In the well-known tragedy, Hamlet, Shakespeare masterfully infuses many themes such as revenge and most importantly, the deception that builds the overall story. Deception is usually defined as a misleading falsehood to create a pattern to conceal the truth. In the play, almost every character tries to hide a truth that they do not want others to figure out in order to keep themselves safe or protect others. These actions create a high-tension mood throughout the play however, they also convey the truth that everyone lies to hide the truth. The characters have various uses of the theme of deception as they are dishonest, betray each other and devise antic disposition.
Shakespeare uses different characters to be “two sides of the same coin” (Act II, Scene ii) and others to be “the same side of two coins” (Act II, Scene ii) which display the opaqueness of the characters with each other. As the deception begins at the beginning of the play, Hamlet and Ophelia are placed in a position where Hamlet is in love with Ophelia but, her father Polonius does not want her to love Hamlet, so she must cover up the truth that she likes him. Hamlet has the feeling that Polonius is watching him as he later states “Let the doors be shut upon him, then he may play the fool nowhere but in’s own house” (Act III, Scene i) which ultimately proves that Ophelia has told her father that Hamlet is in love with her. The main reason why Hamlet takes the act of deception is that of his madness which makes the lines between reality and insanity blurred. Hamlet begins to question Ophelia’s honest nature because of her deceit and commences to fall apart due to her not being sincere to him. Shakespeare also questions his own extent to which a lie might become a truth if pushed on for a long time, which creates an insight into the future for the reader. Hamlet explains to Ophelia that her father is behind their love like a puppet master, keeping them separated at all costs but, she denies. Because of this, Hamlet sequentially betrays her due to his frustration. Ophelia’s true madness becomes apparent as she acts as a foil to the pretend insanity of Hamlet, which conclusively drives her to commit suicide. This drives Hamlet of insanity and becomes angered at Claudius for causing the mess and confusion. When Hamlet meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he calls them two-faced ignorant fools because they collude with Claudius and act as spies for him. Claudius acts with a kingly manner as he speaks to his people of the court, but later in Act 3, breaks down in character revealing a different side of him as he exclaims “O wretched state! O bosom black as death” (Act III, Scene iii). As Claudius is king, he uses deception to make a depiction that he is tough, but he was suppressing his emotions behind closed doors. Hamlet brings out the king’s true self through his wit and quick responses which causes the king to panic. Shakespeare uses deception to contribute to the meaning of the work as a whole by taking the traditional model of a play and bending the meaning of the theatrical techniques to achieve a greater understanding of what is ultimately the truth. In Hamlet’s well known “To be or not to be” (Act III, Scene i) soliloquy, he expresses his true feelings and Shakespeare adds this to make the reader become uncertain about what they just heard to reiterate the idea of deception. This goal is achieved through twisting the ideas of soliloquies and familiar truths to accomplish something completely different.
Truth can sometimes be locked behind a door that can only be unlocked by using a key of deception. Multiple characters, to investigate others, will use deceit which is used in three stages: the anxiety of being deceived, deception as an act itself and the development of deception. While Shakespeare exquisitely overburdened traditional elements of a play to unveil a lesson about lies and deceit, he creates a confusion for the reader to question the truth. The twist in the story itself is that the ones who deceive the most are the ones who fear being deceived.