Possibly the best piece of writing ever done by William Shakespeare, Hamlet, is a classic example of a tragedy. In all tragedies the hero suffers, and usually dies at the end. Romeo and Juliet commit suicide, Brutus falls on his sword, and like them Hamlet dies by getting cut with a poison tipped sword. The theme that remains constant throughout the play is appearance versus reality. Things within the play appear to be true and honest but in reality are polluted with evil. Many of the characters within the play hide behind a mask of dishonesty. Four of the main characters that hid behind this mask are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Polonius, and the king Claudius. From behind this mask they give the impression of a person who is sincere and true, in reality they are overwhelmed with lies and evil.
Hamlet is spied on many times in the play. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of Hamlets childhood friends who when asked by the king, try to find out what is troubling the young prince. Both help to add to the theme by showing their appearance of being Hamlets friends. The pair goes to Hamlet pretending to be his friends when in truth they are only there because the king asked them to find the truth. Hamlet quickly reveals the truth and says, "Were you not sent for/ And there is a kind of confession in your looks, which your modesties have not craft in color." (Shakespeare 2:2:278) From these words he is demanding an answer from his schoolmates as to their unexplained arrival. At the end he tells them nothing. As the play continues his "friends" are asked again by the king to go to Hamlet and try again to find the real reason for Hamlet's behavior. Hamlet insults them at every chance knowing that they are lying to him about their purpose of the visit, "'Tis as easy as lying: govern these ventages with you finger and thumb, give it breath with your mouth..." (Shakespeare 3:2:348) The twins show their appearance of being Hamlets friends but in truth they have a hidden reason for visiting with Hamlet. Both show that it will be very difficult for Hamlet to uncover the reliability hidden within the lies.
Polonius the king's royal associate plays an important role in developing appearance. He always wants to keep up the look of loving and caring person. Polonius appears like a man who loves and cares about his son, Laertes. He speaks to him with advice that sounds sincere but in reality it is not. It is hollow and without feeling. Polonius gives his advice only to appear to be the loving and caring father. 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 " (Shakespeare 1:3:77) Also Polonius adds to the theme appearance verses reality by ordering Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet. He lies to her by telling her that Hamlet does not love her, he only wants to have fun with her. However in truth Hamlet does love Ophelia. Through the play Polonius pretends to be honest and loving parent. In reality he lies, manipulates people and spies on peoples conversation.
Claudius is the current King of Denmark. During this play he makes a lot of impressions that differ from the truth. Claudius becomes King of Denmark after killing his brother and marrying his brother's widow, Gertrude. For example, he wants to show council that he is an honest and honorable man. He speaks well of the King Hamlet by showing a general love for him and all his subjects. In reality he cares little for the old king, he just gives appearance of loving brother. It is getting harder and harder to uncover the truth about Claudius. Next thing Claudius does is announcing that Hamlet is next to get a crown. This shows that Claudius would let Hamlet become the next king when he is gone. It reveals a love and care for Hamlet to the council and Gertrude. Also it makes Claudius appear to be kind and loving person, "You are the most immediate to our throne; And with no less nobility of love." (Shakespeare 1:2:109) Last appearance that makes difficult to uncover the truth is Claudius' careness. He wants Hamlet to remain in Denmark. Hamlet mocks king, but he still asks to stay. Claudius wants to show that he deserves to be a king.
Throughout the play, characters help to show the theme, which is appearance verses reality. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Polonius, and the king all appear to be good and honest. As Hamlet finds out, all contain lies and have hidden intentions within them. As each character is presented in the play all appear to be good and honest making it a hard for Hamlet to uncover the hidden truth about the nature of each character.