8 November 2012
Deceit in Hamlet
In one of William Shakespeare’s most well known plays, Hamlet, Prince Hamlet is determined to find out the truth regarding his father’s death. After Hamlet’s father is found dead, it is assumed it is an accidental death, after misleading information and finally learning the truth, Hamlet has to decide what is real and what is not. Throughout the play there is persistent confusion on what is real and what is just an act. Besides Prince Hamlet himself, several characters contribute to this idea by displaying misleading and deceitful behavior. King Claudius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Polonius are prime examples of the theme. Mechairia claimed that these characters are “rather sinister and sort of gives us the idea that putting on a mask” is a trait that they all share (1).
At the beginning of the play, Claudius is portrayed as an able and adequate ruler. He even seems to deeply care for the late King Hamlet, his brother. He declares his sorrow to his country when he addresses his brother’s death, and contributes sympathy to his followers. At first glance, he appears to be honest and genuine. According to Mechairia, Claudius uses his wit and quick thinking to “fool the other characters” with his “slippery language” (1). Claudius’ wicked mind gives him the role of the ‘villain’ in the play- and only the reader is initially aware of this. The ghost of King Hamlet, being the only one in the play that knows of Claudius’ dishonest character, refers to him as “that incestuous, that adulterate beast” (Shakespeare 1.4.42), and the reader is then aware of Claudius’ false emotions and spiteful actions. When it becomes obvious that Hamlet is aware of Claudius’ doings, Claudius again, displays his mind-altering behavior and sends Hamlet to England to be killed. By sending Hamlet away, Claudius is proving his power and influences over him and further ignites Hamlet’s already raging fire. He explains to Hamlet that he is just sending him away for his own protection and he is doing it for “thine especial safety” (Shakespeare 4.3.40). Although Claudius seems like the fatherly, caring figure Hamlet needs after his own father’s death-Claudius is the exact opposite. Claudius’ personality contributes a great deal 0. The play and what the reader interprets of the plot. Claudius does not mind deceiving the people close to him, including his Kingdom. According to Heilbrun, Claudius has a “persuasive tongue” and he knows exactly how to use it (Heilbrun1). He certainly had a “disruptive and egotistical persona”, contributing to the deceitful theme in Hamlet (Fergusson 112). Despite Claudius’ deranged personality, he is extremely intelligent in his doings and knows how to manipulate almost perfectly. For example, when Claudius sends Hamlet to England, he makes sure his is not involved in any way to tie him to Hamlet’s murder. He had enough wisdom to know that if anyone knew of his intentions his royalties would be taken away. Claudius does what he feels is necessary in getting what he wants and drags whomever along that he feels can contribute to the fire.
Also contributing to the fire is Claudius’ right hand man, Polonius. Initially, Polonius appears to be a trustworthy man, even though he associates with the infamous Claudius. Polonius gives the impression of being a “senile old man” who is “not aware of his surroundings”, but in all reality, Polonius is probably the most aware out of all the masked characters (Davies 34). His personality is first shown when he gives his son, Laertes, his blessing to leave for college. Polonius gives his son advice that he believes will make him successful and free from trouble. He tells him to be aware of his surroundings and be careful who he become friends with. This gives the illusion that Polonius is extremely caring concerned. Shortly after Laertes departs, Polonius sends Reynaldo to spy on him. This is the first signal that