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Appearance vs. Reality

In Shakespeare's tragedy, Hamlet, there is a dominant and overwhelming theme that is concurrent throughout the play. Throughout the play, all the characters appear as one thing on the outside, yet on the inside they are completely different. The theme of appearance versus reality surrounds Hamlet due to the fact that the characters portray themselves as one person on the outside, and one different on the inside. In the play, Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, appears to be kind, gentle, and caring on the outside, but in actual fact, he uses his loving behavior as a mask to cover up the fact that he is a selfish, mean, and cold murderer. The women in Hamlet appear to live happy and wonderful lives on the outside, but their happiness is used to cover up the corruptness of their lives on the inside. And finally Hamlet appears to be mad and insane, but really he is using

his madness as a veil to hide his secretive quest to seek the truth behind his father's death.

Appearance versus reality is coexistent theme that develops as the Danish kingdom gets engulfed in a web of a deception, corruption and lies.

Hamlet is filled with characters covering up their true intentions with a whole other person, whom appears to be innocent. One character, that used deception to cover up their true intention, was Claudius. Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, is a very deceptive and cruel person. Claudius killed his brother, which was Hamlet's father and then married his brother's wife in order to become the new king of Denmark. No one knew that Claudius committed the murder so he did not receive any punishments for his actions. Claudius was forced to put on an angel-like appearance that transformed him from a cold murderer to the perfect king. This illusion that Claudius puts on ensures that his secret is kept hidden. Under the illusion, Claudius is no longer a mean, and selfish guy, instead he appears in all aspects to be the perfect gentlemen. Claudius exemplifies the appearance versus reality theme, by the fact that appears to be kind and gentle, but in actual fact he is using his kindness and gentleness as a cloak to cover up the malicious murder that he so violently committed. Claudius through out the play feels guilt for action, and thus tries

to repent for his sin in, by praying. In his prayer he says, "My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer can serve my turn? "Forgive me my foul murder?"" In this scene Claudius is not clear on what to feel. He struggles to get out his prayer, because he is unsure that he will be forgiven. He wants to repent for his sin, but he knows that he can't because he is not truly sorry. Claudius list some reasons why he can ask for forgiveness. He says "Of those effects for which I did the murder- my crown, mine own ambition, and my queen." Claudius realizes that his outside wants to seek forgiveness but his inside can not give up the positions that gained. Claudius thus realizes that he has to separate his own deceptive illusion from of true feelings.

The women in Hamlet exemplify the theme of appearance versus reality as well. Ophelia and Gertrude display deceptive illusions to hide the corruptions of their lives. Ophelia shields her love for Hamlet in the beginning of the play, but eventually is forced to throw herself to Hamlet, at her father's request. Ophelia exaggerates her love for Hamlet, so her father can prove to the king and queen that Hamlet's madness comes from his love for Ophelia. Hamlet senses that Ophelia love is not genuine, and therefore treats her with disgust. He assaults Ophelia with words, and also with his actions, which included killing her father, though unintentional. Hamlet begins displaying acts of cruelty towards Ophelia, by using malicious sarcasm. He tells her to:

"Go thy ways to a nunnery. Where's your father? Let

the doors be shut upon him, that he may play fool

nowhere but in's own house.


Before this scene, Hamlet overhears the king and Ophelia's dad attempt to form a plan to try to fathom the source of Hamlet's unusual

behavior. Their plan involves using Ophelia as the bait. Ophelia can do nothing but comply with the king and her father plan. Hamlet is outraged that Ophelia, the girl he loves, is involved in a plot against him. Out of anger, Hamlet says to Ophelia,

"I did love you once but you should have not believed

me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but

we shall relish of it. I loved you not."(3.1.125-129)

Hamlet renounced his love for Ophelia and called her a fool actually believing that he did love her. Hamlet's acrimonious words caused Ophelia to break down emotionally because she was caught in trap that forced her to go against her lover. Ophelia's emotional breakdown could have been prevented if she would have realized that Hamlet's harsh behavior was an illusion used to conceal his feelings about his mother's scandalous marriage. The other woman in the play, Gertrude, also displayed the theme of appearance versus reality.

Gertrude refuses to believe that Hamlet tells the truth, when he tells her that Polonius is a murderer. Hamlet tells his Gertrude:

" Here is your husband, like a mildewed ear. Blasting

his wholesome brother.... In the rank sweat of an

enseamed bed. Stewed in corruption, honeying and

making love. Over the nasty sty... A cutpurse of the

empire and rule, that from a shelf the precious diadem



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