The play Hamlet as an authentic imitation of life shows us how different everything is from its actual reality. The play is steeped with the theme of Appearance vs Reality. Hamlet, Polonius, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are among the greatest instances of being different in reality than their appearance.
Hamlet, the protagonist of the play goes through intense mourning of his father’s death and his mother’s hasty betrayal to their love. Knowing the truth behind his father’s death makes him extremely revengeful.
Acting out madly is one of the chief tools at his disposal. He starts appearing as a madman but the reasons in his mind remain intact. The reason for this difference in how he looks like and how he really is might be the deceptive actions of Claudius who despite being the murderer of Hamlet’s father, shows so much love for Hamlet.
Hamlet after knowing Claudius’ reality, says, “O, villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!”. When he knows the frail reality of Ophelia, even after claiming so much love for her earlier, he abuses her verbally.
The fact that he is not what he looks like is clarified by himself when he says to the queen, “That I essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft.” Polonius, the old courtier and supposedly among the ones who truly care for the state and the king is actually the one full of treachery.
Ironically, he is the one who says, “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.” Polonius is full of vanity, he misdiagnoses Hamlet and reports wrongly on his state of mind to Claudius, the king.
He adores his daughter, talks full of sweetness to her out of his experience but lies about the nature of love and fills her with distrust for Hamlet. He confronts Hamlet in a way much different to his intention which is to banish him.
Before Laertes leaves for France, Polonius advice him so trustfully but once he leaves the country, a spy is sent after him to inquire of his behaviours. Claudius is the entire devil character full of betrayal but his words and appearance are the exact opposite to this reality.
His first act of cold deception is reported by the ghost about murdering his own brother. Addressing his brother’s death, he says that “our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe” but he is the one who seduces the dead king’s wife.
He asks Hamlet to leave for England but in an attempt to deceive him, he attaches a letter for Hamlet’s execution by the king of England. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who are supposed to be Hamlet’s friends since a long time are actually the spies sent by Claudius and Gertrude.
They speak to Hamlet with utmost regard when their true intent is as said by Hamlet himself, “to know his stops; to pluck out the heart of his mystery.”
Gertrude’s real character as perceived by Hamlet is shown in the play directed by Hamlet where the player queen shows so much love and heartfelt promises to the king but the moment he is betrayed to death, she gives in to her lust and falls into the trap by the very murderer of her husband. Hence the whole play deals with this distinction between appearance and reality and its consequences.