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Hastings, Sophia

Mrs. Davis
English 10 H- Red
How strange or odd some'er I bear myself; The Consequences of Altering Appearance and
Loss of Control in William Shakespeares The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Due to a humans natural tendency to sympathize with those who have a broken family or
home and seek justification for their lives, revenge tragedies became common forms of
entertainment during the seventeenth century, among regular tragedies and other genres of plays.
Characteristics of revenge tragedies include unjust actions towards the protagonist, specifically
unjust deaths, and typically end in a poetically justified demise. Shakespeare, playwright of The
Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, demonstrates all the aspects of this genre by creating a
tragic hero with an abundance of internal conflict. Prompted by the death of his father, the tragic
hero, Hamlet, develops into a more complex character as he attempts to avenge his fathers
death. In the midst of delusion and conflict, Hamlets sanity diminishes and his downfall occurs
gradually, demonstrating the weakness in humans. In The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of
Denmark, William Shakespeare uses the theme of illusion to demonstrate the reasoning behind
Hamlets false madness; ironically, by falsifying his persona, Shakespeare incorporates a theme
of obsession when Hamlet becomes truly insane, rendering him incapable of trusting anyone,
including himself.
Hamlet decides to feign madness and fool those around him to release his father from
purgatory and avenge his death, catalyzing Hamlets move towards losing his sanity. King
Hamlets ghost reveals that his death occurred because Claudius murdered him, supporting his
need for his son to avenge his death. The serpent that did sting thy fathers life / Now wears his
crown (1.5.40-41). By using a metaphor and comparing Claudius to a serpent, Shakespeare

characterizes Claudius and demonstrates his evil nature. He also alludes to the Bible, comparing
Eve to Gertrude; lured into the serpent Claudiuss trap. Because of this, Hamlet decides that
killing Claudius will bring peace to his father, thus catalyzing his obsession of avenging his
fathers death. After conversing with his fathers ghost and learning how his father died, Hamlet,
now with a goal, decides,How strange or odd some'er I bear myself -- / As I perchance hereafter
shall think meet / To put an antic disposition on (1.5.179-181). Hamlet realizes that by feigning
madness and tricking his uncle, he will have success with avenging his father. Shakespeare uses
Hamlets plan to create the motif of allusion; Hamlet will disguise his true self and his motives
will remain unknown. Additionally, by disguising himself, Hamlet realizes the faades of those
he cares about, causing his trust in them to waver. During a conversation between Hamlet,
Gertrude, and Claudius, Gertrude advises Hamlet to stop his grieving by pronouncing, Do not
forever with thy vaild lids / Seek for thy noble father in the dust / Thou know'st 'tis common; all
that lives must die (1.2.70-73). Hamlets mother changes her attitude after King Hamlet dies
and falls under the influence of the need to keep up appearances. She preaches to Hamlet that
everyone will die; therefore, he should stop grieving over a natural occurrence. Shakespeare also
incorporates diction with the word dust to further support Gertrudes mindset; eventually,
everyone will become weak and forgotten. However, Hamlet understands that his fathers death
did not occur naturally and that King Claudius legacy should not overshadow King Hamlets,
catalyzing his need to expose Claudius. Hamlet determines that he will reveal his false persona to
his mother and, in an attempt to convince her to trick Claudius, he proclaims, I will speak
daggers to her, but use none. / My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites (3.2.341-342). Hamlet
realizes that, even though he deems his mother untrustworthy, he still shares a connection with
her. He wishes for her to understand that she will receive a punishment for adultery. Hamlet

hopes that by informing her of his plan, she will recognize Claudius negative actions and assist
him, possibly lessening her oncoming retribution. However, because of her own obsession with
appearance, she sides with her new husband. Shakespeare characterizes Gertrude this way to
demonstrate why Hamlet loses his appreciation for other women; he deems them untrustworthy,
much like his mother.
Due to Hamlets decreasing sanity as a result of relying too much on false personas, he
becomes unable to trust his judgment and the actions of others. After Hamlet kills Polonius in his
mothers chambers, he proclaims, I will bestow him, and answer well / the death I gave him.
So, again, good night / I must be cruel only to be kind (3.2.183-185). Hamlet believes that the
man behind the arras could listen to the conversation with his mother and spoil Hamlets plan.
Therefore, Hamlet does not think twice about killing the man until he completes the action,
demonstrating his loss of control. Shakespeare also proves Hamlets increasing madness as he
speaks in prose and foreshadows a punishment in the future. Hamlet becomes aware that his
friends will deceive him, especially if King Claudius guides them; however, in an attempt to
prevent their treachery, Hamlet pronounces, Call me what instrument you will, though you can
fret me / you cannot play upon me (3.2.319-320). Prior to his fathers death, Hamlet had the
ability to trust those around him; however, his trust in his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,
diminishes during the tragedy because of their disloyalty. Hamlet, through the use of metaphor,
makes it clear that his friends cannot play him or use him as a tool for their own gain; however,
irony becomes present because Hamlet begins to use Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead.
Hamlet also has the ability to fool them with his faade of madness. Additionally, Hamlet speaks
in prose, a common sign of a character losing his or her sanity. During a conversation with
Ophelia, Hamlets words prove to the King and Polonius that his love for Ophelia does not

contribute to his increasing madness. Hamlet tells Ophelia, I say we will have / no more
marriage. Though that are married already---all but one---shall live / The rest shall keep as they
are. To a nunnery, go (3.1.139-141). Hamlet, because he speaks in prose during his
conversation, proves that his lack of trust in all women expands as he becomes less sane.
Shakespeare demonstrates Hamlets character within this conversation; Hamlet, an inherently
good person, becomes so obsessed with false personas, he skews reality and loses his ability to
care for those around him. During a conversation with his mother, the ghost reappears and,
Hamlet, unsure why his mother cannot see the ghost, exclaims, Why, look you there, look how
it steals away! / My father, in his habit as he lived! (3.4.140-141). Earlier on, characters other
than Hamlet had the ability to see the previous kings ghost. However, as the tragedy progresses,
Hamlet becomes the only one who sees his fathers ghost. These actions foreshadow Hamlets
loss of sanity and demonstrate his loss of accountability.
Thus, in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Shakespeare demonstrates Hamlets
gradual loss of sanity; catalyzed by the inability to conceal actions, Hamlets hidden obsessive
personality leads to his death and to the death of others around him. Additionally, Shakespeare
uses metaphors to juxtapose the personalities of characters and assist in Hamlets quest to avenge
his fathers death. Hamlets lack of support from his family contributes to his loss of
accountability and stability, as he becomes unable to trust his previous friends and begins to lose
his sanity. He also loses his ability to think rationally and becomes more abrasive throughout the
play. Hamlets representation of a tragic hero demonstrates the negative effects of dishonesty.
Additionally, Shakespeare exposes the frail nature of humans to prove that dwelling on the
negative leads to an inability to control oneself.