The Ultimate Disguise Essay, Research Paper
Deep within the scorching desert sands lurks a creature, moving cautiously into position as it readies itself for a strike upon its unsuspecting prey. The prey detects a slight disturbance in the sand, but anticipating no danger, carries on about its normal activities. Then suddenly, the comfortable silence is broken by the onset of splashing sand followed by a short struggle. Before long the quietness returns to the sandy landscape, where everything seems to be the same as it was before, except that it is not. The lurking creature, a chameleon was hungry prior to the strike, but now is quite content. In this situation, it is obvious that the chameleon killed its prey, however, what is not so obvious is how the chameleon was able to achieve that end. At first glance, the chameleon does not seem to possess a wide range of arsenals when compared with other creatures in the animal kingdom. Nonetheless, it does have one element most others do not, and that is its ability to disguise and camouflage itself in order to blend in with its surrounding environment. This characteristic is important to the survival of the chameleon as it serves a dual purpose with regard to offense (such as catching its prey) and defense (such as hiding from other predators).
Similarly, just as a chameleon alters its external appearance in order to deceive its prey, so too do certain characters in William Shakespeare?s Hamlet; namely Hamlet, Claudius, and Polonius, who disguise their appearances, using a variety of tactics to achieve a particular end. The characters in Hamlet modify their appearance by acting differently as a means of a defense mechanism as well as an offensive one. The theme in the play of Hamlet consists of many instances in which the external appearance of things appears to be true when in reality it is the opposite.
Not surprisingly, the main character of the play Hamlet becomes the master of disguise and deception. Hamlet seeks revenge against Claudius shortly after he learns of the King?s involvement in his father?s death, a ?murder most foul? (Act I, Sc. 5, 27). The revenge by Hamlet will take some time to execute; therefore Hamlet must devise a plan to divert attention away from himself. He does so by pretending to act in a mad manner such that his intended subjects (i.e. Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude, and Ophelia) will be completely unsuspecting. Just like a chameleon transforming its outside appearance as the result of fear and using camouflage to evade detection by its prey; Hamlet feigns madness due to the fear of the unknown, by camouflaging his external appearance in preparation to attack his prey – Claudius. As Hamlet stated, ?How strange or odd some?er I bear myself / As I perchance hereafter shall think meet / To put an antic disposition on? (Act I, Sc.5, 170-172). This particular defensive strategy fabricated by Hamlet is essential in acquiring vital information presented through the interactions with other characters. Hamlet is perceived by others to be that of a mad person. However, in reality, his mad behavior is merely a disguise and a means to solve the mystery of his father?s death. Like a detective, Hamlet is able to tediously piece together the evidence of the crime. He is capable of fooling everyone, even his own mother. Queen Gertrude asserts that Hamlet is as ?mad as the sea and wind when both contend? (Act IV, Sc.1, 7).
Subsequently, throughout the play, Hamlet also displays various other qualities, which are apparent in a chameleon. For instance, a chameleon is extremely slow and inactive. Likewise, Hamlet reflects a person who is slow in making important decisions because he contemplates and procrastinates constantly. In addition, he appears to be a man of inaction rather than a man of action. The longer Hamlet prolongs the mission that he has to accomplish, the more he is unable to execute it. At first glance, Hamlet appears knowledgeable; but in fact, he is a lost child who is seeking attention. The father?s death and the mother?s hasty remarriage have turned Hamlet?s world completely upside down, ?an unweeded garden / That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely? (Act I, Sc.2, 135-137). Furthermore, Hamlet?s soliloquy ?To be, or not to be, that is the question?? (Act III, Sc.1, 56) depicts his confuse state of mind in time of crisis. As a result, the defensive mechanism of madness portrayed by Hamlet has enabled him to attain his objective. He receives overwhelming attention from Claudius, Polonous, Gertrude, Ophelia, Horatio, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern. By hiding his true identity, Hamlet is able to outsmart the devilish King Claudius who believes that Hamlet has feign madness caused by Ophelia?s rejection of his love. In essence, Hamlet is seen as an ingenious, persuasive, crafty individual, who is able to devise a well-orchestrated plan in determining Claudius? reaction in the play within the play. The plan of Hamlet is flawless as gold, he is able to persuade the players in The Murder of Gonzago to reenact his father?s death. The plan of the ?mouse-trap? scene in The Murder of Gonzago is used to entrap Claudius; Hamlet observes his uncle?s expression as sign of substantial proof indicating his guilt. The climactic scene of the play within the play illustrates the success of Hamlet?s defensive mechanism using madness as a means to ?catch the conscience of the king? (Act II, Sc.2, 617).
