Who’s there?” (1,I,1), is the opening line of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, a question asked by a soldier on guard duty. A sentinel starting his midnight shift normally expects to relieve his fellow sentry as usual; yet he still wonders and challenges the identity of his fellow sentry, because he wonders if it may be someone spying. The question displays that there is a need to assure that one is not being deceived. Spying and deception introduce the play and continue to dominate the play, contributing to a major theme of Hamlet. The theme of ‘appearance versus reality” is developed through the deception and spying in the play.
The tone of deception is initiated by Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, now, the bestial King of Denmark. Claudius’ murderous actions are revealed by Old Hamlet’s ghost. The visitations explain the background to Denmark’s deception. “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life/Now wears his crown” (1,V,39-40). The first speech by Claudius is well organized and is clever enough to conceal his deadly sin which was committed through ambition and possibly lust:
Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast.
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts-
A witched wit, and gifts that have the power
So to seduce! - won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen. (1,V,42-46)
On more than one occasion Claudius sends Rosencrants and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet. Although they are supposed to be Hamlet’s schoolmates, Claudius uses them as pawns in his attempt to reveal what Hamlet is doing. Claudius gets Rosencrants and Guildenstern to accompany Hamlet on his way to be killed. Although Claudius states that he loves Hamlet, he arranges for Hamlet to be killed in England. When his original plan is unsuccessful, he schemes a trap for Hamlet to fall into. The guilt from Claudius’ deception and...
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