Hamlet by Shakespeare
In Hamlet the convention of false seeming is one that exists throughout the play and is one of the main themes the play focuses on. Shakespeare uses this convention to portray Hamlet’s confusion in understanding the world and how it is able to corrupt Denmark. Hamlet suffers from his own moral standards, the desperate need to seek the truth, lack of confidence and confusion within his mind. The first confusing incident for Hamlet is the appearance of the ghost of his dead father in the beginning of the play.
With the ghost telling him of the task that he must fulfil, he instantly becomes confused and introspective. Shakespeare portrays this confusion as a need to find the truth, as Hamlet must decide whether to believe the ghost, or not. The spirit that I have seen may be the devil: and the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape… ” (A2:S2:L603). This truth-seeking attitude becomes a consistent one throughout the whole play that is ironically contrasted with Hamlet acquiring an “antic-disposition”.
When Hamlet acquires an “antic-disposition” it can be metaphorically contrasted with his confusion, as he seeks the truth, yet he covers up his own actions with a hypocritical madness. Not only does his ‘antic disposition’ confuse himself, but it also confuses others and this causes undesirable reactions toward Hamlet. The effect of putting on this “antic-disposition” is that other people’s reactions such as that of Claudius and Ophelia, cause him to become untrusting and alone in a world struck with turmoil.
A clear example of this is with Claudius, as it has exactly the opposite effect of what is hoped for. He now sees Hamlet as more of a threat than ever before. Shakespeare uses this convention of feeling threatened, to show how Claudius enlists the help of Hamlet’s friends to betray him and to add to his confusion. Claudius enlists the help of Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to secretly spy on Hamlet and to report back on his madness. Hamlet learns of this and gains a confession from the two men, leading him to become confused as to who can be trusted and he feels his first bitter taste of betrayal.
Through spying on a meeting with Ophelia, Claudius learns of Hamlets threat to end his life. “I say we will have no mo marriage. Those that are married already-all but one-shall live;”(A3:S1:L149) Because of this Hamlet is sent to England where Claudius wishes to have him killed in secret, to negate the threat. “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go. “(A3:S1:L190). When Hamlet learns of the plot against his life he trusts no one and feels suspicious of every word spoken to him, something that leaves him isolated in his life.
One of the things that Shakespeare attempts to do in Hamlet is to show the consequences of avoiding the truth and of the false-seeming behaviour. One such consequence that aids in Hamlets confusion is his profound sense of loneliness. This stems from his death of his father, betrayal by his friends and his distancing from Ophelia. The effect of Hamlets ‘antic-disposition’ is that he separates himself from Ophelia and other people that he could confide in. His ‘antic-disposition’ distanced him from Ophelia, who he actually loved. “I loved Ophelia.
Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum. ” (A5:S1:L245) To uphold his ‘antic-disposition’ he alienated Ophelia with hurtful comments and he tells her that he never loved her. When he finally sees sense in what he has done, it is too late as Ophelia was dead. The effect of being alone is one of the causes of confusion and procrastination for Hamlet, as he never really had a true friend or confidant other than Horatio in whom he was able to discuss his actions and debate the morality of his actions.
Horatio is not much of a true friend to Hamlet but rather a metaphorical extension of Hamlet’s self to which Hamlet conveys his ideas without the use of a soliloquy. Hamlet is still alone and confused as Horatio only every offers a balanced view that does not aid Hamlet in his decisions. Hamlet’s need to seek the truth is his greatest virtue but it is also his Achilles heel as it leads to his procrastination and introspective nature. Although he finally does find out the truth he learns of the sad fate tat he must die as all who partake in the ‘false-seeming’ do.
It has been said that Shakespeare paralleled the court of Denmark with some aspects of the English court as a great deal of spying took place and betrayal of friends was not uncommon. He attempted to show how Hamlet was confused by the deceitful behaviour in the court, and how it would have affected his own country and court. Not only is Hamlet a play about revenge, it is also one about deception, loneliness, morality and the chaos and harm that it can cause to innocent people.