In the play “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” William Shakespeare has used the theme of deception, and how its use by one or more characters leads to their downfall. Polonius explicitly stated this theme when he said to Laertes in I, ii, “By indirections find directions out. ” Each major character in Hamlet, in his or her own way, provided an example of this theme. By using deceit the characters in “Hamlet” employed methods to fulfill their own agenda, an action that ultimately resulted in tragedy. Shakespeare’s use of deception is seen most clearly in Hamlet’s actions.
He began to “act mad” early in the play in order to manipulate his friends. “Hereafter [I] shall put an antic disposition on” (I. v. 171-2). Hamlet swore to use this antic disposition to uncover his father’s murderer. He used this performance as a tool of artifice in order to cover up his true feelings. Hamlet went too far however, and his underhanded plan began to work against him. By not coming clean with those he trusts most, Hamlet served to alienate them from himself, and from his cause (of avenging his father’s death). In III i, Hamlet said to Ophelia, “God hath given you a face, and you make [yourself] another.
Prince Hamlet hypocritically attacked her for concealing her opinions, while he counterfeited his own opinions with the antic disposition. Ophelia is not the only character he acted mad toward; he used the same duplicity toward all characters in the play. When speaking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, for example, he asked them to “be even and direct” with him, but did not inform them of the intent behind his own deceitful actions. As shown when Rozencrantz said to Hamlet, “You bar the door upon your own liberty, if you deny [telling] your griefs to your friend[s]” (III. ii. 7-8), Hamlet had not been fully open with his friends.
Hamlet’s use of an antic disposition is what lead to his death. He had overdone his acting mad, and the madness he had created began to control him as seen in V, ii when Hamlet speaks of himself in the third person to Laertes: I here proclaim [my] madness If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away, / And when he’s not himself, does wrong Laertes, / Then hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it: / Who does it then? His madness. If’t be so, / Hamlet is of the faction that is wronged, / His madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy. ” (Lines 213-22)
Hamlet’s acting mad swelled to such a level that he could not claim responsibility for the offenses that he committed. His loss of control is a crucial aspect of the play’s theme, because it shows Hamlet’s deterioration by the same actions he had previously preformed in order to mask his true outlook. Claudius is another character in “Hamlet” who used treachery to reach his objective. Everything he tried to accomplish he did in a sly manner, beginning with the killing of his brother. The ghost of the king saw Claudius as a man, “[ who has] the power to seduce my most virtuous queen.
He killed the king not by confrontation, but with a “leprous distilment” poured slowly and quietly into his ear. The sly manner in which he did this is what spurred Hamlet to seek revenge. Claudius, while praying, admitted to himself that he could not repent for what he had done: “Yet what can it, when one cannot repent? ” (III. iii. 66). He knew what he did was wrong, and that it would come to haunt him in the form of the tragic loss of his life. Through underhanded means King Claudius tried to kill Hamlet several times. The first of which he used Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as guardians accompanying Hamlet to England,
I like him not, nor stands it safe with us / To let his madness rage. Therefore prepare you, / I your commission will forthwith dispatch, / And he to England shall along with you: / The terms of our estate may not endure / Hazard so near’s as doth hourly grow / Out of his brows” (III. iii. 1-7). The king recognized his nephew’s objective of trickery through “madness”, and tried to put a premature end to Hamlet’s plans. To accomplish this he did not try to eliminate Hamlet himself, rather, the king turned Laertes against him, again embodying the theme of deception.
Another method of portraying the theme of deceit is seen in the way Shakespeare depicted Polonius. He is much like Hamlet, in the fact that he is very a hypocritical character. For example, he passed this advice on to his son: “[do] not then be false to any man. ” He proceeded to tell Claudius of how they could hide behind the arras and spy on Hamlet, in order to find out why he had been “acting mad. ”
He also hid behind the arras in Gertrude’s bed chambers in order to spy on Hamlet further, “Behind the arras I’ll convey myself” (III. i. 28). This is what led to his death though, in the end of the third act. Shakespeare portrays this as Polonius’ conniving, underhanded ways coming back to kill him. As a relatively minor character Laertes exhibits all the same traits as the rest of Shakespeare’s cast – deception and deceit. He is seen as almost identical to Hamlet. Both loved Ophelia, both of their fathers were wrongfully murdered, and both sought revenge. The only difference is that Laertes was more willing to act on his convictions.
This alone was not devious, but the methods he employed definitely were. “I will do it I’ll anoint my sword that if I gall him slightly, / it may be death. ” (IV. vii. 137-47). By poisoning the tip of his sword, Laertes not only killed Hamlet, he used the themes of the play to do so. This, as repeatedly shown, is what led him to tragedy; his death. The play’s motifs of deceit and deception are furthered with Rozencrantz and Guildenstern. They claimed to be Hamlet’s friends, when really they were profiting at his expense by collaborating with the King and Queen.
Shown when the Queen said, “Your visitation will receive such thanks / As fits a king’s remembrance,” it is explicitly implied that they are receiving compensation for their “service. ” By betraying their friend in return for pay, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern choose deceitful actions to fulfill their own agendas. It ends up killing them though, because Hamlet finds out and changes the letters. Each character in the play “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” utilizes the theme of deceit, and provides an example (through their death) of how it repeatedly leads to tragedy.