Appearance and Reality in Hamlet
In today’s society, appearance is everything. What brand do you wear? What hairstyle do you have? What color is your skin? Are you fat? Are you “cool”? However, appearances are often deceiving, and sometimes first impressions are anything but accurate. The deceptive quality of appearance plays a major role in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Throughout the entire play, Shakespeare addresses the theme of appearance versus reality through plot and characterization.
Hamlet’s plot is teeming with incidents and events that prove how things are not always as they appear to be on the surface. One specific incident is Ophelia’s ambiguous death. When the audience first hears of Ophelia’s death from the Queen, it sounds as though it were an accident. She speaks of the death poetically and claims that it was an accident. During the Graveyard Scene, however, the clowns speak of Ophelia’s death 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 1, Polonius sends Reynaldo to spy on Laertes. Polonius does not trust his own son. Later, Hamlet directs a play entitled "The Mouse Trap" in order to spy on the King, Claudius. He does this to know whether or not Claudius is guilty of his own brother's murder. Hamlet is by far the most observed character throughout the play. Claudius first calls upon two of Hamlet's old friends, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern. He asks them to try to find the source of Hamlet's "madness". Polonius and the King himself later spy on Hamlet. This time, they use Ophelia to try to expose the reason of Hamlet's "madness". Another spy scene occurs in the Closet Scene when Polonius eavesdrops on Hamlet and the Queen. This proves fatal for the old lord chamberlain. Through Ophelia's death, the Triple-Pronged plan, and the various spy plots, the audience becomes aware of the beguiling nature of Hamlet's plot.
Shakespeare also used the characters in Hamlet to explore the theme of appearance versus reality. For example, Rozencrantz and...