William Act 1, Scene 2, Gertrude asked Hamlet,

William Shakespeare began writing
the play Hamlet in 1599, completing
the play in 1601. The play depicts a mourning prince who seeks revenge upon his
murderous uncle. King Claudius is the new king of Denmark who secretly killed
his brother, King Hamlet, in order to seize the throne. Such differences
between appearance and reality fill the pages of Hamlet and are crucial to the playwright’s purpose. Each character
in Hamlet is trying to discover what
another is really thinking and what his/her true motives are. The characters
attempt to discover each other’s true motives through their own deception and
plotting. For example, as early as in Act 1, Scene 2, Gertrude asked Hamlet,
“Why seems it so particular with thee?,” and Hamlet replies: “Seems, madam?
Nay, it is, I know not seems” (1.2.75-76). 
Throughout Hamlet, Hamlet not
only investigates people and their motives but also peers into his own
existence and questions both life and death. In Hamlet, reality is indistinct; the more Hamlet looks into humanity,
the less coherent things seem. Throughout the play, Hamlet deals with
indecisiveness, deception, and the trivial importance of what is morally right
and wrong.

An early depiction of adult
deception is when the king’s loyal advisor, Polonius, instructs his servant to
spy on Laertes while he is away in Paris. Moments earlier, Polonius gave
Laertes his blessing to go to Paris and advises the king to allow his son’s
departure, telling Laertes: “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it
must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee” (1.3.4-87). A few scenes later, he
directs Reynaldo to travel to France and spy on the same son he granted
permission to leave! This suggests that Polonius does not trust his son. Polonius
goes as far as to script Reynaldo’s conversation. Polonius portrays himself as a loyal
and trusting councilor and father, though he holds false trust for his son,
going as far as to tell Reynaldo to inquire Laertes of his behavior and then
accuse him of whatever faults Reynaldo desires to make up. Polonius wants
Reynaldo to subtly stain his son’s reputation and see how those in France react
towards the lies being spoken about Laertes. During the Renaissance and today,
society would expect adults to be those who are most wise and honest. Adults
were, and are, expected to be the models of morality and honor.  If that be so, how is it that Polonius is so
unwise, so dishonest, and so immoral even to his own son? Another act of
deception is when Ophelia enters and tells how she has been frightened by
Hamlet, who appears to have gone mad. Ophelia mentions how Hamlet took her by
the wrist and held her hard, talking incoherently about things that make little
sense to her. Hamlet appearing to have gone mad plays a large part of
Shakespeare’s theme of appearance versus reality because Hamlet’s mask of
madness allows for those around him to speak freely and not attenuate their
words. Hamlet acts mad so he can investigate the accusations that King Hamlet
has made without raising suspicion with Claudius.

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While lesser analyzed, the women in
Hamlet’s life also play a deceptive role. Hamlet displays trust issues due to
his mother’s hasty marriage to Claudius, stating that the food at his father’s
funeral could have also been ate at Claudius and Gertrude’s wedding. Ophelia
and Gertrude deceive Hamlet in many ways. Ophelia begins to deceive Hamlet by
shielding her love for him in the beginning of the play, only expressing her
love when Polonius begins to believe it is the root to Hamlet’s madness. As the
play progresses, Hamlet begins to feel as if Ophelia is being untrue to him and
her love is not genuine. Hamlet begins to believe that Ophelia merely acts as
if she loves him, and does not truly love him, because she is too obedient to
her father and obeys his command to stay away from Hamlet. Despite this and his
mask of madness, Hamlet says: “Doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt that the
sun doth move, doubt truth be a liar, but never doubt I love” (2.2. 116-119). A
way that Hamlet equally deceives Ophelia is that he hid his love from her, in
Act 3, Scene 1, he claims to love her and then said that she should not have
believed him because he never loved her. Although, this is later proven to be
another deception as Hamlet, grief stricken, proclaims his love for Ophelia at
her funeral.  

In Hamlet, one of the largest betrayals that is depicted is the mask
Claudius portrays. Appearance versus reality is thoroughly delineated through
Claudius as he presents himself as a loyal king and husband, despite being the
slayer of King Hamlet. In the beginning of the play, Claudius portrays himself
as a mourning brother, saying: “And that it us befitted to bear our hearts in
grief, and our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe” (1.2.3-4).
Claudius speaks mournfully of his brother’s death to appear sympathetic and
affable. The false appearance Claudius holds is dire to the play because it
exhibits the extent he will go to in order to remain king. Another example of
false reality in Hamlet is when
Claudius acts cordial towards Hamlet. Claudius acts kind and accepting towards
Hamlet’s grief, saying: “Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet” (1.2.87).
The reprobate king is adored throughout Denmark for his seemingly deferential actions,
such as being able to discuss the issue of Fortinbras so quickly after King
Hamlet’s untimely death, giving the kingdom a sense of safety. Claudius picks
at people’s emotions, portraying himself in a way that gives them a sense of
safety and acting as though he is a trustworthy king. This is merely an act, as
King Hamlet’s ghost says Claudius is an incestuous, adulterous beast with witchcraft
in his wit (1.5.42-43). Claudius uses his kingship to spy on Hamlet, portraying
himself as a worrying stepfather and uncle, when he is truly only trying to
discover the cause of Hamlet’s apparent madness. When this fails, he
manipulates Ophelia into talking to Hamlet, the king’s futile attempt to have
Ophelia coax information from him. Claudius’s actions suggest he is concerned,
but throughout the play that is deemed false as Claudius is portrayed as a
manipulative, selfish man. An example of Claudius’s selfish actions is after he
learns of Polonius’s death, he exclaims: “O heavy deed! It had been so with us,
had we been there” (4.1.12-13). Claudius is not worried over Polonius’s death,
rather he is worried over the fact it would have been his own death had he been
the one hiding. Claudius’s manipulative ways catch up to him in the final act,
when his plan of having Hamlet killed fails, instead killing Gertrude and
himself.

Throughout Hamlet, there are many scenes that depict faulty appearance
portrayed as reality. It is an ongoing theme through the play that continues to
the final act. Each character is faced with having to decipher another’s
thoughts and what their true motives are. Gertrude failed to see through
Claudius’s lies, resulting in her losing her own life and Hamlet’s life as
well. The kingdom failed to see Claudius for who he truly is, resulting in the
death of their queen and beloved Hamlet. Appearance versus reality is an
important theme because it allows readers to search for the meaning behind each
character’s actions – such as why Hamlet acts as if he has gone mad, why
Gertrude refuses to allow herself to see who Claudius truly is, and why,
despite Gertrude taking part in incestuous acts, King Hamlet’s ghost forgives
her, allowing God to deal with her sins. The psychological aspect of Hamlet
allows readers to search for the many different truths in the play.   

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