap that has been laid, in part, but her lover whom she does love and idealize. Her shock is genuine when Hamlet demands "get thee to a nunnery." (Act 3 Scene 1 Line 121) The connotations of the dual meaning of "nunnery" is enough in and of itself to make her run estranged from her once sweet prince, and it is the beginning or her sanity's unraveling as well. Hamlet's melancholy permits him the flexibility of character to convey manic-depressive actions while Ophelia's is much more overwhelming and painful. Hamlet mourns for his father, but it is the bitterness and ill-will that he harbors towards his mother for her hasty marriage to his uncle that is his most reoccurring occupation.
His thoughts of Ophelia are secondary at best. When it happens that Hamlet accidentally slays Polonius, he does not appear to be thinking of the potential effect of his actions on Ophelia. Throughout the entire murder scene in Act 3, Hamlet does not remark about the damage he has done to Ophelia. His emotional upswing is devoted entirely to his mother, and while his emotions are not an imitation, he does admit that he "essentially [is] not in madness, But mad in craft" (Act 3 Scene 1 Line 188). Ophelia is then left to mourn her father, but it is not his death alone that spurns her insanity. Her predicament is such that she is forced to fear and hate her father's murderer who is also her lover and the one person to whom all of her future hopes were pinned -Prince Hamlet. Now with her brother gone, Ophelia has no one to turn to for comfort. Hamlet then delves further into his artificial madness and Ophelia is cheated into the belief that he really is mad. The options for her sanity are none; melancholy and grief are madness for malcontent Ophelia.
Hamlet and Ophelia are confronted with the loss of a loved one, however, it is Ophelia's dilemma that is the more horrible of the two and is indelibly more tragic because Polonius is Ophelia’s sole parent. We are able to discern that his harsh attitude toward his daughter at the beginning of the play may not be cruel for cruelty's sake; Polonius may actually be showing signs that he is overly protective of Ophelia and instructs her to deny Hamlet's "tenders" (Act 1 Scene 3 Line 103) because they represent a threat toward his position as her father. We might also infer that as Ophelia's only parent for such a great duration in her young life that Polonius may actually favored her -letting her act as the replacement for her mother in her father's life. These ideas are not to implicate their relationship as an abusive or incestuous circumstance. It is interesting that the same situation can correspondingly be applied to the relationship that Hamlet shares with his mother.
Hamlet is fatherless while this is a more recent position for him, it is interesting to note that rather than have his loss bring him and his mother closer, it only serves to bind him in his melancholy and agony. He battles within himself of doing harm to his mother. Hamlet may very well see his mother's infidelity to his father's memory as an infidelity to him as well. This Oedipal Complex is more injurious to his character, and is the determining force for his unsuccessful relationship with Ophelia. Ophelia has nothing to do with their emotional inadequacies, and is nonetheless a victim of them. Her death is the responsibility of Hamlet, who at her gravesite is incredibly remorseful and tells his love of Ophelia. It is short-lived, however, and Hamlet again retakes his vengeance upon his father's murderer --using his melancholy as a dull weapon. It is his fiction that is the leading cause of Ophelia's demise as well as his own. There is no way out of the created situation for either of them. One could imagine that if this were a different play, Hamlet could ask for Ophelia's forgiveness, but that is not the play. The melancholy, grief, and madness that Hamlet suffers from may well have been the propelling force for all of his unfortunate action in Shakespeare's play.
It is worth allowing that the first of the two are real; his melancholy and grief are not counterfeit. Ophelia is the more tragic of the two because her madness is not feigned, and furthermore, that it is caused by the very love of her life is even more disastrous for her poor young life. They are each malcontents with no real happiness made available to them given their unfortunate circumstances.

Works Cited
http://www.clicknotes.com/hamlet/SceneTextIndex.html. 9 December 2007.

http://www.oppapers.com/essays/Hamlet/139746