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Hammlet Essay Research Paper MasksA mask is

Hammlet Essay, Research Paper


A mask is a covering worn on the face or something that disguises or conceals oneself. All the characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet hide behind masks to cover up who they really are, which contridictes a main idea, expressed by the fool, Old Polonius, “To thine ownself be true” (Polonius – 1.3.84). All the characters share strengths and triumphs, flaws and downfalls. Instead of revealing their vulnerabilities, each of them wears a mask that conceals who they are and there true convictions. The masks brought about feelings such as fear, hatred, insanity, indecisiveness, ambitiousness, and vengeance all of which contribute to the tragic ending of the play. Shakespeare reveals the idea of the masks in the first lines of the play, “Who’s there” (Barnardo – 1.1.1). “Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself” (Fransisco – 1.1.2).

These masks are upon each character, placed there by either society, self-ignorance, or guilt. Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter and Hamlet’s lover, hid behind a mask, just like Queen Gertrude’s. It was, according to the society and the culture of the time, in the best interest of the woman to display a passive behavior for their personal preservation, which served as Gertrude’s mask. Gertrude was brought up to believe that when a woman protests her innocence, in any matter, too much then people will begin to think otherwise. Gertrude revealed the idea of her mask, when responding to Hamlet inquiry of her likes to the play, her response was a bold reply, “The lady doth protest too much methinks” (Gertrude – 3.2.254), while viewing “The Murder of Ganzago.” Hamlet’s disgust with his mother’s lack of strength, in regards to Claudius’ sexual temptations, was evident in his soliloquy, after Gertrude begged him to stay with her and Claudius in Elsinore. “And yet, with a month let me not think on ‘t; fratility, thy name is woman.” (Hamlet – 1.2.149-50) Gertrude’s submissiveness is also evident in her refusal to face the pain of the true nature of her husband’s murder. Gertrude begs “O Hamlet, speak no more! / Thou turn’st my eyes into my very soul, / And there I see such black and grained spots / As will not leave their tinct” (Gertrude – 3.4.99-103). In relation to Gertrude, Ophelia is even weaker and more passive. This is obscure to the audience until, her confrontation with Hamlet, set up by Claudius and Polonius to determine whether it was Polonius’ refusal to allow her to see Hamlet that made him crazy. It was during this confrontation that Hamlet openly spurned and rejected her, leaving her no place to turn except to herself. Ophelia is rendered ineffectual regarding the loss of her father because she can not take revenge against her lover, Hamlet, who is also her father’s murderer. After her father’s murder by Hamlet, her true love, two of the three men she loved most were forever lost and the third in some far off country, Ophelia could no longer find any sense of security, and without security her sanity would be nowhere found. The masks created by society for Ophelia and Gertrude resulted in the tragic endings for both of them, Gertrude by the hand of her husband, Claudius, and Ophelia, by the loss of her loved ones.

Self-ignorance is the laking knowledge or comprehention of one’s own self, and therfore the self-ignorance of Rosencranz and Guildenstern, allowed for the King to coax them into betraying their good friend Hamlet, by posing as a spy for the King. Upon the arrival of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet welcomed his friends but became suspicious about their reasons for visiting. After Hamlet asked them three times for their business with Hamlet, and received lines such as, “To visit you, my lord, no other reason.” (Rosencrantz – 2.2.292), Hamlet then asked if they were sent for, Gulidinstern replied with, “What should we say my lord?” (Guildenstern – 2.2.299). With this Hamlet concluded to Rosencranz and Guildenstern that the “good queen and king have sent for you.” (Hamlet – 2.2.304-05), and agreed that they had been sent for. Rosencranz and Guildenstern’s masks of friendship towards Hamlet resulted in no information to the King of Hamlet’s insanity, and their death in place of Hamlet’s in England. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s self-ignorance allowed for their minds to be manipulated by the King, which lead to their execution.

King Claudius, corrupted by his greed for the throne, murdered his own brother, and married his brother’s wife, and concealed his true corruptness and guilt, with nothing less than the crown as his mask. According to the dictionary a king is, one that is supreme or preeminent in a particular group, category, or sphere. Supreme and preeminent, Claudius is not. How can a preeminent man murder and marry the murdered brother’s wife? The ghost’s speaks of Claudius’ of this to Hamlet, “Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast, / With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts / O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power / So to seduce!” (Ghost – 1.5.49-52). After showing his remorse of his brother’s murder, the guilt was still so great that, after attempting to pray for forgiveness of the lord, he rose and expressed his thoughts; “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below; / Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” (Claudius – 3.4.202-03). His guilt for his brother’s murder, and his tried cover-up, by killing Hamlet resulted in his own death.

Hamlet is the only character true to himself, in that the only mask he wears is one to fool others of his sanity, in order to prove Claudius’ guilt of the murder of his father, Hamlet Sr. After Hamlet killed Polonius, and stored his body, when first asked of him the location of Polonius’ body, and Hamlet replied with a riddle; “The body is with the King, but the King is not / with the body. The King is a thing-” (Hamlet – 4.2.27-28). This riddle strange in itself was evidence to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Hamlet’s insanity. Once the King banished him to his death in England, Hamlet replied with “Farewell, dear mother.” (Hamlet – 4.4.58). Shocking to the King, being his father and or uncle, and Hamlet forgave an explanation to the King of why he called him his mother; “My mother. Father and mother is man and wife, / Man and wife is one flesh, and so, my mother” (Hamlet – 4.4.60-61). Hamlet’s mask of insanity had fooled the King, the Queen, Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Though he had fooled these people he always kept a full grasp of reality and his true convictions.

“To thine own self be true,” (Polonius – 1.3.84) the words of a fool followed only by the tragic hero, Hamlet. The masks of the characters were what lead each to their tragedy.