Appearance vs. Reality, Hamlet

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In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the main theme of the play is appearance versus reality. The characters within the play appear to be sincere and honourable when in reality they are corrupt and immoral. Many of the characters within the play illustrate this concept. When looking at them from behind a mask they give the impression of a person who is genuine and honest, but in reality they are plagued with lies and despicable behaviour. Four of the main characters that attempt to deceive Hamlet by hiding behind this mask are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Polonius, and King Claudius. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of Hamlets childhood friends who are not as they appear. They are asked by the King and Gertrude to spy on Hamlet in order to find the reason behind Gertrude’s “too much changed son” (II.ii.36). They give the appearance of being Hamlet’s friend, yet in reality, the pair only came to Elsinore because they were summoned. Surprised by his friends’ unexplained arrival, Hamlet questions what has brought them there. Rosencrantz lies when responding “To visit you my lord, no other occasion” (II.ii.266). Hamlet instantly sees through their lies and insists “you were sent for, and there / is a kind of confession in your looks…I know the good king and / queen have sent for you” (II.ii.273-276). Knowing that his so-called friends are lying about the purpose of their visit, Hamlet discloses nothing to them. Having gotten no answers for the King, the two were asked to go to Hamlet once more and continue to seek the real reason for Hamlet’s behaviour. Hamlet has little patience since being lied to and reveals to the pair that he is aware that they are spies and saying to them: [Y]ou would play upon me, you would seem to know

my stops, you would pluck out the heart of my mystery,
Call me what
Instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot
play upon me.” (III.iii.343-350)
Although appearing to be Hamlet’s friends, he...
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