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Hamlet and Deception

Hamlet and Deception

Of all the common threads throughout William Shakespeare's Hamlet, deception is one of the most common. From Claudius' deception about the death of the King to Hamlet's portrayal of madness as a form of deception to keep people from understanding his true motives, many characters engage in displays of deception throughout the course of the play.

The most pervasive form of deception is presented by the titular character himself.

  1. Hamlet admits to Horatio that his portrayal of a madman is one designed to throw others off his scent; he does not want his uncle to suspect him of investigating the current king's role in securing his position.
  2. Hamlet goes so far as to craft a play, one that takes all the evidence he has collected against his uncle, in the hopes of catching the newly crowned monarch red-handed.
  3. Hamlet makes it a point to watch his uncle throughout the course of the play in the hopes that his facial expressions will give away his guilt.

Not to be outdone, the king himself engages in many acts of deception throughout the course of the play. The entire premise of the work is based on the deception he carried out against his brother. In order to secure the throne for himself, Claudius murdered King Hamlet, taking the late king's wife as his own. The climax of the play is equally demonstrative of his deception: he poisons the cup that his nephew is intended to drink from, though his actions only result in the death of his wife. The deception of a variety of characters not only proves to bring about their own demise, but the demise of those they love, as well.

After Hamlet kills Polonius, Claudius sends Hamlet to England. Hamlet fails to take the necessary action to prevent his exodus. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent to accompany Hamlet and given a sealed letter instructing the King of England to execute Hamlet. Hamlet, upon discovering the missive replaces it with orders to kill his two companions. This is another rash and reflexive action. Had Hamlet given his typical due consideration to the situation he would have realized that since the letter was sealed it was possible that his friends were not aware of its contents. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern die as a direct result of Hamlet's incongruous decision to act rather than reason.

By the end of the play Hamlet has had so many failures trying to reason and trying to act that he readily embraces a duel with Laertes. Caught up in the excitement of the duel, Hamlet fails to notice that the suspicious cup proffered to him by a known poisoner and known enemy has been taken up by the Queen.

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