Last updated: August 30, 2019
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Hamlet explores the life of the Prince of Denmark after the death of his father, the King. After returning home to attend his father’s funeral, Hamlet is shocked and disgusted to learn that his Uncle Claudius has married his mother and has been crowned king. The plot thickens as Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his father who explains that he was murdered by Hamlet’s uncle. Much of the play is predicated on the idea of deception as Hamlet undergoes internal and external struggles while trying to determine whether or not the ghost is being truthful, trying to gather evidence against his father’s murderer, and trying to get his mother to understand his pain, all while trying to stay alive and get his revenge. Ultimately, William Shakespeare’s play is able to reveal that humans are driven by a desire for revenge and will stop at nothing to achieve it. In order to ensure that the ghost was being truthful, Hamlet stages The Murder of Gonzago, an elaborate deception to try and catch Claudius in his guilt. To the original play, Hamlet adds on scenes that recreate the murder as described by the ghost. He explains that “his eyes will rivet onto Claudius’ face,” in an attempt to read his behavior for any signs of guilt (86). Hamlet brings in several actors, writes and edits a play, and gathers everyone under the pretense of enjoyment solely to determine whether his Uncle was guilty of the murder. Hamlet’s desire to avenge his father’s death stops at nothing; he deceives everyone around him by claiming that the play is simply meant for entertainment, when in reality, has an ulterior motive. Thus, in order to avenge his father’s death and confirm that Claudius was the murderer, Hamlet sets up a deception wherein his uncle, consumed by guilt fled the room, proving to Hamlet that he had a hand in the killing. Furthermore, after determining that Claudius was his father’s murderer, Hamlet, yet again, deceives everyone around him by acting insane to divert attention from his genuine intentions. Putting “an antic disposition on”, is another act of deception in order to draw attention away from his suspicious activities as he attempts to gather evidence against Claudius (187). By feigning madness in order to avenge his father’s death, Hamlet also pushes Ophelia, his love, further away from him. Despite the fact that Hamlet understood the long-lasting repercussions to his actions, driven by revenge, he misleads others into believing that he is mentally unstable. As means of revenge, Hamlet simulates irrationality to divert attention from his true aim: gathering evidence against Claudius. In doing so, however, his actions have long-lasting consequences, pushing the love of his life away (which is one of the reasons for her committing suicide) and eventually the death of Polonius. In addition, as an attempt to get his mother to abandon her loyalties with Claudius, Hamlet deceives her in their meeting by pretending to exact physical violence upon her. He calls upon the cruelty of the Roman Emperor Nero, who had his own mother murdered to help him “speak daggers to her” (384). Here, Hamlet attempts to deceive his mother in order to get her to understand that she has offended him and his father by getting remarried. Hamlet is so intent on exacting revenge upon all those he believes to have betrayed his father, including his mother, that he does not pay heed to the consequences that could arise. When his mother feared that Hamlet would inflict physical violence after he promises to make her fully aware of the extent of her sins, a voice behind the curtain calls out for help. Believing it to be the king, and thus blinded by rage, Hamlet draws his sword and stabs at the tapestry, killing Polonius instead. Driven by a desire for revenge, Hamlet does not go through all the possible outcomes of his actions. Rather, his actions are determined by what can get him closest to revenge. However, despite the death of Polonius, Hamlet is seemingly unaffected. Rather than repenting or even trying to help the dying man in his last breaths, he calls him an “intruding fool” and drags his body away (390). This shows just how far Hamlet has been dragged due to his desire for revenge; his moral compass has seemingly vanished and his actions are only driven by what he feels will get him the closest to Claudius’s death. Finally, Hamlet’s deception goes a step further my sending two men to their deaths to ensure his survival and enable him to avenge his father’s death. After Polonius’s death, Hamlet is exiled to England, and unbeknownst to him, Claudius has sent given Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a warrant for Hamlet’s death upon his arrival. After learning about this, Hamlet deceives the executors by changing his name to that of his fellow companions, thus resulting in them being executed in his place. Hamlet’s deception ensures that he stays alive, enabling him to return back to Denmark and carry out his plan to kill Claudius. The Prince is so driven by revenge that his moral compass is virtually non-existent, proving that people will do anything in order to attain revenge. He, without flinching, sent two men straight to their deaths. This, in turn, shows that Hamlet’s actions are solely driven by the desire for revenge, not paying heed to any potential ramifications that come across his path. By the end of the play, Hamlet’s desire for revenge has unintended consequences, as he plays a hand in about six deaths. This proves that everyone is driven by a desire for revenge, and once that takes hold, they will stop at nothing to achieve it. While the overall, primary motive for Hamlet’s many deceptions is his drive to exact revenge, each one has its own, smaller cause as well, from gathering evidence to ensuring his own survival. Driven by revenge, anyone has the capability of doing anything.