Reality and Illusion in Hamlet
Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, begins with the appearance of a ghost, an apparition, possibly a hallucination. Thus, from the beginning, Shakespeare presents the air of uncertainty, of the unnatural, which drives the action of the play and develops in the protagonist as a struggle to clarify what only seems to be absolute and what is actually reality. Hamlet's mind, therefore, becomes the central force of the play, choosing the direction of the conflict by his decisions regarding his revenge and defining the outcome.
Shakespeare begins Hamlet's struggle with recognition of Hamlet's sincere grief and anger following his father's untimely death. A taste of the conflict is expressed in the dialogue between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude. Here Hamlet forcefully declares his pain and adds a discerning remark that defines seems as "actions that a man might play." (I.2 ln 84) By acknowledging Hamlet's comprehension of the separation between appearances and truth, Shakespeare gives the audience a reasonable belief in Hamlet's eventual success despite the obstacles he creates for himself.
Developing a convincing scheme by which to determine the goodness of the ghost and to achieve revenge is Hamlet's first action. Hamlet asks his friend Horatio to refrain from commenting on any strange behavior he may exhibit in the future. (I.5 ln 170-179) Later in the play, Hamlet alludes to his actual sanity when conversing with his school friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw." (II.2 ln 377-378) After adequately concealing his intentions, Hamlet begins to doubt his own character. He compares himself to an actor who has performed a scene with great emotion enhanced by tears. In his soliloquy, Hamlet feels the false emotion of the actors performance transcends his own justified passion. (II.2 ln 547-585) He mistakenly awards the pretense the same degree of authenticity as his own reality receives. However, because of the disparity between the actor's performance and Hamlet's own actions, Hamlet gains needed motivation. He remains uncertain of the ghost's reliability, confused by the seemingly genuine grief of the actor. Nonetheless, it is this uncertainty that provides Hamlet with the less disturbing purpose of proving the ghost's story in contrast to the more daunting intention of murder.
Now that the pressure has been lifted, Hamlet has the opportunity to ponder death, something that has demanded his attention since his father's demise. In the famous soliloquy Hamlet attempts to discard the appearance of death to dissect the survival instinct of human beings. Why, when death appears to be the desired escape from "a sea of troubles," do human beings refuse to succumb? (III.1 ln 59) Hamlet quickly...