The Role of Deception in Hamlet
In the play Hamlet, deception is a major factor in the cause of the deaths of all those who die in the play, including Hamlet himself. The following paragraphs will outline the deception involved in the deaths of various characters including: Polonius, Gertrude, Laertes, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Old Hamlet; as well as the downfall of the antagonist and protagonist: Claudius and Hamlet themselves.
Dishonesty is a major factor in the deaths of many characters. "I'll silence me even here. Pray you be round with him." (III, iv, 4-5), is what Polonius says before hiding behind the arras in Gertrude's bedroom, and eavesdropping on Hamlet's conversation with his mother. Much to Polonius' misfortune, he is stabbed by Hamlet, who really intended to kill Claudius, mistaking him for Polonius behind the tapestry. Also, before Gertrude dies, Claudius says, "It is the poisoned cup; it is too late." (V, ii, 270). He is referring to the poisoned wine which he made for Hamlet, but Gertrude drank instead, and died as a result. As well, "The treacherous instrument is in thy hand, / Unbated and envenomed. The foul practice / Hath turned on me. Lo, here I lie, / Never to rise again." (V, ii, 294-297), is what Laertes says to Hamlet before he dies. Laertes tells Hamlet about how his own plan to kill Hamlet has turned on him, how he was blinded by rage over the death of his father, and how Claudius was the one who put him up to it. Other cases in which deceit is the cause of death include the death of Ophelia, given the impression that she is no longer loved, by Hamlet, who is just pretending to be mad and really has feelings for her. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were killed due to their treachery, and Hamlet fooled them when they were escorting him to his death, which leads to their own demise. Old Hamlet, as well, was murdered by being stabbed in the back, by his very own brother Claudius. These are just the deaths of minor characters in the play, those who do not play a large role.
The death of Claudius was also a result of deceit, mainly orchestrated by Hamlet.
Here as before, never, so help you mercy,
How strange or odd some'er I bear myself
(As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on), (I, v, 169-172)
is what Hamlet says to Horatio and Marcellus after he talks to the ghost of Old Hamlet. Hamlet is telling them not to mention that he is just pretending to be mad to anybody, which hints that Hamlet does have a plan to put on an antic disposition to fool Claudius and the courtiers. Later on in the play, Hamlet asks the traveling player to put on a show of the play The Murder of Gonzago, which is quite similar to the current situation with Claudius and Old Hamlet. Hamlet says, "We'll ha't to-morrow night. You could for a need study a / speech of some...