Friday, August 16, 2019

In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare Essay

In the play ‘Hamlet’ by William Shakespeare, one of the main themes is the discrepancy between appearance and reality. The development of this theme through the plot, soliloquy and imagery help to reinforce the player’s role in the play and directs the audience to where their allegiances should lie for the climax of the play. The theme appearance versus reality is clearly evident throughout this Shakespearean play; it is introduced at the very beginning through Claudius’ speech to the court. The structure and rhythm of this blank verse carries him through but the imagery that Shakespeare uses signals to the audience the corruption in Denmark – he uses phrases such as ‘defeated joy’, ‘one auspicious and one drooping eye’ and ‘wisest sorrow’. These opposing images and hollow phrases reveal the hypocrisy of the diplomat’s words; how can a person have ‘one auspicious and one drooping eye’ unless they are duplicitous? Claudius’ opening speech is also eloquent, relaxed and so carefully structured that it appears rehearsed – he deals with three items of business before confronting his black-suited nephew: Old King Hamlet’s death; the threat from Fortinbras’ army; Laertes’ impending departure to France. Shakespeare here signals to the audience that Claudius is uneasier than he appears by leaving his nephew and son-in-law to deal with last. In my opinion, the exposition of Claudius’ Machiavellian mature at the beginning through the theme appearance versus reality is very effective as it reveals to the audience the corruption in Elsinore which essentially instigates Hamlet’s revenge and also exposes Claudius at the beginning of the play as the antagonist, aligning the audience’s sympathies. Furthermore, this main theme is developed through the soliloquies – in particular Claudius’. During his agonised soliloquy, Claudius puts on the appearance of praying but he is pseudo-sincere in this: ‘Pray can I not, though inclination be as sharp as will. ‘ This reveals Claudius confessing to the murder of his brother but not repenting for his sins. As he is not sincere in this, he believes that he will not go to heaven: ‘My words fly up, my thoughts remain below, words without thoughts never to heaven go. ‘ This rhyming couplet not only reveals the theme appearance versus reality, but is also richly ironic as this ‘prayer’ actually saves his life. Shakespeare also employs the transferred epithet ‘stubborn knees’ to further emphasise Claudius’ reluctance to repent for his sins and how he is putting on the appearance of praying, albeit mendaciously. In my opinion, the development of the main theme through Claudius’ soliloquy successfully polarises Claudius from the protagonists and reinforces him as the villain in the play, directing the audience to where their allegiances should lie for the climax of the play. In addition, Shakespeare conveys the theme appearance versus reality through Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’. This is illustrated particularly well through Hamlet’s exchanges with Polonius: ‘Let her not walk i’th’sun. Conception is a blessing. But as your daughter may conceive – friend, look to’t. ‘ Although these words sound like nonsense to Polonius and the audience, there is a thread of bitter satire running through them. Hamlet reveals his witty sarcasm here as he is aware that Ophelia has been prevented from seeing him and tells Polonius that he should not let her walk in the sun if he wishes to prevent her becoming pregnant. Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’ is reinforced throughout the play but particularly through his exchanges with Claudius: ‘Excellent i’faith – of the chameleon’s dish. I eat the air, promised crammed. You cannot feed capons so. ‘ Hamlet here is trying to make Claudius think that he is frustrated at not being the King; Claudius pretends not to understand him. In my opinion, Shakespeare effectively polarises Hamlet from Claudius through his ‘antic disposition’ and wit which in turn successfully aligns the audience with the protagonist for the denouement. Furthermore, it could be argued that the theme of surveillance intertwines with the main theme appearance versus reality which helps to further develop the audience’s awareness of the conflict between reality and appearance. For example, Hamlet’s conversations with the two people he loved, Gertrude and Ophelia, were eaves-dropped by Polonius. As a result of the spying, Ophelia and Gertrude spoke to Hamlet with constrained formality: ‘How does your honour for this many a day? ‘. This heated exchange between the eponymous prince and Ophelia during ‘the nunnery scene’ recapitulates arguably the main theme of the play; appearance versus reality which is exposed at the very beginning and is reiterated through Hamlet’s exchanges with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – they also spy on Hamlet for Claudius: ‘they did make love to this employment! ‘. In my opinion, Shakespeare effectively evokes sympathy for Hamlet and his little allies through dramatic irony and further polarises Hamlet and Claudius through the development of this main theme hence reinforcing Hamlet as the tragic hero of the play. In conclusion, the development of the theme appearance versus reality is essential in augmenting the audience’s understanding and appreciation of the play as a whole. In my opinion, Shakespeare effectively develops this main theme through the plot, soliloquy, imagery and dramatic irony which successfully reinforces the player’s role in the play and also directs the audience to where their sympathies should lie for the denouement.

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