Spying and Deceit in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"

Essay by emmachaseHigh School, 12th gradeA, January 2008

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Spying and Deceit in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"Throughout Shakespeare's tragedy, "Hamlet," various characters spy, are spied upon, set-traps and fall into traps. All of this activity creates an overall feeling of deceit and deception that permeates the play. The opening line, "Who's there? Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself" (I:1, 1-2), sets the tone of the play where characters must constantly look over their shoulders and protect themselves.

At the beginning of Act II is the first of many cases of spying within the play. Polonius, the Lord Chamberlain of King Claudius's court, orders his servant, Reynaldo, to go to Paris and spy on his son Laertes. Polonius tells Reynaldo to "…breathe his faults so quaintly, That they may seem the taints of liberty, The flash and outbreak of a fiery mind, A savageness in unreclaimed blood, Of general assault" (II:1, 31-35). As we see in so many cases within this play, Polonius is unable to take the straight route and just ask his servant to visit Laertes, give him some money and inquire about his well being.

Instead, he sends Reynaldo off with orders to ask questions of strangers in such a way that will damage Laertes reputation and turn fellow Danes, living in Paris, against him. Polonius believes that this is the only way to get strangers to confirm or argue against Laertes possible bad behavior.

Next, the King and Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, summon Hamlet's closest friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and ask them to spy on Hamlet. "That you vouchsafe your rest here in our court Some little time: so by your companies To draw him on to pleasures, and to gather, So much as from occasion you may glean, Whether aught, to us unknown, afflicts him thus, That, open'd, lies within our remedy"...