Character Duplicity in Hamlet

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In Act I Scene II of Hamlet, Gertrude asks Hamlet, "Why seems it so particular with thee?" Since death is common to all, she asks, why does Hamlet seem to be making such a particular fuss about his father's death? He replies, "Seems Madam? Nay it is. I know not seems." It is not a question of seeming, but being: His black mourning clothes are simply a true representation of his deep unhappiness. With this line, Shakespeare develops the theme of appearance versus reality and that he intends to stress Hamlet's dedication to truth in contrast to appearances which serve others, notably Claudius. Allied to the question of Hamlet's madness is a variety of references to the idea of acting a part or of presenting a false image to the world. Hamlet demands honesty, but is he himself always honest? Many characters, at various times, seem to be playing parts, and the troupe of players is in the play as an active reminder that in real life a person can play many roles, and it is not always easy to tell what is true from what only appears to be true. Polonius, the King's royal assistant, has a preoccupation with appearance. He always wants to keep up the appearance of loving and caring person. Polonius appears like a man who loves and cares about his son, Laertes. Before Laertes leaves to Paris, Polonius speaks to his son with advice that sounds sincere, but in reality is rehearsed, hollow, and without feeling. Polonius gives his advice only to appear to be the loving caring father. He tries to teach Polonius how to "seem," and how to show himself publicly . The reality is he only speaks to appear sincere as a politician, to look good rather then actually be good: "And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!" (Act 1, Scene 3 lines 77 - 81) Climaxing his rather long speech, this change of tone can only be taken ironically. As Polonius gives his son Laertes his blessing to go away, he sends Reynaldo, a spy to follow him and keep an eye on him. This shows his lack of trust for anyone. He gives the appearance of a confident father who trusts his son to go off on his own. Polonius further adds to the theme appearance verses reality by ordering Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet. He lies to her telling her that Hamlet does not love her, he only lusts for her, when in truth he does love her: "Ay, springes to catch woodcocks. I do know, When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul." (Act 1, Scene 3 lines 115 & 116) Through the play Polonius hides behind his mask appearing to be honest loving parent. In reality Polonius lies, manipulates people and eavesdrops on peoples' conversations. Polonius' appearance is not his true nature; behind the mask there lies someone totally different. Claudius' conduct in council gives him the appearance of an honest and honorable man. In Act one Scene two, Claudius, in the presence of the council, shows his true skill and ease of manner at speaking. Claudius speaks well of the spent king by showing a general love for him by all his subjects. Claudius shows respect for the old sovereign by speaking kind words of him. In reality he cares little for the old king, he speaks kindly only to give the appearance of loving brother. "Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death, The memory be green, and that it us befitted To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom To be contracted in one brow of woe." (Act 1, Scene 2 lines 1 - 4) As Claudius sends Voltimand and Cornelius off to give the king of Norway the message of Fortinbras, he thanks and gives them complete trust, in the deliverance of the notation. This shows his trust and caring for his subjects in front of the council, winning even more consent from the council: "We doubt it nothing: heartily farewell." (Act 1, Scene 2 line 41) Claudius increases his appearance of an honest and honorable man, in...
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