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Appearance Vs Reality In Hamlet Essay Questions

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Appearance Vs Reality In Hamlet Essay Research

Appearance Vs Reality In Hamlet Essay, Research Paper

One of the most famous and popular authors and script

writers is William Shakespeare. Shakespeare has always been able

to create interesting characters and one of the reasons they are

so interesting might be that they are complex people with their

inner selves differing from their outer selves. Are the

characters in Hamlet the same on the inside as they appear to be

on the outside? The characters in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

can be studied in a manner relating to appearance versus reality.

Some of these characters are Claudius, Rosencrantz and

Guildenstern, and Hamlet.

One character who enables us to examine the theme of

appearance versus reality is Claudius, the new King of Denmark.

In Act One, Scene Two Claudius acts as though he really cares for

his brother and grieves over the elder Hamlet’s death. This is

shown in his first speech addressed to his court, “and that it us

befitted/To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom/To be

contracted in one brow of woe” (Shakespeare I22-4). It is

shown further on in the same speech when he says, “our late dear

brother’s death” (Shakespeare I219). However, this is not how

Claudius truly feels about his brothers death, for Claudius is

the one who murders elder Hamlet. We see the proof of this in

Claudius’ soliloquy when he appears to be praying; “O, my offence

is rank, it smells to heaven./It hath the primal eldest curse

upon’t/A brother’s murder” (Shakespeare III336-38).

Another love which Claudius fakes is the love he has towards

his nephew and stepson, Hamlet. In his first speech to his court

Claudius tells Hamlet not to leave for school but to remain in

Denmark; “It is most retrograde to our desire/And we do beseech

you, bend you to remain/Here in the cheer and comfort of our eye”

(Shakespeare I2114-117). However, later in the play Claudius

develops a plan to send Hamlet away from Denmark with the aid of

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; “And he [Hamlet] to England shall

along with you [R & G]” (Shakespeare III34). Claudius also

refers to himself as “Thy loving father, Hamlet” (Shakespeare

IV350) but when Hamlet is out of the room a few moments later

Claudius has a complete change of face in which he reveals his

plan to have Hamlet executed; “Our sovereign process, which

imports at full/By letters congruing to that effect/The present

death of Hamlet” (Shakespeare IV363-65).

Even the love Claudius showed for Gertrude can be questioned

in its validity. Claudius, near the beginning of the play,

appears to be happy about his marriage to Gertrude and in the

later scene of Claudius’ soliloquy, he lists Gertrude as one of

the reasons he murdered his own brother. We can assume by this

that Claudius did appear to love Gertrude, but we cannot say for

certain. During the final scene of Laertes and Hamlet’s fight

Claudius poisons Hamlet’s drink, but does nothing to prevent

Gertrude from accidentally drinking the poison save his saying

“Gertrude, do not drink” (Shakespeare V2280).

Another character source of information relating to the

appearance versus reality theme would be Rosencrantz and

Guildenstern. Both appear to be Hamlet’s friends; “My honour’d

lord!/ My most dear lord!” (Shakespeare II2223-224) but in

reality both are just workers for Claudius who attempt to assist

in the murder of Hamlet. Hamlet realizes this and voices his

distrust of the duo, “my two schoolfellows/Whom I will trust as I

will adders fang’d” (Shakespeare IV1202-203).

One other character which allows us to take a good look at

appearances versus reality is Hamlet. The most famous example of

this theme would be Hamlet’s “antic disposition” (Shakespeare

I5171) which we learn later in the play is in fact, just a act

“I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind/is southerly I know

a hawk from a handsaw” (Shakespeare II2377-378). Hamlet is a

very convincing actor for even his own mother, “Alas, he’s mad”

(Shakespeare III4105), and father, “nor stands it safe with

us/To let his madness range” (Shakespeare III31-2), think that

There is also Hamlet’s use of the play to determine the

Kings guilt or innocence; “the play’s the thing/wherein I’ll

catch the conscience of the king” (Shakespeare II2606-607).

Claudius believes he is just going to see a play that Hamlet

would like him to see; he does not expect for Hamlet to use the

play to accuse him of murdering elder Hamlet. Hamlet also

appears to welcome and trust his returning friends Rosencrantz

and Guildenstern, “My excellent good friends!” (Shakespeare

II2225) but he soon learns to distrust them and leads them to

Hamlet’s love for Ophelia also has two different sides.

