The Masks We Wear ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ Hamlet, one of Shakespeare's best-known plays, tells the tale of a young Danish prince who must uncover the truth about his father's death. Hamlet's uncle Claudius, the King's brother, does the honourable deed and takes control of good King Hamlet's throne and also his queen, Gertrude, after the two are married. As the play unfolds, Hamlet finds out his father was murdered by the recently crowned king. 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 infested with evil. Many of the characters within the play hide behind a shroud of falseness. Four of the main characters that hide behind these cloaks are Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Claudius. From behind their "masks" they give the impression of a person who is sincere and genuine, in reality they are steeped in lies and evil.
ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ Polonius, friend and assistant to the king, is always concerned with his appearance. He always wants to keep up the appearance of a sweet, gentle person. Polonius appears to be a man who loves and cares about his son, Laertes. He speaks to his son with advice that sounds sincere but in reality it is rehearsed, hollow and without feeling. Polonius gives his advice only to appear to be a good father. The reality is he only speaks to appear sincere as a politician, to look good rather then actually be good. Polonius even ends his speech to his son by saying: "And borrowing dulleth th' edge of husbandry.
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!" (I, iii, ll. 77-81).
ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ Polonius gives his son Laertes his blessing to go away, but then immediately sends a spy to follow him and keep an eye on him. This shows his duplicity when he gives the appearance of a loving father who cares for his son, when in reality he lied about his trust for his son. His advice he gives his son is rehearsed and only said to give the appearance of a gentle father. Polonius further adds to the theme by ordering Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet. Polonius says to her: "Ay, springes to catch woodcocks. I do know, When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul Lends the tongue vows. These blazes, daughter, Giving more light than heat, extinct in both Even in their promise, as it is a-making, You must not take for fire" (I, iii, ll. 115-120).
He lies to her by telling her that Hamlet does not love her, he only lusts for her.
ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ Throughout the play Polonius hides behind his "mask" appearing to be an honest, loving parent. In reality, Polonius lies to, manipulates, and eavesdrops on people. He helps contribute to the theme of appearance verses reality by showing how his appearance is not his true nature, behind the mask there lies someone totally different.
ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two courtiers of the Danish Royal Court who when asked by the king to find out what is troubling the young prince. Both help to contribute to the theme by showing there appearance of being Hamlet's confidants. The pair approach Hamlet pretending to be his friends when in actuality they are only there because the king asked them to find the truth. There is some irony within the situation because they are asked by the king to find out the truth and they attempt this by hiding within a lie.
Hamlet knows the purpose of their visit is to dig into his soul to find the real reason for his actions. As the play continues the two are asked again by the king to again try to find the reason for Hamlet's behavior. Hamlet insults them at every chance knowing they are lying to him about there purpose of the visit. He tells his mother, the Queen, "There's letters seal'd, and my two schoolfellows, Whom I trust as I will adders fang'd, They bear the mandate, they must sweep my way And marshal me to knavery" (III, iv, ll. 202-205).
As the tragedy continues, Hamlet goes with them to England. Hamlet is sent by the king to speak with the King of England. In actuality, Hamlet is sent off to be killed because Claudius thinks that he knows too much and must be put away. The two show their appearance of being Hamlet's 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 fidelity hidden in the lies.
ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ The fourth person to cover their true selves with a "mask" is Claudius the current King of Denmark. His conduct in council gives him the appearance of an honourable man. In Act I Scene 2, Claudius, in the presence of council, shows his true skill and ease of manner at speaking. Claudius speaks well of the deceased king by showing a general love for him by all his subjects. Claudius show respect for the old sovereign by speaking kind words of him. In reality he cares little for the old king, he speaks kindly only to give the appearance of a loving brother.
"Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death The memory be green, and that it us befitted To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom To be contracted in one brow of woe" (I, ii, ll. 1-4).
ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ As Claudius sends Voltimand and Cornelius off to give the king of Norway the message of Fortibras, he thanks and gives them complete trust, in the deliverance of the notation. This shows his trust and caring for his subjects in front of the council, winning even more consent from the council. "We doubt it nothing: heartily farewell" (I, ii, ll. 41).
Claudius fortifies his appearance of an honest and honourable man in front of the council by showing his respect for Polonius. He gives him the power to let his son Laertes stay or leave for Norway. Claudius speaks highly of Polonius giving him thanks and saying the he was responsible for Claudius becoming king: "The head is not more native to the heart, The hand more instrumental to the mouth, Than is the throne of Denmark to thy father.
What wouldst thou have, Laertes?" (I, ii, ll. 47-50) This council would see him as a man who greatly respects his subjects and cares for them. This adds to the difficulty of uncovering the truth for Hamlet later.
ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ Hamlet enters the council chamber and speaks with Claudius. The King speaks with Hamlet seeming to be concerned with Hamlet. He gives advice that too much grieving is not healthy, and shows a concern for Hamlet's welfare. This conduct of Claudius strengthens the "mask" he has created for himself. Claudius shows the council that he is understanding of Hamlet's grief over his father by saying, "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?" (I, ii, ll. 66). Claudius tells Hamlet that he is an admirable person for grieving for so long over his father's death. Yet again Claudius keeps putting on the appearance of the honourable man.
"'Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet, To give these mourning duties to your father.
But, you must know, you father lost a father, That father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound In filial obligation for some term To do obsequious sorrow. But to persever In obstinate condolement is a course" (I, 2, ll. 87-93) ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ Marcellus described the situation best when he said "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (I, iv, ll. 90). The four characters each hide themselves and because of their sins they are killed by the hands of Hamlet each time. Shakespeare's use of Hamlet as the bringer of justice is not without irony because he puts on the appearance of something else as well. In order to rectify the sins of the four, Hamlet must "put an antic disposition on" (I, v, ll. 172). Hamlet use pretense to get a truth (uncover the masks of his enemies) seems to make him no better than the rest. Shakespeare is obviously against not being your true self because all of these characters who put on certain "masks" to hide their true selves die in the end.