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The Masks of Hamlet

Masks of Hamlet

Hamlet In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, there is a prevalent

and almost overwhelming theme. All throughout the play, all

of the characters appear as one thing, with one standpoint,

and one outlook. However on the inside, all of these

characters are completely different. “This Mask” theme, the

way that all of the characters portray themselves as one

person on the outside and one different one on the inside,

is not in the least disguised by Shakespeare. Claudius, the

murdering king, appears to be a somewhat kind, caring, and

friendly person. But inside he is different. He is cold,

calculating, and self-serving. But this might also be a

mask. The women in the play, Ophelia and Gertrude, both use

a type of mask to cover what is obvious in their lives,

masking it so that they can continue living as if their

existence was without cruelty. And finally Hamlet hides

behind his madness, be it real or pretend, a person who is

indecisive and spiteful. Masks in this play are not just a

theme; they are the whole basis of it.

The mask theme develops throughout the play as various

characters try to cover their secret intentions with a

veneer of a whole other person. One of the most obvious, of

course is Claudius. Claudius murdered his brother, the

former king Hamlet, in order to become king himself. This

murder, which was done in secret, with no one but Claudius

knowing that the act was committed by him. Not only is he

the King of Denmark, but he is also married to Queen

Gertrude, his brothers former wife. These hideous and awful

crimes have not been punished, and no one knows that

Claudius has done this. When Claudius confronts anyone, he

must become someone totally different. Claudius puts on a

mask of his own. He is no longer the self-serving, cold,

calculating man that he really is, out he becomes a kind,

caring man who does his very best to ensure that Gertrude

stays with him, and also so that he can do his best to keep

Hamlet from trying to take the kingdom and destroy what

Claudius has worked for so long to gain.

To this end Claudius wears his mask. But is Claudius really

the mask or what he is underneath? This is called into

question when Claudius tries to seek redemption for his

sins. This scene shows that his character, like Hamlets is

not quite as clear cut as most men. Claudius wrestles with

his guilt by asking himself, ^ÓWhere to serves mercy/ But to

confront the visage of offense?/ And that^Òs in prayer but

The Character of Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

The Character of Laertes in Hamlet

Though seeming to simply be a minor character, Laertes is of great importance in the play, Hamlet, and much more than one would initially believe, due to his extensive inner conflict. He is good, loyal, and honorable, seeming to possess the greatest virtue of all the characters, yet he still is doomed to die along with the other characters, precisely because of his great virtue.

As Scene Two begins, in the first lines which Laertes speaks in the play, he requests that King Claudius allow him to return to his duties in France. This is important from the viewpoint that it demonstrates his dislike for the King and his wish to be away from the questionable circumstances of his marriage and subsequent ascension to the throne, a wise decision, and an attempt to remain apart and above the world, as the Greek ?superman? is seen to gain immortality by doing, though Laertes does have personal feelings in the matter, unlike the true Stoic, thus his attempt is a failure, though a noble one.

As Scene Three begins, Laertes is speaking with his sister, Ophelia, about her relationship with Hamlet, and warning her to ?Weigh what loss your honour may sustain,/ If with too credent ear you list his songs,? (1.3.29) else she lose her virtue to Prince Hamlet. This exemplifies his loyalty and love for his family, and especially his sister, though she replies to his warnings and advice with the sarcastic reply to do not ?Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,/ Whilst, like a puffed and reckless libertine,/ Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads/ And recks not his own rede.? (1.3.47) Following this, Ophelia and Laertes? father, Polonius, enters, and Laertes departs with a final warning t…

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… who have gotten off the ball are Horatio and Fortinbras. Horatio being the extreme neutrality of Stoicism, his inaction leading to his not becoming caught up in the events, since he is merely an observer, and Fortinbras is action taken to just as far of an extreme, he has no indecision or change of heart, and he is able to pass by and over all that stands in his way. Laertes tries both ways, but since he cannot decide which path to take, he exemplifies the metaphor to its fullest, only getting off the ball after it has passed over the cliff. Seeing his error and the path to success, he cannot go back, and is doomed, learning-as do all other characters who cannot stay with their path-that indecision is the true enemy.

Works Cited:

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet. ca. 1600-1601. Ed. Edward Hubler. A Signet Classic. New York: Penguin Publishers,1963.

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