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Reality and Illusion in Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Appearance versus Reality

Appearance versus Reality in Hamlet

Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, is a tale of a young prince who must ascertain the truth regarding his father’s death. Throughout the play, the fundamental theme of appearance versus reality is constant. The majority of the main characters hide behind veils of lies and deceptions, obscuring the truth to the point that nearly nothing of their actual selves are visible. The labyrinth of deception is so twisted that only Hamlet is aware of the truth, and only because the ghost of his father revealed it to him. Hamlet, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the King Claudius are all part of this circle of deception.

Hamlet, while more genuine than the rest, brings himself into the deceptions with his feigned insanity. At least in this case there is a worthwhile justification; his every action and word is reported directly to Claudius by Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Polonius or any number of other people loyal to Claudius. His insanity is a clever method of protection; he will be left alone and free as long as he is not considered a threat. Though employing quite a bit of deception, Hamlet’s falseness is small in comparison to that of Polonius, the royal assistant.

Polonius is obsessed with projecting the images of a trusting and generous father and a wise man overall, manipulating or deceiving everyone possible to serve his personal agenda. One way he attempts to improve his image is when he repeatedly waxes poetic and delivers lengthy discourses regarding life to his children. An example of this is when he is giving Laertes his blessing to leave for France and finishes with this idealistic advice, “This above all: to thine own self be true./ And it must follow…

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… A.C. Quote. Literary Companion to British Authors: William Shakespeare. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1996.

Danson, Lawrence. “Tragic Alphabet.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York City: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. 65-86

Findlay, Alison. “Hamlet: A Document in Madness.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. New York: AMS Press, 1994. 189-205.

Hopkins, Lisa. “Parison and the Impossible Comparison.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. New York: AMS Press, 1994. 153-164.

Rose, Mark. “Reforming the Role.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York City: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. 117-128

Wiggins, Martin. “Hamlet Within the Prince.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. New York: AMS Press, 1994. 209-226.

Jungian Archetypes and Oedipus the King

Jungian Archetypes and Oedipus the King

The play Oedipus the King by Sophocles has multiple examples of collective unconscious archetypes from the theories of Carl G. Jung. In general Jung’s theories say that there are archetypes that define the world, its people, and why people participate or commit certain activities. Jung explains that these archetypes are harbored in the collective unconscious of every person’s mind. The archetype of the hero is one of them. The middle of Oedipus the King shows the character Oedipus as the Jungian archetypal hero and sacrificial scapegoat.

In order to understand Jung’s theory of archetypes, the reader must first have an understanding of the reasoning behind them. Carl G. Jung explains the conscious mind by dividing it into three different psyches: the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. The ego is simply Jung’s interpretation of the conscious mind. The personal unconscious is anything that is not presently conscious, but can be. The collective unconscious is a reservoir of human experiences that is passed from generation to generation. It includes the archetypes of self, which are archetypes for different kinds of people or characters in literature (Jung 67). They can be described as things such as déjà vu, or love at first sight. It is the feeling that what is being felt or experienced has been felt or experienced before.

Jung describes the hero as an “archetype of transformation and redemption,” (Guerin 163). The character of Oedipus is a concrete example of Jung’s hero archetype. Jung says that the hero archetype first goes through the “quest” to become a hero. The “quest” of the hero in Jungian theory is described as a “long journey in which …

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…t the final step to being a sacrificial scapegoat.

Oedipus finds out that he is the killer of King Laius and will become the archetypal sacrificial scapegoat for the city of Thebes. Throughout this passage from the play, Oedipus is continually gathering incriminating evidence against himself from the source of his own wife and mother, Jocasta. He discovers through her attempted reassurance that his quest from Corinth set his fate to be the killer of his biological father and the sacrificial scapegoat for the welfare of the people and land of Thebes.

Works Cited

Guerin, Wilfred L., Earle G. Labor, Lee Morgan. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. 2nd Edition. Oxford, 1979. 162-165.

Jung, Carl G. Man and his Symbols. New York: Dell, 1968. 110-127.

Sophocles. Oedipus Tyrannus. Norton Critical Ed. New York: Norton, 1970. 15-21.

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