In Hamlet, who attempts to deceive whom?

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In Hamlet, Denmark is a prison and a police state full of spies.  The King and Prince vow revenge against each other, and en entire family gets caught in the crossfire.  The Prince only appears to be mad, but his girlfriend really is.  There is one true friend of the Prince (Horatio), fake friends (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), and friendly players and clowns who tell the truth in riddles.  In sum, no one is who he appears to be.  Or not to be.

Some choice lines that deal with deception:

Hamlet tells R & G:

I tell you,
must show fairly outward, should more appear like
entertainment than yours. You are welcome: but my
uncle-father and aunt-mother are deceived.


Hamlet tells Ophelia, "I loved you not."  Ophelia responds:

I was the more deceived.

Hamlet writes to Ophelia:

Doubt truth to be a liar;

And the Player Queen says:

That I distrust you. Yet, though I distrust,
Discomfort you, my lord, it nothing must:
For women's fear and love holds quantity;
In neither aught, or in extremity.

  • Hamlet deceives all by appearing to be mad, even the Ghost.  The Prince was instructed to leave Gertrude to heaven, but he still threatens violence against his mother.
  • Claudius deceives all, except Hamlet.  His behavior at the Mousetrap is a confession brought on by art.  "The play's the thing to catch the conscience of the king."
  • Polonius deceives his family by using them as pawns for spying.
  • Gertrude is deceived all men, even Hamlet.  She thinks he's crazy.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are deceived by Hamlet.  The Prince switches the letter of execution, and they die instead.
  • Ophelia is deceived by all men, especially Hamlet, who misdirects his anger toward his mother onto her in the "get thee to a nunnery speech."
  • The Ghost deceives Hamlet for a while.  The Prince cannot tell if he is a demon or a soul trapped in Purgatory.

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