Masks of Hamlet





Masks of Hamlet
In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, there is a prevalent and almost overwhelming theme. All throughout the play, all of the characters appear as one thing, with one standpoint, and one outlook. However on the inside, all of these characters are completely different. This “mask” theme, the way that all of the characters portray themselves as one person on the outside and one different one on the inside, is not in the least disguised by Shakespeare. Claudius, the murdering king, appears to be a somewhat kind, caring, and friendly person. But inside he is different. He is cold, calculating, and self-serving. But this might also be a mask. The women in the play, Ophelia and Gertrude, both use a type of mask to cover what is obvious in their lives, masking it so that they can continue living as if their existence was without cruelty. And finally Hamlet hides behind his madness, be it real or pretend, a person who is indecisive and spiteful. Masks in this play are not just a theme; they are the whole basis of it.
The mask theme develops throughout the play as various characters try to cover their secret intentions with a veneer of a whole other person. One of the most obvious, of course is Claudius. Claudius murdered his brother, the former king Hamlet, in order to become king himself. This murder, which was done in secret, with no one but Claudius knowing that the act was committed by him. Not only is he the King of Denmark, but he is also married to Queen Gertrude, his brothers former wife. These hideous and awful crimes have not been punished, and no one knows that Claudius has done this. When Claudius confronts anyone, he must become someone totally different. Claudius puts on a mask of his own. He is no longer the self-serving, cold, calculating man that he really is, out he becomes a kind, caring man who does his very best to ensure that Gertrude stays with him, and also so that he can do his best to keep Hamlet from trying to take the kingdom and destroy what Claudius has worked for so long to gain.To this end Claudius wears his mask. But is Claudius really the mask or what he is underneath? This is called into question when Claudius tries to seek redemption for his sins. This scene shows that his character, like Hamlets is not quite as clear cut as most men. Claudius wrestles with his guilt by asking himself, ^УWhere to serves mercy/ But to confront the visage of offense?/ And that^Тs in prayer but his twofold force,/ to be forestalled are we come to fall,/ Or pardoned being down?^Ф He then answers his own question by saying, ^УBut, O, what form of prayer/ can serve my turn? ^УForgive me my foul murder?^Ф/ That cannot be, since I am still possessed/ of those efforts for which I did the murder!/ My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.^Ф So Claudius comes to the understanding that, even though he wears redemption like his outside self, his real self cannot give up the trappings of this position. Claudius, in his questioning, has separated the mask from the person and has found that the mask is the fake Claudius. Not every character is so confused as to their nature, however.
The females roles in Hamlet are confused in a much different way. Both Ophelia and Gertrude mask themselves to the harsh realities of their life. Ophelia^Тs mask is far more fragile than any other. Despite Hamlets almost incessant cruelty to Ophelia drives her, eventually insane. She puts up a defense at first, trying to protect herself from Hamlet^Тs cruelty, but it fails. Ophelia believes for awhile , that Hamlet loves her deeply, and that he would never harm her directly. But soon, through his words and his actions, such as killing her father, shatters her mask that served to protect her from Hamlets assaults. When the truth and reality bit her, she breaks under its pressure and commits suicide. Gertrude, the other woman in the play, has a much stranger mask. She refuses to see or believe the truth that Hamlet shows her, the truth that Claudius murdered her husband for the kingdom. She is