What are the major themes in Act 2 of "Hamlet"?

Expert Answers
Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Deception is a primary theme of Act 2. 

In 2.1, we find Hamlet playing his "madness" ruse on the unsuspecting Ophelia.   She describes how he came to her chambers

...with his doublet all unbraced,

No hat at upon his head, his stockings fouled,

Ungarted, and down-gyved to his ankle,

Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking togetehr,

And with alook so piteous in purport

As if he had been loosed out of hell

To speak of horrors -- he comes before me  (2.1.87-94)

In Act 2.2, the deception theme continues, this time with Claudius doing the dirty work; the "king" sends Rosencratz and Guildenstern, two former friends of the prince, to spy on him to see if his madness is real.

Act 2 also sets up the play "The Murder of Gonzago," a thinly veiled attempt to deceive Claudius into confession, for the play reflects the usurper's crimes. 

slauritzen | Student
Act 2 is all about appearance vs. reality. When Hamlet appears to Ophelia in sc. 1, he desperately wants to connect with her, but he cannot. This is the closest he gets to reality matching appearance. As Polonius goes on to describe how his "madness" is caused by his love for Ophelia, as Rosencrantz and Guilderstern cover up the reasons for visiting Hamlet, and most importantly how the play within a play unfolds, Hamlet discovers how the layers of his reality are unraveling. He realizes that others only appear to be helping him or looking out for him, but most are deceiving him.