Deception in Hamlet




One must always be weary of the truth because it is quite often manipulated to serve the needs of any person who requires that the truth be on their side. Quite often, the only way to discern the truth from the fiction is by way of a deceptive act, because an act of deception always exposes both its self and the truth to be two quite different things. Nowhere is this more true than in William Shakespeare\'s, Hamlet. One of the major themes in the play is in fact, deception. This central theme is expressed throughout the play in three major forms: the fear of being deceived, the act of deception, and the ultimate result of the deceptive act. The first facet of the deceptive under-tone in Hamlet is the fear of being deceived. On the third night, after two consecutive appearances of the ghost, Horatio joins Francisco, Bernardo, and Marcellus on the evening watch. Horatio scoffs at their stories of the ghost\'s appearance, "Tush, tush, \'twill not appear," (I:1, l 37). Horatio is a scholar and a sensible man who needs to see things with his own eyes before he will accept them (I:1, ll 67-69). Therefore, once the ghost appears to him, he quickly changes his viewpoint. He informs Hamlet of the ghost\'s likeness to his dead father and warns him of where the ghost originates: "Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned, Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell," (I:4, ll 44-45) Horatio fears that the ghost might be a deception, a devil sent in a pleasing shape to coax Hamlet into wicked action, (I:4, ll 76-85). Horatio\'s fear is justified, since during the Elizabethan era it was believed that ghosts were either Heavenly or Satanic, and a man of knowledge like Horatio should take such into consideration. Horatio is not the only character who fears deception. Claudius fears that Hamlet\'s antic behaviour might be some kind of deception. To learn the truth of Hamlet\'s actions, Claudius entreats upon Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (two of Hamlet\'s oldest friends) to investigate the situation: "Some little time; so by your companies To draw him on to pleasures, and to gather So much as from occasions you may glean, Whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus That, opened, lies within our remedy." (II:2, ll 14-18) Claudius, at this early point in the play, is slightly nervous of Hamlet\'s state of mind. Although Hamlet has not yet done or said anything that distinctly proves that he knows of Claudius\' wrongdoing, Claudius is still suspicious. Ironically, he is worried about being deceived by Hamlet, so he sends two of his friends to spy him to learn what is bothering him. Laertes expresses a further example of the fear of deceit in his conversation to Ophelia regarding Hamlet: "His greatness weigh\'d, his will is not his own; For he himself is subject to his birth. He may not, as unvalued persons do, Carve for himself, for on his choice depends The safety and health of his whole state," (I:3, ll 17-21) Laertes fears that Hamlet is not sincere in his love for Ophelia. He tells her that since he is of royal blood, he is not free to choose his own wife. The court and other royals must decide who is the best choice to be queen, for the safety of Denmark. Hamlet knows this to be true, and therefore, any sign of love that he gives her must be false. Polonius agrees with Laertes opinion of the situation, thus he forbids Ophelia to see him anymore (1:4, ll 138-142). Both men feel that they are protecting Ophelia from possible deceit by Hamlet. It is the fear of being deceived that is so prevalent in Hamlet, as characterized by Horatio, Claudius, and Laertes & Polonius that leads to further deceptive action. It is ironic that the characters who fear deception are the very ones who doll it out so freely. One such character who uses deceit often as a means of investigation is Polonius. In the third scene of the second act, Polonius entreats upon Reynaldo to go to Paris to learn as much as he can about Laertes. He tells him to pose as a friend of Laertes