shakemenu.GIF - 5152 Bytes

Hamlet - Appearance vs. Reality
     Hamlet one of Shakespeare's greatest plays, where the young 
prince of Denmark must uncover the truth about his fathers death.  
Hamlet a play that tells the story of a young prince who's father
recently died.  Hamlets uncle Claudius marries his mother the queen 
and takes the throne.  As the play is told Hamlet finds out his father 
was murdered by the recently crowned king.  The theme that remains 
constant throughout the play is appearance versus reality.  Things 
within the play appear to be true and honest but in reality are 
infested with evil.  Many of the characters within the play hide 
behind a mask of falseness.   Four of the main characters that hid 
behind this mask are Polonius, Rosencrantz (Guildenstern), the king 
Cluadius.  From behind this mask they give the impression of a person 
who is sincere and genuine, in reality they are plagued with lies and 
evil. There appearance will make it very difficult for Hamlet to 
uncover the truth, the characters hide behind. 

     Polonius the kings royal assistant has a preoccupation with 
appearance.  He always wants to keep up the appearance of loving and 
caring person.  Polonius appears like a man who loves and cares about 
his son, Laertes.   Polonius speaks to his son with advice that sounds 
sincere but in reality it is rehearsed, hollow and without feeling.  
Polonius gives his advice only to appear to be the loving caring 
father.  The reality is he only speaks to appear sincere as a 
politician, to look good rather then actually be good: "And borrowing 
dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine own self be 
true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be 
false to any man. Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!" Act 1

     Polonius gives his son Laertes his blessing to go away, he sends 
a spy to follow him and keep an eye on him. This shows his lack of 
trust for anyone, he gives the appearance of a confident father who 
trusts his son to go off on his own.  In reality he lies about his 
trust for his son by sending a spy to watch him. His advice he gives 
his son is rehearsed and only said to give the appearance of a loving 
father.  Polonius further adds to the theme appearance verses reality 
by ordering Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet. He lies to her telling her 
that Hamlet does not love her, he only lusts for her, in truth he does 
love her:   Ay, springes to catch woodcocks. I do know, When the blood
burns , how prodigal the soul   Through the play Polonius hids behind 
his mask appearing to be honest loving parent.  In reality Polonius 
lies, manipulates people and eavesdrops on peoples conversation.  
Polonius helps contribute to the theme  appearance verses reality by 
showing how his appearance is not his true nature, behind the mask 
there lies someone totally different.  
    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of Hamlets childhood friends 
who when asked by the king, try to find out what is troubling the 
young prince.  Both help to contribute to the theme by showing there 
appearance of being Hamlets friends.  The pair go to Hamlet pretending 
to be his friends when in truth they are only there because the king 
asked them to find the truth.  There is some irony within the twins, 
they are asked by the king to find out the truth by hiding within a 
lie, by pretending to be his friend:  A dream is but a shadow Act II. 
     Hamlet knows there purpose for their visit is to dig into his 
soul to find the real reason for his actions as of late. As the play 
continues the twins are asked again by the king to go to Hamlet and
try again to find the real reason for Hamlets behavior.  Hamlet 
insults them at every chance knowing they are lying to him about there 
purpose of the visit: Tis as easy as lying; govern these ventages with 
you finger and thumb, give it breath with your mouth...Act III 
    As the melodrama continues Hamlet goes with the twins to reclaim 
money that another state owes Denmark.  Hamlet is sent by the king to 
retrieve the assets.  In actuality Hamlet is sent off to wither 
because the king, Claudius knows that Hamlet knows too much and must 
be killed.   The twins show there appearance of being Hamlets friends 
but in truth they have a hidden reason for visiting with Hamlet.  Both 
show that it will be very difficult for Hamlet to uncover the fidelity
hidden within the lies. 
    Claudius the king of Denmark conduct in council gives him the 
appearance of an Honest and honorable man.  In Act one scene two 
Claudius in the presence of council shows his true skill and ease of 
manner at speaking.  Claudius speaks well of  the spent king by 
showing a general love for him by all his subjects. Claudius show 
respect for the old sovereign by speaking kind words of him.  In 
reality he cares little for the old king, he speaks kindly only to 
give the appearance of loving brother. 

Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death 
The memory be green, and that it us befitted 
To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom 
To be contracted in one brow of woe Act I 

    As Claudius sends Voltimand and Cornelius off to give the king of 
Norway the message of Fortibras, he thanks and gives them complete 
trust, in the deliverance of the notation.  This shows his trust and 
caring for his subjects in front of the council, wining even more 
consent from the council: We doubt it nothing: heartily farewell. Act 
I Claudius increases his appearance of a honest and honorable man, in 
front of the council by showing his respect for Polonius.  He gives 
him the power to let his son Laertes stay or leave for Norway.  
Claudius speaks highly of Polonius giving him thanks and saying the he 
was responsible for Claudius becoming king: 

The head is not more native to the heart, 
The hand more instrumental to the mouth, 
Than is the throne of Denmark to thy father. 
What woudlst thou have, Laertes (Act I ii, 47-50) 

     This council would see this as a man who greatly respects his 
subjects and cares for them.  This adds to the difficulty of 
uncovering the truth for Hamlet later.   Hamlet enters the council 
chamber and speaks with Claudius.  The king (Claudius) speaks with
Hamlet seeming to be concerned with Hamlet. He gives advice that over 
grieveing is not healthy, this shows a concern for Hamlets well being. 
 This conduct of Claudius gives him the appearance of being kind in 
front of council that accepts him even more for his family values: How 
is it that the clouds still hang on you? Act I Claudius appears to be 
even more caring when insulted by Hamlet he still shows love and 
general care for Hamlet.  A normal king would have become angry and 
Hamlet would have gotten into trouble. Claudius shows the council that 
he is understanding of Hamlet's grief over his father: A little more 
than kin, and less than kind. Act I .  Claudius gives Hamlet advice 
that over grieveing can be harmful and not healthy.  Claudius tells 
Hamlet that he is a admirable person for grieveing
for so long over his dads death.  Yet again Claudius keeps putting on 
the appearance of the honorable man. 

Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet, 
To give these mourning duties to your father: 
But, you must know, you father lost a father; 
That father lost, lost his; and the survivor bound 
In filial obligation for some term 
To do obsequious sorrow; but to persever 
In obstinate condolement is a course Act I 

    Claudius further makes it difficult to uncover the truth by 
announcing that Hamlet is next in line for the throne of Denmark.  
This shows that Claudius would let Hamlet become the next king when
he is gone.  This reveals a love and care for Hamlet to the council 
and Gertrude making Claudius appear to be kind, loving person: You are 
the most immediate to our throne; And with no less nobility of love 
Act I 
    Claudius final conduct that makes him a difficult truth to 
uncover, is his care and want that Hamlet remain in Denmark.  Claudius 
is insulted by Hamlet, he asks Hamlet to stay only that his queen 
Gertrude wants Hamlet to stay.  Claudius appears to be concerned with 
Hamlets well being, Gertrude and council see this ,making Claudius a 
more deserving person to be king. 
    As Claudius speaks in council he gives the appearance of someone 
who is a deserving person that should be king.  Claudius is voted in 
as king meaning he is already approved by everyone. Claudius gives 
respect to his subjects giving the council the impression that he 
respects them.  The king shows general concern for Hamlet, his nephew. 
 This will  make it very difficult to prove the truth about Claudius 
in the future for he has not only, one the love and respect of council 
(that voted him in).  But also has prevented a attack on Denmark (from 
Fortinbras) proving that he is good king that can protect the state 
from harm.  Claudius makes it very difficult for Hamlet to uncover the 
truth about the true nature of Claudius in the future. 
    Through the characters within the play all help to show the theme, 
that being appearance verses reality.  Polonius, Rosencrantz 
(Guildenstern) and the king all appear to be good and honest.  As
Hamlet finds out, all contain lies and have hidden intentions within 
them.  As each character is presented in the play all appear to be 
good and honest making it a difficult task for Hamlet to uncover the 
hidden truth about the nature of each character.  As Hamlet best said 
it somethings is rotten in Denmark That being the lies which have 
replaced or covered the true state of each character. 

Back To the Top ] [ Back To Essay Page ]
Complete Works Cliff Notes Free Papers! Biography Shakespeare Links Shakespeare discussion