Hamlet, when wearing his “antic disposition” appears to not care

for Ophelia at all telling her, “You should not have believ’d

me/I lov’d you not” (Shakespeare III1117-119). After her death

Hamlet reveals his true feelings by saying “I lov’d Ophelia:

forty thousand brothers/Could not, with all their quantity of

love/Make up my sum” (Shakespeare V1270-272)

As you can see there are many instances of different

realities being hidden behind outward appearances in the play

Hamlet. Claudius and Hamlet, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to

an extent, have a hidden side to them that only the reader is

allowed to see. This helps keep the plot suspenseful and

sometimes humourous when the reader knows what each character

thinks of each other and then sees the opposite happen when the

Other articles

Theme of Appearance versus Reality Essay

The Theme of
Appearance versus Reality

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

Play-acting did not begin at Elsinore with the arrival of a troupe of fictional actors, played by real actors. The Players come to a castle where two theatrical performances are already in progress.

One is a throne and queen-grab, directed by and staring the usurping Claudius. The second work of theatre is a one-man show of madness, written and performed by his nephew, Prince Hamlet. Shakespeare’s Hamlet can be regarded as an extended pun on the verb ‘to act’. Elsinore is like a stage on which the characters both act (in the sense of taking action) and also act (in the sense of playing false roles).


#Hamlet - A play-long pun on the verb 'to act': to do and to play a false role.

Key Essay Topics Covered
  • Hamlet is fundamentally a play about play-acting. Almost everyone is performing or directing others to play a false role.
  • Almost everything in Hamlet appears in twos. Such pairs and contrasts underscore Elsinore’s two-faced world.
  • The truth-seeking prince must put on a succession of false poses in order to expose the falsity of others.
Key Supporting Quotes

quotations from the play to support your statements.

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

The playwright of providence cast Claudius as a secondary character in the shadow his brother, King Hamlet. But Claudius rewrites the script so that he now shares the throne and bed of Queen Gertrude.

Attempting to see behind the mask of Hamlet’s madness, Claudius directs or colludes in three ‘plays-within-a-play’. But neither the false show of concern by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern nor the staged encounter with Ophelia “hold a mirror up to nature” (3.2). The third ploy, arranged with Polonius as the secret audience, marks the turning point after which events spiral out of Claudius’ control and his “sorrows come, … not single spies, but in battalions ” (4.5).


#Hamlet: Where appearance and reality are maddeningly and tragically far apart.

Key Essay Topics Covered
  • Claudius acts the false role of a grieving brother and rightful monarch: “(O)ur whole kingdom. To be contracted in one brow of woe” (1.2).
  • Both Prince Hamlet and Norway’s Young Fortinbras are unconvinced by Claudius’ royal performance. One doubts his moral character; the other his ability as king.
  • Claudius exiles Hamlet to England “for thine especial safety” (4.3). In reality, he is sending his nephew to his death.
Key Supporting Quotes

quotations from the play to support your statements.

Not even his own son and daughter are safe from the duplicitous ploys of the king’s advisor, Polonius. He sends a spy Reynaldo to Paris to spread malicious lies about Laertes – “Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth ” (2.1). He then exploits Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet, directing her to stumble across the prince “as ’twere by accident ” (3.1), while he and the king listen nearby, “seeing, unseen.

Appropriately, Polonius dies as he lived, eavesdropping behind a curtain. “(F)arewell. I took thee for thy better, ” says Hamlet (3.4). With deadly irony, the man, who in life so enjoyed acting as someone he was not, met his death because he was mistaken for someone else.


Polonius in #Hamlet - "If circumstances lead me, I will find / Where truth is hid."

Key Essay Topics Covered
  • The guard’s words, “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark ” (1.4), apply as much to Polonius as to his political master.
  • Prince Hamlet, rather than revenging King Hamlet’s murder, creates another vengeance-seeking, fatherless son, Laertes.
  • Polonius, who declared “the apparel oft proclaims the man ” (1.3) is buried without ceremony in an unmarked grave.
Key Supporting Quotes

quotations from the play to support your statements.

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

Like his creator, Prince Hamlet is an actor (“I perchance hereafter shall… To put an antic disposition on” – 1.5) and playwright (“The play’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king” – 2.2). For the first half of the play he is also a harsh theatre critic of the other characters’ insincere performances. But his words and theatrics are not enough to unseat Claudius.

On his return to Elsinore, a changed Hamlet has decided he will no longer “like a whore, unpack my heart with words” (2.2). The prince has accepted the Everlasting as the playwright of his life and death: “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” Whatever is destined to happen, will happen; “the readiness is all” (5.2).


