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In Act I, Scene 4, Marcellus, who is inquiet about the recent events that are most disturbing, wisely observes that Denmark festers with moral and political corruption: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." This "something rotten" is the corrupt court of Denmark, marked with hypocrisy and treachery. And, it is this corrupting hypocrisy which threatens the stability and peace of the kingdom. Moreover, it is, in effect, duplicity which propels the drama of Hamlet.
A foolishly hypocritical character in Shakespeare's play is Polonius who exhibits his pecksniffian qualities in both the political and private arena. In Act II, for instance (2.1.8-16), he instructs Reynaldo to spy on his own son who is traveling to France. However, his instructions are so comically complex that he himself loses tract of what he has said.
Prior to Laertes's departure, In Act I, Scene 3, he proselytizes on virtues that his son should acquire--virtues that he certainly does not possess. One example of his hypocritical words are these lines,
...Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement. (1.3.67-68)
Of course, Polonius is the greatest meddler in the affairs of the Danish court, exploiting even his own daughter in his efforts to promote himself, causing Hamlet to kill him when he hides behind the curtain of Gertrude's chambers.
King Claudius, who has assassinated his brother, husband of his wife, and father of Hamlet, is the most malevolent of hypocrites in Hamlet. In Act I, for instance, he assumes the role of chief mourner for King Hamlet, who promises to right the problems of Denmark, such as the threat from "young Fortinbras," who perceives the country weakened. (1.2) But, even though he cares for Ophelia and Gertrude, no one will come before his ambitious desires. He uses the grieving Laertes to rid himself of Hamlet, he prevents Hamlet's old friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, from knowledge of the contents of the letter to England that leads to their deaths when Hamlet does learn what the letter contains. And, while professing love for Gertrude in Act I, he does not let her interfere with his evil intentions, allowing her in Act V to drink the poison in the goblet because if he were to speak, he would implicate himself in the murderous plot.
Then, too, he feigns love and concern for Hamlet when he wishes him dead. In Act III, Scene 1, however, he greets Hamlet affectionately,
How fares our cousin Hamlet (3.1.83)
when later he employs Polonius to use his daughter Ophelia to obtain information and when he enlists Hamlet's boyhood friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy upon him and carry a letter to England requesting that Hamlet be slain.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
The boyhood friends of Hamlet pledge loyalty to King Claudius because they are opportunists, who wish to appear loyal to the king, who is in power. Thus, they allow themselves to be manipulated while appearing to yet be faithful friends of Hamlet.
Their craven duplicity leads to their exploitation, however, and because they do not know the contents of King Claudius's letter to England, they are slain themselves when Hamlet does learn it contents.
Representative of the dual nature of women, the static character Ophelia is duplicitous, but her hypocritical acts are committed more out of fear and obedience than corruption. Following the instructions of her father who hides behind the curtain, Ophelia attempts to learn the cause of Hamlet's apparent madness.
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