Reality vs. Appearance – Hamlet Essay Sample
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Reality vs. Appearance – Hamlet Essay Sample
In the play “Hamlet,” Shakespeare’s characters are confronted with the timeless question: How can one determine what is actually true from what only seems to be true? Throughout the play, the theme of appearance versus reality is constant. This theme is played out from the beginning, with Claudius’ attempt to conceal his secret intentions; Gertrude and Ophelia masking their own truths, and finally Hamlet, who assumes the role of a madman in order to uncover the reality behind his appearance.
Various characters try to cover their secret intentions with a veneer of a whole other person. One of the most obvious is Claudius. Claudius murdered his brother, the former King Hamlet, in order to become king himself. This murder, which was done in secret, with no one but Claudius knowing that the act was committed by him. Not only is he the King of Denmark, but he is also married to Queen Gertrude, his brother’s former wife. These awful crimes have not been punished , and on one knows that Claudius has done this. When Claudius confronts anyone, he must become someone different. He puts on a self-serving, cold, devious mask. Meanwhile , he acts like a caring husband who does his best to ensure that Gertrude stays with him. This helps Claudius to keep Hamlet from trying to take the kingdom and destroy what he has worked so hard to gain. To the end Claudius has different faces. But is Claudius really masking his true character, when he tries to seek redemption for his sins? Claudius wrestles with his guilt by asking himself:
“Where to serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offense?
And that’s in prayer but his twofold force,
To be forestalled are we come to fall…
That cannot be, since I am still possessed
Of those affects for which I did the murder!”
Claudius’ real character comes out when he is alone with his guilt. In his soul-searching Claudius reveals the truth about himself, but he must continue to put on a different face on in public.
The contrast of appearances versus reality is also portrayed through the female characters. Both Ophelia and Gertrude mask themselves to the harsh realities of their life. Ophelia’s character is far more fragile than any other. Hamlet’s almost incessant cruelty to Ophelia drives her, eventually insane. She puts up her appearance as a defense, trying to protect herself from Hamlet’s cruelty, but it fails. Ophelia believes for awhile, that Hamlet lovers her deeply , and that he would never harm her directly. When the truth and reality hit her, she breaks under pressure and commits suicide. Gertrude, the other woman in the play, has a much stronger shield. She refuses to see or believe the truth that Hamlet shows her; the truth that Claudius murdered her husband for the kingdom. She is also concerned of Hamlet’s madness, but what he says does not affect here much at all. Even at her death she does not realize or see the truth of Claudius’ betrayal. Gertrude denies the reality of the evil in Ellsinore, and hides behind the curtain of illusions.
The most complicated character is Hamlet himself. The line between Hamlet’s appearance and his reality is very fine, at times blurred, so it is difficult to discern. Whether he was truly sane has been debated often, and some have concluded that if appearances seem like reality for long enough, it perhaps becomes reality. One of Hamlet’s biggest setbacks is that he tends to think things out for along time. He does not act on instinct; however, he makes certain that every action is planned. Hamlet suffers from melancholy, which causes him to second guess every action. His rapid changes from rational to irrational conversations with those he wishes to impress, gives away his intuition that he is mad. After the killing of Polonius, Hamlet encounters Laertes, Polonius’ son.
Hamlet cannot understand why Laertes is enraged with him because of his fathers death. He blames his madness on the death of Polonius. After Ophelia killer herself, Hamlet finds her grave and says, from his true self “I loved Ophelia/ make up my sum.” If Hamlet loved Ophelia, then he would have treated her with respect. His madness was a cover, it did not matter how his resentment affected her. As a result of this realization, and because of this inability to adapt to the “unnatural state of things in Denmark,” Hamlet losses the basic meaning of life. The conflict between appearances and reality is not resolved. Even Hamlet does not know “why yet [he] lives to say, [the] this thing’s [he does].”
In the end Shakespeare’s characters all reveal different faces of reality and appearances. They all share a different kind of mask, which attempts to provide their inner-selves with protection. From Claudius looking to convince everyone of his kindness, while inside he is dangerous; to the females wanting their own perfect world, and finally to Hamlet and his madness of inner-self masking and uncertainty. The theme in “Hamlet” is the basis for the actions of the characters appearances becoming reality.