Prince #Hamlet - "A knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear."

Key Essay Topics Covered
  • Prince Hamlet is the play’s most contriving character: no one is more skilled at pretense, or is as quick to recognize it in others.
  • Hamlet’s happiest moment in the play is in 2.2 when he learns of the Players’ arrival – “Buzz, buzz” .
  • Hamlet’s stabbing of Polonius resulted from his lack of faith, not madness. The prince failed to wait for Providence to provide the right moment for removing Claudius.
Key Supporting Quotes

quotations from the play to support your statements.

Claudius compares his masquerade of legitimate kingship with the make-up worn by a prostitute: “The harlot’s cheek, beautied with plastering art, Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it Than is my deed to my most painted word” (3.1). He continues the paint metaphor in 4.7: “Laertes, was your father dear to you? Or are you like the painting of a sorrow, A face without a heart?”

But, as Hamlet observes in the graveyard scene of 5.1, death will triumph over all painted makeup and disguises. Speaking to Yorick’s skull, he declares: “Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come.”


Claudius fools everyone, except Prince #Hamlet. Gertrude fools only herself.

Key Essay Topics Covered
  • Many characters hide their innermost thoughts from others. Gertrude wears her mask on the inside: she hides from herself the truth about the man she accepted as second husband.
  • It is this inner wall of self-delusion that Prince Hamlet seeks to breach: “You shall not budge. You go not till I set you up a glass Where you may see the inmost part of you” (3.4).
Key Supporting Quotes

quotations from the play to support your statements.

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

“Who’s there? ” asks the castle guard Barnardo as midnight approaches in the play’s very first line. His question expresses an underlying theme of the play: the difficulty of correctly identifying the true, authentic selves of others – and by extension, of distinguishing between appearance and reality, between what ‘seems’ and what ’is’.

Ironically, the watchful sentinel was looking in the wrong direction. The menace that doomed Denmark as an independent nation came from inside the walls of Elsinore itself. Denmark was not conquered by an external military campaign; it collapsed under a web of domestic deception.


#Hamlet - Barnardo and the castle guards were looking in the wrong direction.

Key Essay Topics Covered
  • Hamlet is a play that begins with a question and ends with much left unsaid: “Had I but time…, I could tell you” (5.2).
  • A traumatized Ophelia went to her watery grave never knowing why her prince’s “noble and most sovereign reason” became “Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh” (3.1).
  • The play demonstrates what tragic consequences follow when “He that plays he king ” (2.2) is a deceitful villain.
Key Supporting Quotes

quotations from the play to support your statements.

#10: The Themes
of Hamlet

Deception, revenge, madness, corruption, decay and death – all shaped by destiny. A prince is left with an impossible choice when his uncle chooses murder and his mother chooses self-delusion.

A marriage of mutual attraction – and practical interest. Claudius wanted something (the kingship) he did not have; Gertrude had something (the role of queen) she wanted to hold onto.

His lust for Denmark’s throne leads him to commit one murder only to find that he must plot a second to cover up the first. When this plan fails, his next scheme leads to the death of the woman he loves.

“Have you eyes? ”, Prince Hamlet demands of his mother. Gertrude‘s “o’erhasty marriage ” marriage dooms her life and the lives of everyone around her when her wished-for, happy-ever-after fairytale ends in a bloodbath.

Hamlet Essay

Hamlet Essay | Essay Appearance Versus Reality in Hamlet

Summary: Discusses the theme of Appearance versus Reality in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Describes how many of the characters appear to be good, honest people, when they in reality, all have hidden intentions behind them. Provides a plot synopsis.

The Play Hamlet is one of William Shakespeare's most well known works. It tells the story of Prince Hamlet, who must come to terms with and find the truth behind his recently deceased father's death. Throughout the play, there is a constant theme of appearance versus reality and the difference between what seems to be and what is. This theme of appearance versus reality can be demonstrated through Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildentern, and King Claudius.

Polonius, the trusted councillor to the king, appears to be a good man, and a trusting and caring father, to both Laertes and Ophelia. To Laertes upon his preparation to leave for college, Polonius gives his blessing:

To thine own self be true,

And it must follow as the night the day

Thogh canst not the false to any man.

Farewell, my blessing season this in thee.

(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, sc III.

