In Act I Scene II of Hamlet, Gertrude asks Hamlet, "Why seems it so particular with thee?" Since death is common to all, she asks, why does Hamlet seem to be making such a particular fuss about his father's death? He replies, "Seems Madam? Nay it is. I know not seems." It is not a question of seeming, but being: His black mourning clothes are simply a true representation of his deep unhappiness. With this line, Shakespeare develops the theme of appearance versus reality and that he intends to stress Hamlet's dedication to truth in contrast to appearances which serve others, notably Claudius. Allied to the question of Hamlet\'s madness is a variety of references to the idea of acting a part or of presenting a false image to the world. Hamlet demands honesty, but is he himself always honest? Many characters, at various times, seem to be playing parts, and the troupe of players is in the play as an active reminder that in real life a person can play many roles, and it is not always easy to tell what is true from what only appears to be true.
Polonius, the King's royal assistant, has a preoccupation with appearance. He always wants to keep up the appearance of loving and caring person. Polonius appears like a man who loves and cares about his son, Laertes. Before Laertes leaves to Paris, Polonius speaks to his son with advice that sounds sincere, but in reality is rehearsed, hollow, and without feeling. Polonius gives his advice only to appear to be the loving caring father. He tries to teach Polonius how to "seem," and how to show himself publically. The reality is he only speaks to appear sincere as a politician, to look good rather then actually be good: \"And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!\" (Act 1, Scene 3 lines 77 - 81) Clima his rather long speech, this change of tone can only be taken ironically. As Polonius gives his son Laertes his blessing to go away, he sends Reynaldo, a spy to follow him and keep an eye on him. This shows his lack of trust for anyone. He gives the appearance of a confident father who trusts his son to go off on his own.
Polonius further adds to the theme appearance verses reality by ordering Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet. He lies to her telling her that Hamlet does not love her, he only lusts for her, when in truth he does love her: "Ay, springes to catch woodcocks. I do know, When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul." (Act 1, Scene 3 lines 115 & 116) Through the play Polonius hides behind his mask appearing to be honest loving parent. In reality Polonius lies, manipulates people and eavesdrops on peoples' conversations. Polonius' appearance is not his true nature; behind the mask there lies someone totally different.
Claudius' conduct in council gives him the appearance of an honest and honorable man. In Act one Scene two, Claudius, in the presence of the council, shows his true skill and ease of manner at speaking. Claudius speaks well of the spent king by showing a general love for him by all his subjects. Claudius shows respect for the old sovereign by speaking kind words of him. In reality he cares little for the old king, he speaks kindly only to give the appearance of loving brother. "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 To be contracted in one brow of woe." (Act 1, Scene 2 lines 1 - 4)
As Claudius sends Voltimand and Cornelius off to give the king of Norway the message of Fortinbras, he thanks and gives them complete trust, in the deliverance of the notation.
This shows his trust and caring for his subjects in front of the council, winning even more
consent from the council: "We doubt it nothing: heartily farewell." (Act 1, Scene 2 line 41) Claudius increases his appearance of an honest and honorable man, in front of the council by showing his respect for Polonius. He gives him the power to let his son Laertes stay or leave for Norway. Claudius speaks highly of Polonius giving him thanks and saying the he was responsible for Claudius becoming king: "The head is not more native to the heart, The hand more instrumental to the mouth, Than is the throne of Denmark to thy father. What woudlst thou have, Laertes?" (Act 1, Scene 2 lines 47 - 50)
This council would see this as a man who greatly respects his subjects and cares for them.
This adds to the difficulty of uncovering the truth for Hamlet later. Hamlet enters the council chamber and speaks with Claudius. King Claudius speaks with Hamlet seeming to be concerned with Hamlet. He gives advice that over grieving is not healthy, this shows a concern for Hamlets well being. This conduct of Claudius gives him the appearance of being kind in front of council that accepts him even more for his family values: "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?" (Act 1, Scene 2 line 66)
Claudius appears to be even more caring when insulted by Hamlet he still shows love and general care for Hamlet. A normal king would have become angry and Hamlet would have gotten into trouble. Claudius shows the council that he is understanding of Hamlet\'s grief over his father: "A little more than kin, and less than kind." (Act 1, Scene 2 line 65) Claudius gives Hamlet advice that over grieving can be harmful and not healthy. He tells Hamlet that he is an admirable person for grieving for so long over his father's death. Claudius further makes it difficult to uncover the truth by announcing that Hamlet is next in line for the throne of Denmark. This shows that Claudius would let Hamlet become the next king when he is gone. This reveals a love and care for Hamlet to the council and Gertrude making Claudius appear to be kind, loving person: "You are the most immediate to our throne; And, with no less nobility of love." (Act 1, Scene 2 lines 109 & 110) Claudius' final conduct that makes him a difficult truth to uncover, is his care and want that Hamlet remain in Denmark. Claudius is insulted by Hamlet, he asks Hamlet to stay only that his queen Gertrude wants Hamlet to stay. Claudius appears to be concerned with Hamlet's well being, Gertrude and council see this, making Claudius a more deserving person to be king. As Claudius speaks in council he gives the appearance of someone who is a deserving person that should be king. Claudius is voted in as king, meaning he is already approved by everyone. Claudius gives respect to his subjects, giving the council the impression that he respects them. The king shows general concern for Hamlet, his nephew. This will make it very difficult to prove the truth about Claudius in the future for he has not only, won the love and respect of council (that voted him in), but also has prevented an attack on Denmark (from Fortinbras) proving that he is a good king that can protect the state from harm.
Through the characters in the play Shakespeare can show the theme, which in part
is that of appearance verses reality. Polonius and Claudius both appear to be good and honest. As Hamlet finds out, all contain lies and have hidden intentions within them. As each character is presented in the play all appear to be good and honest, making it a difficult task for Hamlet to uncover the hidden truth about the nature of each character. As Hamlet best said it, "something's is rotten in Denmark," that being the lies which have replaced or covered the true state of each character.