Mar 14, 2020 in Literature
The Role of “Seeming” in the World of Hamlet

William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. Prince of Denmark 400 years ago although it remains on the top of the most widely read and performed plays. The matter of this play was an exposition of the atmosphere in the society and personal tragedy in it.  Renaissance Realism stimulated the observation of the real world. Therefore, the playwright used interpretations of psychology of communication to depict the world of his characters and unfold personalities instead of concentrating on the life itself. This feature distinguished Shakespeare from his contemporaries. Hamlet is the play that focuses on the inner conflicts and struggles, rather than on external environment. The dominant idea of the play is in the Hamlet’s words: “The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,/ That ever I was born to set it right!” (Shakespeare 69). He understood that he should amend the situation, fulfill his sacred duty and revenge for his father’s death. This essay examines the role of “seeming,” which includes lying, spying, and using disguise in the world of Hamlet.

The reader can distinguish fundamental oppositions in this play: Hamlet and his family, good and evil, and appearance and reality. Basing on these categories, one can explore the examples of lie, spying, and disguise, involved in two parts of the conflict. For instance, Hamlet was trying to expose the truth, while the rest of the royal court concealed it. The idea of spying is closely associated with the idea of disguise. There are many occasions of spying in the play, and the case with Polonius is one of them. Scarcely had his son arrived in Paris when Polonius sent Reynaldo to spy on him, and advised him to use devious means to get to the truth. Later in the play, Claudius and Gertrude sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to reveal what troubled Hamlet. Furthermore, Polonius and Claudius eavesdropped on Hamlet's meeting with Ophelia. Additionally, Polonius, with Claudius' consent, hid in Gertrude's chamber to overhear her conversation with son. The members of the court incorporated lie and spying to keep Hamlet under control without knowing that he can foresee their actions in advance. Hamlet led his own game and sought to disclose the court that was full of deceptions, stemming predominantly from the mysterious death of Old Hamlet.

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Claudius murdered his own brother and was lying from his very first words in the play just to keep his power and title. Claudius’ cues were meticulously written in blank verse, which conveyed an impression that he was a rightful and honorable King. However, the King spoke with Hamlet only pretending to care about him and his well-being. Moreover, instead of being furious with Hamlet for his insult expressed during the play, Claudius showed love and general care for his stepson and nephew. He did so, because he did not want to lose power and respect of the court. Furthermore, he probably assumed that, if he acted differently, it would mean that he accepted the accusations. Claudius further complicated the investigation of the crime and revelation of the truth by announcing that Hamlet was next in line for the throne of Denmark. Therefore, Claudius did everything for his benefit, not caring for anyone else.

Polonius, who combined the functions of a father and the King’s royal assistant, used spying and lie to maintain the impression of a loving and caring person. Even though he gave his son, Laertes, a blessing to go to Paris, he sent a spy to follow and observe him. Furthermore, he ordered Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet, because the young man did not love her, but only felt lust. In fact, the truth was opposite. This evidence showed his need to control everyone to keep his authority. Through the play, Polonius, as well as Claudius, hid behind a mask, appearing to be an honest and loving parent. In reality, Polonius lied, manipulated people, and eavesdropped. He made a contribution to the theme of “seeming” by showing how his image was not of a true nature, which was dramatically different in reality. 

All characters of the play helped to support the dominant theme. Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the King seemed to be virtuous and honest, which made it more difficult for Hamlet to uncover the hidden truth and crimes. However, later Hamlet managed to reveal all the lies and subtle intentions. He said that some things were faulty in Denmark, by which he meant that lie replaced or covered the true nature of each individual. Hamlet's remark to his mother stressed his sense and assumption that he was enveloped by pretence: “Seems, madam! Nay, it is. I know not seems” (Shakespeare 25). Gertrude wanted to doubt the evidence and Hamlet’s beliefs to keep the outright lie living. Hamlet's seeming madness was a deception, which was meant to distract attention from his suspicious actions, as he tried to collect proof against Claudius. Additionally, Hamlet staged The Murder of Gonzago, which was an elaborate deception aimed at accusing Claudius of his guilt. Hamlet's philosophical meditation and reluctance to kill Claudius resulted in self-delusion. Moreover, in one of his monologues, he made himself believe that he should not murder praying Claudius, because he would go to heaven. Before he died, Hamlet had ensured that Horatio would restore his “wounded name” by delivering his true story to the world. Through the lie and deceit, Hamlet managed to reveal the truth and convey it to the future generations.

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The most noticeable difference between appearance and reality is the disguise, which Hamlet uses, His image, speech, and manners only appear insane. At the beginning of the play, the reader learns that Hamlet assumed a disguise, wearing an “inky cloak” to show that he was mourning for his dead father. Actually, he remained the only one wearing black for a long time to shame his mother for a soon marriage. The happy couple wanted everyone to forget about Old Hamlet. Therefore, Hamlet wore black attire on purpose. It set him apart from everyone and made him an outsider among other cheerful members of the court. Nonetheless, Hamlet objected the assumption that any outward appearance such as dress or manners could indicate what he was feeling inside. The Prince supposed that his “suits of solemn black,” could not express even the smallest part of his grief and torment. Hamlet changed his mind and costume after he decided to play the role of an “antic” or a madman. Seeming insanity helped to disguise his investigation of the truth. Ophelia provided a vivid description of Hamlet: “No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled,/ Ungartered, and down-gyvèd to his ankle,/ Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other” (Shakespeare 79). If no one assumed that Hamlet made himself look untidy on purpose in order to persuade everyone that he lost his mind then his disguise worked. Ophelia, Polonius, and the rest of the court were convinced that Hamlet was mad and did not take him seriously.

In conclusion, it can be inferred from the play that Hamlet is a humanist, whose beliefs were shattered by reality, in which deception ruled. The premeditated murder of his father showed him the evil that came to power. The revenge for the old King’s death became Hamlet’s duty. To perform it, Hamlet used the same methods as plotters; he lied, spied, and adopted a disguise. Hamlet’s character presents the conflict between the personality and society, as well as between the good and the evil. At all times, a man had to choose between what is virtuous and what is wrong and to decide how to live his or her life. Hamlet’s tragedy is the tragedy of mind that tries to answer a question of whether to fight against evil or to escape from it. Hamlet accepted his fate to restore the justice in his kingdom and the only way to do that was to fight evil by its own means.

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