Who's There: a Question of Identity in Hamlet

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The Significance of “Who’s There?”
A Question of Identity

Throughout Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the theme of deception and appearance versus reality becomes increasingly apparent. The complex characters featured in the play resolve to secretive which leads to a question of everyone’s identity. Yet, one does not even need to read the play to discover it’s essential themes. The first line of the play, “Who’s there?” (Hamlet 1. 1. 1) is not merely a question spoken by a guard who cannot see, rather it has a much deeper meaning as a foreshadowing of the play, where the characters are time and again faced with the question – who is this person really, who is really there. The simple introductory statement of ‘Who’s there?’ is not just a question from one guard to another, but also a rather minimal, yet expansive introduction to the main theme of Hamlet – appearance versus reality. In context to the story the question ‘Who’s there?’ is part of an exchange between the guard Barnardo and the sentinel currently on duty, who turns out to be man by the name of Francisco. The question is seemingly imposed in the play merely to show a changing of guards. But the first instance in which the term ‘Who’s there?’ can be argued as a reflection of the entire play itself is shown in the same scene when the ghost appears. Only Bernardo and Marcellus initially see the ghost and then alert Horatio of the problem, his response, through the words of Marcellus is, “Says ‘tis but our fantasy/And will not let belief take hold of him” (I. I. 23-24). When visually confronted with the ghost Horatio is still unconvinced of the ghost’s validity, calling it an “illusion” (1. 1. 127). Though the image of the ghost likens to that of King Hamlet. Horatio must ask himself the question of ‘who’s there”’, a fantasy or the real ghost of King Hamlet. Hamlet himself is then introduced into the play and must ask a similar question, he believes in the realness of the ghost but wonders if it really...
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