What characters in Hamlet show one face to the world and another to themselves.  Is their deception justified?I am still having a hard time understanding old English. I am so glad we don't talk...

What characters in Hamlet show one face to the world and another to themselves.  Is their deception justified?

I am still having a hard time understanding old English. I am so glad we don't talk like that any more, I already am having a hard time as it is.

Asked on by samsoto

4 Answers

rowens's profile pic

rowens | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

With all the two-faced people in the play, it is ironic that only one is actually pointedly accused of creating a second face. In his tirade against Ophelia near the end of Act III scene 1, Hamlet accuses her (and women in general) of showing a dishonest face:



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.

This is a pretty ironic statement, since Ophelia, for the most part, is an honest person who only agrees to meet with Hamlet in order to help prove he loves her. There are many more devious characters in the play, but Hamlet, perhaps because he is angry at Ophelia's small betrayal, heaps all his anger towards these other more deserving characters on her. 

sullymonster's profile pic

sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Claudius is the clearest answer, but no one should discount Hamlet himself.  After all, Hamlet hides his beliefs about the death of his father from everyone, even his best friend Horatio.  He behaves contradictorily towards Ophelia, being outwardly rude to her while secretly loving her.  He uses the players to "trick" Claudius into confessing, rather than asking his uncle point blank about his guilt.  He "suggests" to his mother that she is also guilty and deceptive, but again fails to simply tell her the reason for his anger.  Like uncle, like nephew, it would appear!

jamie-wheeler's profile pic

Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Hi there-  Don't worry, you are not alone in having trouble with the King's English.  Fortunately, right here at eNotes we have a Modern Translation side-by-side with the orginial text.  Follow the link below for "Hamlet." 

In addition, you might find it very helpful to rent a DVD of the play.  There was one a few years ago with Mel Gibson, and a fine one by Olivier, as well as others.  Plays were meant to be seen and heard, not read.  You might be surprised if you try this! 

As for two-facedness, let me add Polonious to our list of names.  To his daughter and son, and I would say to himself, he tries to appear to be the wise and noble guiding parent.  But in other scenes, we see what a self-deceptive fool he is...a gossip and a trouble-maker, far from a stablizing or moral man. 

cmcqueeney's profile pic

cmcqueeney | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

Hamlet is the prime example of a character who shows one face to the world, but is different to himself.  To everyone else he appears mad, but to himself, he is tortured by the remarriage of his mother and murder of his father.  His deception is justified because he has to keep it a secret that he knows about the murder of his father or he will not be able to get revenge. 

Claudius is also two-faced.  He is a murderer, but pretends to be a faithful king to everyone else.  His deception is not justified.  It is based on his crime.