The Role of Acting in "Hamlet"

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William Shakespeare’s Hamlet encompasses two major kinds of acting. The majority of the characters put on a false appearance for the purpose of hiding the truth, either for their own profit or for that of another. However, Hamlet uses acting as a way to uncover the truth about the death of his father, in order to benefit himself as well as the community. These two different uses of the same tool show that, although acting by definition is not a genuine display of oneself, it can be used as a way of ultimately revealing the truth. The most significant character who uses acting to hide the truth for his own benefit is Claudius. His insincerity is established at the beginning of the play, when he addresses the citizens of Elsinore about the death of King Hamlet. He opens with “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death/The memory be green” (I.2.1-2), which seems an odd beginning to his speech, as it expresses the idea of death in terms of greenery and growth. The play has barely begun, yet Claudius is already acting—he is making something happy of something that is unquestionably tragic. He continues, “it us befitted/To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom/To be contracted in one brow of woe” (I.2.2-4), which prompts the city to grieve for the late king. Claudius never mentions his own feelings about the king’s death, but expects everyone else to mourn. He then goes on to talk about his marriage to Gertrude, as if his self-interested act of taking the dead king’s wife for his queen somehow compensates for his death. Claudius’ strange behavior is a hint that something is not the way it appears. It suggests that he is putting on a disguise, which is later confirmed when it is revealed that he is the one who murdered the king. After his speech, Claudius turns to Hamlet and says that he and the queen do not wish him to go back to school in Wittenberg, for

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