Duality and Appearance vs. reality in Hamlet

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Throughout history there has been a general understanding that appearances can be deceiving. A person may go through life without anyone understanding the true reality of there character. William Shakespeare, one of the greatest writers of all time, understood the relationship between appearance and reality and often gave characters two sides to their personality. In Shakespeare's tragic play, Hamlet, a young prince is left to reveal the truth of his father's death. Hamlet discovers that his father was murdered by his uncle Claudius, who recently was crowned king and married his mother. The theme that remains throughout the play is that of duality and appearance versus reality. Hamlet discovers that characters may appear to be honest and true are in reality distorted and evil. Many of the characters within the play have duality and are not the characters that they seem to be. Four of the main characters that hide behind an illusion are Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Polonius, and Claudius. In many occasions they appear to be true and sincere but in reality they are full of lies.

Throughout the play, Hamlet is left wondering who he can actually trust and turn to for help. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of Hamlet's friends from university who give the appearance of truly caring for Hamlet:

Guildenstern: My Honored lord.

Rosencrantz: My most dear lord (Shakespeare 2.2.237-238)

In Reality, it is shown that the two are only involved because the king asked them again to find the true meaning of Hamlet's madness.

King: To draw him on to pleasures to gather,

So much as from occasion you may glean,

Whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus

That, opened, lies within our remedy. (2.2.15-18)

As the play continues, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are asked again by the king to go to Hamlet and try to find the real reason for Hamlet's madness. Hamlet comes to understand the real purpose of their visit and insults them for lying in Act three Scene two:

Hamlet: 'Tis as easy as lying, Govern these Vantages with

your fingers and thumb, give it breath with your

mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music. (3.2.350-353)

The true purpose of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is extremely visible when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern set out to find Hamlet after the murder of Polonius. The two men find Hamlet in a castle where Hamlet comments on the true nature of their characters "Besides, to be demanded of by a sponge!" (4.2.12) Hamlet comes to realize that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's appearance of being his friend is nothing but an illusion. In reality they serve no purpose but to be as a sponge soak up information for the king.

Along with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Polonius is shown throughout the play to give the appearance of someone is not. The lord high chamberlain of the Danish royal court and father to Ophelia and Leartes, Polonius is a man who always wants to keep the appearance of an intellectual, loving, and caring person. In Act One Scene Three Polonius gives Laertes advice which is meant to appear to be that of a loving caring father:

Polonius: 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. (1.3.82-85)

Polonius gives Laertes what seems to be his loving words of advice and care, but in reality he is speaking only to look good rather than be good. Polonius tries to give the appearance of being a confident father who trusts his son to go off on his own. In reality, Polonius is untrue about his trust for his son, which is shown when he sends a spy to watch him. Polonius tries to give the illusion that he is a caring parent but it is just all an act to look good.

Polonius' unsuccessful attempt to appear as a caring person and can be blamed on his lousy methods of helping people. His habit of spying and eavesdropping gives him the appearance of a...
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