Deception as Theme in HamletDo you agree that deception is one of the themes in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"?

Expert Answers
luannw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Deception is definitely a theme in "Hamlet".  There is deception among many of the characters and in many of the scenes beginning with the first act, second scene when Claudius addresses the court.  He is deceiving people because he killed his brother, but he acts like it was an unfortunate accident.  Hamlet tells Horatio in Act 1, sc. 5 that he is going to act like he is insane, thus deceiving people. The character of Polonius practices one deception after another.  In Act 2, sc. 2, he proposes to the king and queen that he deceive Hamlet to pull out of Hamlet what is bothering him (Polonius swears it is unrequited love for Ophelia).  When Polonius hides behind the arras in Act 3, sc. 4, his deception leads to his death.  In Act 2, sc. 2, Claudius and Gertrude ask Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to deceive Hamlet about their real purpose in visiting Hamlet.  The purpose of the play within the play is to deceive Claudius.  Hamlet wants to see if he reacts to the scene enacting the murder of Hamlet's father.  In Act 5, sc. 2, Laertes and Claudius deceive Hamlet with the sword fight by having a poisoned and sharpened sword as well as poisoned wine.  There is deception throughout the play.

playsthething eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, all this deception is a large part of what is "rotten in the state of Denmark."  While that line originally refers to Claudius' deception, it can expand to include all of the subterfuge perpetrated throughout the play (as detailed in the above answer).

charbow | Student

This really helped out with my homework! i really thank you all for this helpful information! =]

frizzyperm | Student

Luannw has named lots of them already. But maybe the big one for me is Hamlet's 'antic disposition'. Several times in the play Hamlet warns people that he is will pretend to be mad. If it is a deception, then he takes it a long way, perhaps he deceives himself about how unstable he has become. But Hamlet's 'pretend' lunacy is a big part of the play's deception theme.

Here's a few randomish quotes,

(the devil's deceit)

The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil; and the devil hath power
T' assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me.

(women's deceit...)

I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God
hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another.
You jig, you amble, and you lisp; and nickname God's creatures
and make your wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I'll
no more on't! it hath made me mad.

(faking grief...)

Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems.
'tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, modes, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passeth show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

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