The Theme of Knowledge in Hamlet

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Who Knows?: The Theme of Knowledge in Hamlet
What may be true to one person is not always true to another. There are huge factors to take into account like a difference in opinion, secrets, or lies. Another important aspect of information is what is done with it, since knowledge is power. The need to verify information is always as great as the need for it in the first place. These are all central pieces to consider when evaluating a theme of knowledge. This theme is especially noteworthy in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play about a prince who learns that his uncle murdered his father, the King, in order to ascend to the throne. The way prince Hamlet learns this information is indeed a driving force in the theme of knowledge, and the characters treat it as such a powerful variable. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the characters sometimes abuse their knowledge, though it is not always even reliable to begin with, creating a central theme of doubt, and hesitation: considering one’s actions. Specifically, act 3, scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet directly reflects one of the main mysteries of the play, how the characters know what they think they do.

The characters’ knowledge can begin to be described as not very reliable. For instance, Hamlet spends much of the play doubting the knowledge that his father’s ghost imparted: Claudius murdered him and took his place as King. The entirety of act 3, scene 2 is a trap that Hamlet has set to affirm his guilt. In fact, the whole scene is also presented stylistically as an extended metaphor, as part of Hamlet’s plan, in that it reenacts the story of Hamlet senior. In lines 84-86 of this scene, Hamlet speaks to Horatio, saying, “It is a damned ghost that we have seen, / And my imaginations are as foul / As Vulcan's stithy.” This is evidence of his distrust of the ghost. His word choice here, “Vulcan’s stithy” is an allusion to the Roman god Vulcan’s forge, which, as a forge, would be black with soot. As employed later in the...
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