Deception in Hamlet: Critical Essay

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One of the most frequent reoccurring themes in the play is the idea of Lies, Deceit, and Corruption. Despite his claim to really hate these things, Hamlet finds himself coming up with quite a few lies and schemes on numerous occasions and being exposed to some deceit himself. The play Hamlet is set in a world in which political deception is a necessary part of life, and lies are part of a normal day. Seem familiar? Maybe that’s because it is. In Hamlet, Denmark is often described by the characters as corrupt or positioned under Claudius's rule. For example, in Act 1, scene 4 when Marcellus says: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. Hamlet also at one point describes the world he lives in as an 'unweeded garden'- as he sees this corruption and how his uncle has poisoned Denmark- even the citizens of Denmark who don’t know the truth about the King sense this corruption. It seems that every character in Hamlet is working on plotting something for their own self-interest. For example, in Act 2 Scene 2, Hamlet says to his own friends, “You were sent for, and there is a kind of confession in your looks which your modesties have not to craft enough to color. I know the good king and queen have sent for you”. His own friends were plotting against him with his killer uncle- and for what? Power and fortune. Which is what everyone wants still in today’s society. They want to climb as many rungs of the societal ladder as they can, without thinking about how many people they’re stepping on the way up. Hamlet can see through everyone’s lies, including his uncle’s: In act 1 Scene 5 he says:” O villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain! My tables—meet it is I set it down That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain”. This reminds me of some politicians these days, rambling on about the things they will do for society, and denying any of their shortcomings through a forced smile. Just because you smile and look nice, doesn’t mean you’re a good person and the things you are saying aren’t words of deceit. Claudius does admit to himself aside that he is a psycho liar king in Act 3 Scene 1, “O, 'tis too true! How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience. The harlot's cheek beauties with plastering art Are not more ugly to the thing that helps it Than is my deed to my most painted word. O heavy burden!”. At least Claudius knows that all his lies will probably come back to bite him at some point. This quote draws a parallel between the lies he has told- his 'painted word[s]' and the way a 'harlot' 'plasters' her face with makeup. He hides behind his lies and covers himself so that no one can see what his real, selfish plans are. He hides it all behind a smile.

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By the end of the play, Hamlet argues that death is the one real way to find the truth, and he seems to view all of life as lies and trying to find a way to escape—from lying to seeking power to committing murder—all to hide from that reality. At least some people can admit it- at the end of Laerte’s life in Act 5 Scene 2 he says, “I am justly killed with mine own treachery.” So basically, like pretty much every other deceptive character, which is almost every other character in the play, Laertes digs his own grave because of that deception. One can draw parallels between this play and the world we currently live in.

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Deception in Hamlet: Critical Essay. (2023, September 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from
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