Hamlet- Thematic DiscussionI have just finished reading the play, and I must say that I really did enjoy it. So much, that I've actually been spending more time analyzing it now that the lesson is...

Hamlet- Thematic Discussion

I have just finished reading the play, and I must say that I really did enjoy it. So much, that I've actually been spending more time analyzing it now that the lesson is finished in my English class. I have a few questions that no one seems to be able to answer, and I'm hoping that I can get a really good discussion going on here. 

I'm writing a paper on the play where I have to discuss the importance of appearance versus reality. I could search for generic answers from previous attempts on this prompt, but I really want to turn this paper into something that will make someone really think about what they're reading. 

What is significant about the play within a play? I know that for Hamlet it is important because he will finally have some tangible proof that the ghost may be right about his father's murder. What is the significance of Hamlet's actions towards Ophelia? Is he just trying to further repel her? 

Do you think it is plausible that Shakespeare utilizes the characters facades to unveil the true intentions of the characters in the play? I think that there are a few good parts in the play where I would be able to prove this, especially between Claudius and Hamlet.

I'd really like to hear some input, let me know what you think.  

7 Answers | Add Yours

amarang9's profile pic

amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Gertrude is somewhat of a mystery. We never really know how much, if anything, she knew about Claudius' role in killing the king. If some characters can see the ghost and others can not, this continues to blur the line between appearance and reality.

The play within the play is used to expose Claudius' guilt by getting a reaction from him; this would also, in Hamlet's mind, confirm the reality of the ghost and it would also confirm Claudius' guilt.

But consider that, while attempting to confirm these things and therefore establishing more definitively what is real and what is not, the play within the play also continues to blur the line between appearance and reality. Hamlet uses the play (appearance) to confirm something about his father's murder (reality). Now, consider Shakespeare's line from As You Like It: "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players." If the real world is also like a play, then Hamlet is like a play within a play. This makes "The Mousetrap" a play within a play within a play.

The ambiguity between appearance and reality is also a comment on the difference/similarity between art and life.

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kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

The play within the play gives Hamlet a chance to sort out appearance versus reality in another vein as well. He cannot act on the ghost's demands until he is certain that the ghost is real and that the ghost is right. Since Hamlet has been a student at Wittenberg (the university famously associated with Martin Luther of Protestant Reformation fame), it may be conjectured that Hamlet is a Protestant himself. As such he must denounce revenge killing, paying attention to signs and omens, communicating with the dead, and regicide (king killing). If Hamlet proceeds to act on the ghost's orders without first sorting out appearance from reality, he believes as a Protestant that he is threatening himself with eternal damnation. The play within the play is he attempt to sort out the reality of the ghost from the appearance of the ghost; the reality of the ghost's demands from the appearance of the ghost's demands.

dhollweg's profile pic

dhollweg | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

Yeah, you are trying bring a bit of a psychoanalytic reading to Hamlet. One of your questions mentions Ophelia as well. And I think that is a rich moment character and relationship to explore, especially in Act 3 and the "Nunnery" scene, just following Hamlet's "To be, or not to be" speech. There are so many moments where the Seeming vs. Being dichotomy surfaces, but Ophelia, in this scene has several different reads. Does he love her and knows what he must do, and in a sense attempts to push her back in order to save her? Is he truly offended by her as she gives her "remembrances" back to him? Several will read that this is the first suggestion of her pregnancy in this scene, hence a tension in their exchange. Did he never love her at all (which I don't think this is the case)? Is Hamlet truly "mad" (in Polonius's sense) or is he just playing mad, here; and for that matter, throughout the entire play? 

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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think one element you could discuss is Hamlet's sanity.  He spends a lot of time trying to make people think he's crazy.  To which extent is he really crazy?  Is there any madness really there?  How much is he trying to had his insanity from himself by pretending to be crazy?

e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

One thing the play within the play dramatizes is the "act" or "role" that Claudius plays while pretending to be the compassionate uncle. Claudius, the villian, presents  himself as the hero, having saved both Hamlet and his mother from a life without a father/husband. 

Representing Claudius with an actor in the play within the play dramatizes this aspect of Claudius character, showing also that Hamlet is not the only figure playing a part. 

aninquisitivemind's profile pic

aninquisitivemind | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

Thank you, all of you, for contributing to this discussion. You've presented some great arguments. In my opinion, I don't think Hamlet was ever truly mad. I believe that in order for Hamlet to analyze the deceptive qualities of others, or differentiate between appearance and reality, Hamlet must alienate himself by convincing others that he is mad. I've always wondered, why did Shakespeare allow everyone but Gertrude to see the ghost? Is there any importance to this? 

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