Why is “good” so often connected with deceitful actions?
The play Hamlet, by Shakespeare, is full of deceitful characters who commit a variety of deceitful acts. These actions used by the characters are used to either avert attention from themselves and their true intentions, which they hope to portray as “good”, or justify their own reasoning for committing these acts, which they believe are “good”. This is explicitly clear to one when reading the text, but is not conveyed by any of the characters in the book. This is evident in the world cloud for Hamlet.
This word cloud is made up of the most commonly used words throughout the play, excluding proper nouns and filler words such as prepositions, conjunctions, determiners, etc.). The larger the word, the more it is used and thus the more important it is. The breakdown of the 10 most common words is as followed: 228 – lord, 123 – good, 83 – love, 67 – king, 45 – heaven, 44 – mad(ness), 42 – night, 40 – god, 40 – soul, and 38 – death.It is striking that out of the ten words, seven have positive connotations while only two are negative and one is neutral. This is the most prevalent piece of evidence that the characters in the play avoid confronting their deceitful actions neither publicly, and instead mask them as “good”, nor privately, where to themselves they justify their intentions as “good”.
The word cloud is filled with many warm colours, which represents the goodness each character is trying to publicly portray. Even the negative words are coloured this way, as they show how the characters will use any means possible to justify their evil acts as good. The words are all written in handwriting to show parallel to the actions of the characters in Hamlet. Handwriting has a reputation of confidence and trustworthiness, due to its sophisticated look. One may assume a message written in that style is to be headed carefully. The actions of those in Hamlet share this sentiment: because the characters committing deceit are royalty, their orders usually not questioned because of their reputation. The words in the word map also take the form of a skull – a means foreshadowing the death that followed all those in the play who were deceitful. The background the word cloud in set on is also significant. The background also represents death, but the red colouration of the also represents two things: the irony present in Hamlet, as well as the death found in the play. The use of red (the soft colour representing goodness) to colour the skull shows the irony of how all the characters who appeared to be good ended by dying at the ended, and died in ways caused by themselves. This needless bloodshed transcends the mere lose of life. Finally, the words in the word cloud do not completely reach the edge of the skull, to symbolize how corroded the world is becoming. Even the acts of goodness, no matter how fake they may be, are starting to be eradicated from this world. Many times, evil can rear its ugly head with little or no consequences in today’s world.
Deceit is everywhere in modern society, and unfortunately it is constantly being masked with something good, while only further the deceitful agendas of the perpetrators. Modern dictators often rise to power under the guise of wanting to “help their people”. They pretend to be benevolent and caring, but commit unthinkable atrocities towards the people they pretend to want to help. In every profession, whether it be a lawyer, a businessman, or a celebrity, one must use deceit to further their own agenda. Lawyers take pro-bono cases under the guise of wanting to help innocent people, but really are looking to further their own image. Stock-brokers lie about the chance of returns to their clients to appear honest, but are only looking to fill the pockets. Celebrities live fake lives to give an example to people on how to be “perfect”, but are only looking to sell beauty products to get richer and richer. Money drives the world today, but power drove the deceit in Hamlet.
The main act of deceit in Hamlet is Hamlet’s pretendence to be mad, all to avert his uncle’s suspicions. His rationalized his intentions as “good”: he was only trying to avenge the death of his father. But at what cost? With this “madness” and the actions that stemmed from it, he caused great angst to all those around him. He caused the death of Polonius, staged The Murder of Gonzago, and caused the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, among many other lies including those to Gertrude. Each of these sins were committed without remorse, because the anger of revenge had overcome him. This is especially evident when Hamlet confronts his mother, and insults her in many ways: “HAMLET: Mother, for love of grace, / Lay not that mattering unction to your soul / That not your trespass but my madness speaks. / It will but skin and film the ulcerous place, / Whilst rank corruption, mining all within, / Infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven, / Repent what’s past, avoid what is to come, / And do not spread the compost on the weed, / To make them ranker. / Forgive me this my virtue, / For in the fatness of these pursy times / Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg, / Yea, curb and woo for leave to do him good. QUEEN GERTRUDE: O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain!” (3.4.165-177)
Claudius also commits a myriad of deceitful actions in Hamlet, the most significant of which is killing old King Hamlet. His public deceit is his “good” action of taking over the kingdom to preserve rule and power, even claims to be sad about the death of his predecessor: The harlot’s cheek, beautied with plastering art / Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it / Than is my deed to my most painted word: O heavy burthen! (3.1.50)”.
Polonius also commits deceit masked as “good”. He sent Reynaldo after Laertes to supposedly take money and notes to him, but really wanted Reynaldo to spy on his on and make sure he was not up any bad behavior. He has no trust in his children: ” Inquire me first what Danskers are in Paris / And how, and who, what means, and where they keep / What company, at what expense; and finding / By this encompassment and drift of question / That they do know my son, come you more nearer / Than your particular demands will touch it: / Take you, as ’twere, some distant knowledge of him; / As thus, ‘I know his father and his friends, / And in part him: ‘ do you mark this, Reynaldo?” (2.1.8-16).
There are numerous examples of deception in Hamlet: Horatio is deceptive by being a willing participant in Hamlet’s plot to “catch the conscience of the king” (2.2.606), but justifies it as being the right thing to do to help solve the ghost’s riddle. Ophelia deceives Hamlet by remaining silent about her father’s manipulative behavior, and even lies to Hamlet to allow her father to spy. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deceive Hamlet about their voyage to England; Laertes lies to Hamlet about the poison-tipped sword he wields in the duel.