Appearance Vs Reality “Hamlet”: Analyzing the Role of Violence
How it works
The Concealed Reality of Hamlet’s World
In great literature, violence exists for a reason. In Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the idea of violence develops the plot and characterization of the characters. Specifically, in Act III, scene four, Hamlet “accidentally” kills Polonius, illustrates the motif of appearance versus reality, shows Hamlet’s transition from being overly indecisive to acting recklessly, and sets the ground for the final scene of the play. At the beginning of the scene, despite the appearance of Queen Gertrude’s seemingly empty room, Polonius’ concealment behind a tapestry shows the conflict between reality and appearance.
Hamlet’s Appearance vs Reality: The Madness Debate
The scene continues with the idea of appearance versus reality by developing uncertainty regarding whether Hamlet is acting in madness or his acting has led to his actually losing his mind. After the murder, Hamlet shows no signs of guilt or remorse about his actions: “Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell./ I took thee for thy better. / Take thy fortune/ Thou findest to be too busy is some danger” (III.iv. 38-41). The fact that Hamlet used words such as “wretched,” “ rash,” and “ intruding fool” to describe Polonius shows Hamlet’s lack of remorse for his actions. This shows that Hamlet believes Polonius is a fool that got what he deserved for snooping around other people’s business. Furthermore, the scene continues with Hamlet criticizing his mother for being immodest due to her hasty marriage to Claudius. This power dynamic between Gertrude and Hamlet shows that even though it appears, Gertrude is the queen, Hamlet is the one dominating.
The Transition of Hamlet’s Character: From Indecisive to Reckless
The scene also furthers the characterization of Hamlet as he shifts away from being constantly indecisive and overanalyzing as he experiences a murder. Previously, he continuously contemplated the thought of killing Claudius: “Contagion to this world. / Now could I drink hot blood/ And do such bitter business as the bitter day/ Would quake to look on” (III.ii. 422-425). Hamlet’s view of committing murder – a deed he views to be so horrible people would tremble even during the day – shows that even after the visits of the ghost, Hamlet remains indecisive about killing Claudius. He also overanalyzes the situation.
Even though he received the opportunity to stab Claudius, he chose not to because Claudius was in the midst of praying. However, in this scene, Hamlet is hotheaded and acts without any thinking. “How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead” (III.iv. 29). The fact that Hamlet immediately jumps to the conclusion that it’s a rat and stabs the tapestry instead of checking first demonstrates Hamlet’s recklessness. Compared to Hamlet’s other actions and careful thoughts, during this scene, Hamlet does not ponder about who might be behind the tapestry. Hamlet, in this case, can be seen as his own foil character. Unlike Hamlet, that overanalyzes every situation, Shakespeare uses the scene to show that Hamlet is capable of acting irrationally. This contrast between the characteristic of Hamlet creates a fuller characterization of Hamlet. Thus, it shows Hamlet’s indecisiveness towards Claudius was not because he wanted to devise the perfect plan but rather his ego.
The Turning Point: The Death of Polonius
The scene also plays a pivotal point in the play as it transitions from planning and scheming to setting the stage for the final bloody ending. Before this scene, despite Hamlet’s words and thoughts, there were no committed actions. However, the killing of Polonius signifies the turning point as the plot changes from the over-analyzation without action into a limited-planning full of action. After the killing of Polonius, there was no turning back – Hamlet had committed a murder. This action also leads to the insanity of Ophelia as she mourns the death of her father and the rejected love of Hamlet. Furthermore, it continues the theme of revenge as Laertes now desires revenge against Hamlet. This allows Claudius to use Laertes as a tool to carry out his plan of eliminating Hamlet. The murder in Gertrude’s bedroom makes Claudius more wary of Hamlet as he views Hamlet as more of a threat.
Thus, he secretly signals England to assassinate Hamlet. In a twist of events, Laertes becomes a pawn for Claudius in his plans to kill Hamlet by poisoning the wine or the swords. More importantly, this action of slaying Polonius led Hamlet to become less indecisive as he has now experienced killing and can act boldly. This development is shown when he forcefully pours the wine down Claudius’ throat without mercy. Polonius’ death creates a greater impact during the play as it accelerates the plot while adding greater meaning.
In the works of literature, the idea of violence exists to illustrate important meanings and further establish the plot of the book. Shakespeare uses the death of Polonius in Hamlet to demonstrate the idea of revenge. The actions of Hamlet led to unintended consequences, which eventually led to the downfall of the hero, leaving it tragic.
- Shakespeare, W. (1603). Hamlet. In The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Vol. 2). Oxford University Press.