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Reality and Illusion in Shakespeare's Hamlet - Appearance versus Reality

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Appearance versus Reality in Hamlet

Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, is a tale of a young prince who must ascertain the truth regarding his father's death. Throughout the play, the fundamental theme of appearance versus reality is constant. The majority of the main characters hide behind veils of lies and deceptions, obscuring the truth to the point that nearly nothing of their actual selves are visible. The labyrinth of deception is so twisted that only Hamlet is aware of the truth, and only because the ghost of his father revealed it to him. Hamlet, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the King Claudius are all part of this circle of deception.

Hamlet, while more genuine than the rest, brings himself into the
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Then, true to his suspicious nature, he dispatches a spy to ensure report on his son's actions. Polonius again delivers false information when he advises Ophelia to leave Hamlet's love unrequited and tells her it is only lust, not love. Polonius portrays himself as a respectable man full of wisdom and grace when in truth he is untrusting, unscrupulous, and uncaring of all but himself.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet's childhood companions, are quickly seen to be frauds as well. Acting on the King's request, they attempt to extract the truth from Hamlet by playing upon their past friendship. Hamlet perceives that they are only taking advantage of their friendship to benefit themselves, alluding that he knows they are lying about the purpose of their visit when he says (speaking of a recorder), "'Tis as easy as lying; govern these ventages with your finger and thumb, give it breath with your mouth..." Again the theme of appearance versus reality is perpetuated, constantly complicating Hamlet's discovery of the truth, and therefore, his retribution upon his father's murderer, Claudius.

If one character were to be chosen from Hamlet as the personification of a lie, it would be Claudius. A devious and scheming conspirator, Claudius successfully convinces all but Hamlet of his honor and trustworthiness with his
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