The most evident controversy between reality and appearance betrays the people. Claudius is not the heroic brother of the deceased king who took over the throne to save the people, as they think he did. Claudius speaks to the people and convinces them not to be afraid that their King has died. Claudius, pretending to grieve, encourages the people that they need to forget about King Hamlet and get on with their lives. Claudius says: “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. (1.2. 1-7). The people of the kingdom believed that King Hamlet died of natural causes and had no idea that their new king murdered him. . Hamlet was to return to Wittenberg, Claudius asks Hamlet not to go back to Wittenberg but to stay so they can watch over him. In reality, Claudius does not care about Hamlet, he wants to watch him. Claudius knows that if Hamlet finds out the truth about his father’s death, he will kill him. Gertrudes thinks that because Claudius asks him to stay he is trying to get closer to his stepson. Hamlet agrees to stay but starts to question why Claudius is so concerned about him.
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Rosencrantz and Guidenstern are two characters who contribute to the theme of appearance versus reality. Hamlet’s childhood friends; “My honored lord! My most dear lord!” (2.2. 240-241). In reality are manipulated by Claudius to help him kill Hamlet. Claudius tells them to visit Hamlet and find out what is wrong with him. They go to Hamlet pretending to be his friend when the truth is they only went to see him because the king asks them to. Hamlet figures out that they are only consoling him to find out why he has been so upset. Hamlet, knowing what they are doing, mocks them at every chance he gets because he knows their visit with him is a lie and tells them he does not trust them “my two schoolfellows, whom I will trust as I will adders fanged” (3. 4. 225-226).
Hamlet also shows reality vs. appearance by his plan to use the play to see if the king is guilty or innocent of the murder of his father: “the play’s the thing. Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king” (2. 2. 633-634). Claudius is lead to believe he is going to a play. He does not realize that the play has an added scene which would accuse him of murdering Hamlet’s father.
Hamlet’s devotion and love for Ophelia also has two sides. Hamlet, when being “antic disposition” appears not to care or love Ophelia. He tells her “You should not have believed me, for virtue cannot so (inoculate) our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not” (3. 1. 127-129). In reality when Ophelia dies Hamlet admits “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum” (5. 1. 285-287)
The characters in the play all show the theme appearance verses reality. Polonius, Rosencrantz. Guildenstern and King Claudius all appear to be sincere and trustworthy. However, in the end, Hamlet sees through their appearances to the reality of their true nature.
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