Appearance vs. Reality
In Hamlet deceiving illusions are frequently used to protect
truth from being a destructive force. Situations within acts one and two that appear to be true and honest are really contaminated with evil. Various characters within the first two acts hide behind masks of corruption. In the first two acts most characters presented seem to be good and honest making it a complex task for Hamlet to discover all the lies that have hidden objectives within them.
Shakespeare brilliantly depicts appearance verses reality in many ways. The first of many scenes where the truth is twisted is when the new supposed king is addressing Denmark. Claudius makes it seem as if Denmark is fine but in reality they are in a state of disarray:
Holding a weak supposal of our worth
Or thinking by our late brothers death
Our state to be disjoint and out of frame,
(I, II, 17)
Trying to assure the people of Denmark Claudius makes it seem like all is well, however, crimes of fratricide and incest have just been committed in the Kings castle. Shakespeare repeatedly instills this theme in Claudius. Even when Claudius states the obvious he is lying:
You are the most immediate to our throne,
And with no less nobility of love
Than that which dearest father bears his son
Do I impart toward you.
(I, II, 113)
Claudius is claiming that Hamlet is the most immediate heir to the throne because he is the son of the King who died but Claudius knows that he is going to take over.
Claudius is not the only fraudulent character in the first two scenes where the theme of appearance verses reality is prevalent. When Hamlets mother tries to get Hamlet to accept the fact that all things in nature die she asks him, If it be, Why seems it so particular to thee? (I, II, 79) Hamlet responds with, Seems, madam? Nay, it is I know not seems. (I, II, 79) Hamlet accepts the fact that all things in nature eventually die, yet he refuses to believe the appearance of how his father dies. The queen is again applied to this theme when she addresses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet:
For the supply and profit of our hope,
Your visitation shall receive such thanks
As it fits the kings remembrance.
(II, II, 24)
Gertrude makes it seem as if she and Claudius are recruiting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to help cheer Hamlet up. In reality they are recruited to spy on Hamlet and see what his plans are.
The theme of appearance versus reality in acts one and two is repeated to show the true motives of different characters. Since most of the characters in acts one and two are corrupt, they rely on fraud to get what they want. The first impression of characters in acts one and two is being true to their intentions, honest, and pure, nevertheless, the reader knows that things are not as they seem. These lies are unmasked throughout the play.