Reality vs

Reality vs. Appearance - Hamlet

In the play "Hamlet," Shakespeare's characters are confronted with the timeless question: How can one determine what is actually true from what only seems to be true? Throughout the play, the theme of appearance versus reality is constant. This theme is played out from the beginning, with Claudius' attempt to conceal his secret intentions; Gertrude and Ophelia masking their own truths, and finally Hamlet, who assumes the role of a madman in order to uncover the reality behind his appearance.

Various characters try to cover their secret intentions with a veneer of a whole other person. One of the most obvious is Claudius. Claudius murdered his brother, the former King Hamlet, in order to become king himself. This murder, which was done in secret, with no one but Claudius knowing that the act was committed by him. Not only is he the King of Denmark, but he is also married to Queen Gertrude, his brother's former wife.

These awful crimes have not been punished. and on one knows that Claudius has done this. When Claudius confronts anyone, he must become someone different. He puts on a self-serving, cold, devious mask. Meanwhile. he acts like a caring husband who does his best to ensure that Gertrude stays with him. This helps Claudius to keep Hamlet from trying to take the kingdom and destroy what he has worked so hard to gain. To the end Claudius has different faces. But is Claudius really masking his true character, when he tries to seek redemption for his sins? Claudius wrestles with his guilt by asking himself:

"Where to serves mercy

But to confront the visage of offense?

And that's in prayer but his twofold force,

To be forestalled are we come to fall.

That cannot be, since I.

Appearance Vs Reality Hamlet

Appearance Vs Reality Hamlet

In Shakespeare's Hamlet. the theme of appearance vs. reality occurs several times.

The most striking example of this may be Hamlet's "insanity." While this point is strongly debated (is Hamlet truly insane or pretending), his plan to act crazy gives him freedom (without suspicion) to prove what the Ghost has told him: that Claudius murdered Old Hamlet. In Act One, Hamlet says he will act crazy, and swears Horatio and the others that no matter how he acts, they will not give Hamlet away by a knowing nod, a wink or a casual comment.

Here, as before, never, so help you mercy,

How strange or odd soe'er I bear myself—

As I perchance hereafter shall think meet

To put an antic disposition on— (I.v.189-192)

Appearance vs. reality is seen in the Ghost. Elizabethans were believers in the powers of evil, certain that witches and ghosts could serve a dark purpose. Hamlet's reticence to act quickly after the Ghost reveals Claudius' murder of Old Hamlet is seated in the Elizabethans' worry that the powers of darkness would do anything to win a man's soul. Hamlet worries that the Ghost may give the appearance of his dead father, only to trick him into murdering the King. Regicide was considered a mortal sin. For in The Great Chain of Being. Elizabethans believed that God ordained where a man's place in life (his importance) would be. To kill a king was an act—against God. So while Hamlet says that the Ghost is an "honest" one, his desire for proof (for the sake of his soul) is necessary. After all, the Ghost has also reported that he (Old Hamlet) went to his death without the benefit of absolution, and now must walk the earth, tormented in purgatory. (Hamlet would not want this for himself.)

When Hamlet finally gets Claudius to show his guilt at the reenactment of Old Hamlet's murder (in the play, Mousetrap ), Hamlet finally has his proof. The King sees the murder and abruptly rises. Hamlet is gleeful—Claudius responds to a pretended act. for this is only a play, Hamlet says. right . (With this theme, the appearance of the murder of a king alludes to the reality of such an action.)

What, frighted with false fire? (III.ii.255)

Hamlet seems to have struck a nerve when the King ends the play:

Give me some light. Away! (258)

After the fiasco of the play, Claudius retires to the chapel to pray. Hamlet comes upon him, planning to kill him, but stops: for if Claudius confesses his sins, he goes straight to Heaven, while Old Hamlet is cursed to walk for a time to suffer for his sins. The appearance vs. reality is that Claudius cannot pray (though Hamlet doesn't know it):

O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;

It hath the primal eldest curse upon't,

A brother's murder! Pray can I not,

Though inclination be as sharp as will;

My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent. (III.iii.37-42)

Polonius hides behind the curtain in Gertrude's room to spy. Hamlet believes Claudius is there, in the midst of an incestuous act with Gertrude (for who else but husband would be there), and Hamlet kills the old man.

How now, a rat? [Draws. ] Dead for a ducat, dead! (III.iv.26)

It appears to be the King, but in reality, it is the nosey Polonius.

The theme is even attributed to Gertrude: is she guilty of collusion in her husband's death? The Ghost speaks of.

The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen. (I.v.51)

Hamlet will discover later that she is innocent, but appearances (again) might be deceiving.