What is an example of "false appearances" in the first two acts of Hamlet?Find and discuss an example of "false appearances" in the first two acts of Hamlet.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most prominent hypocrite of Shakespeare's Hamlet is Polonius, who first appears in the second act of the play.  His character certainly illustrates the theme of Appearance vs. Reality and Honesty vs. Deceit.

An elderly and long-winded courtier, Polonius launches into a long diatribe in Act I on, ironically, the virtue of being taciturn and discreet.  As he counsels Laertes to

Give thy thought no tongue,

Nor any unproportioned thought his act....


Of entrance to a quarrel,...

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;..(1.3.59-68)

He then tells Reynaldo to spy of Laertes while they are in France; later, he goes to Claudius and reports, "thy son is mad."  And, after another long-winded speech in which he falsely extols his loyalty to the king--

...I assure my good liege,

I hold my duty as I hold my soul,

Both to my God and to my gracious king; (2.2.43-45)

as well as his own virtues as a watchful father who prudently checked and advised his daughter--

...No, I went round to work,

And my young mistress I did bespeak....

And then I prescripts gave her,

That she should lock herself from his resort...(2.2.138-142)

he conspires with Claudius to spy upon the conversation that Hamlet and Ophelia have had in this second act.  Also, he continues his plans to aid Claudius in deceit by suggesting that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern accompany Hamlet to England under the pretext of collecting overdue tribute.

When Polonius suggests to the King that another attempt should be made to ascertain the cause of Hamlet's mental state, he demonstrates falseness, not only toward Hamlet, but toward Claudius himself.  For Polonius desires to orchestrate what goes on in the court of Denmark and to exercise control and influence at every turn.