Contrary to Hamlet?s disguise with madness, Claudius conceals the murder he has committed by appearing as an admirable king who is honest and honorable. Just as a chameleon defensively camouflages itself to suit the encompassing environment from its enemy, Claudius also alters his external appearance by defensively camouflaging himself as a king who is willing to do what is best for the nation. But in reality, he only cares for his own well being. Claudius, the antagonist of the play, is a man of action and is seen as the total opposite of what he really is. In order to remain in power, Claudius will even sacrifice the morals and values, which are bestowed and upheld by a true king. The statement ?Something is rotten in the state of Denmark? (Act I, Sc.4, 90) exemplifies the corruption within the political hierarchy in Denmark. The disorder and tension in the state of Denmark could be reflected as the mirrored image of disorder and tension in the royal family. Claudius pretends to be a man of integrity, he appears to be kind and caring. However, this characteristic behavior demonstrated by Claudius is just a facade in defensively securing his well being as a noble king. The current king of Denmark acts defensively because he fears the possibility of jeopardizing his crown as the head of state. The fact of the matter is that behind the curtain Claudius is truly cold, cunning, and calculating; Claudius is cruel and ruthless in the pursuit for power. ?O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power / So to seduce!? (Act I, Sc.5, 44-45); Claudius is a two-faced individual, and because of this, he is able to diabolically manipulate the system for his own benefit. Like a lizard roaming through the deep hot desert searching for food, Claudius appears to be roaming through Denmark in search of obstacles (i.e. Hamlet?s madness for revenge) that would endanger his ?incestuous? marriage with Queen Gertrude, and threaten his divine right as ruler of Denmark.
As the drama develops and the plot thickens, Claudius often requires assistance in gathering information about Hamlet?s well being. Subsequently, the man responsible for Claudius? knowledge about Hamlet is Polonius. The royal adviser to the king devotes his time and loyalty towards serving King Claudius and Queen Gertrude. All throughout the play, Polonius disguises himself ?as of a man faithful and honorable? (Act II, Sc.2, 130). When in reality, he is similar to that of the chameleon previously mentioned. The appearance of Polonius is deceiving, he is capable of defensively camouflaging his outside appearance as a trustworthy right-hand man of the king; but in actuality, behind the fabricated mask he is sly and conniving. ?And borrowing dulleth edge of husbandry. / This above all, to thine own self be true, / And it must follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man? (Act I, Sc. 3, 77-80). For instance, in Act II, Sc.1, Polonius sent spies to Paris to watch over his son, Laertes. Polonius eluded that the spies were sent to Paris to make sure his son was behaving appropriately, ?inquire me first what Danskers are in Paris, / And how, and who, what means, and where they keep, / What company, at what expense; and finding / By this encompassment and drift of question / That they do know my son, come you more nearer / Than your particular demands will touch it? (Act. II, Sc.1, 7-12). In reality, Polonius? acts seem less noble because it appears that he is always spying and prying about other peoples business.
Moreover, throughout the play, both Claudius and Polonius choose to lie, cheat and deceive their fellow acquaintances in order to fulfill their mission. For example, in order to determine the reason for Hamlet?s madness, Claudius and Polonius spy and eavesdrop on the conversation between Hamlet and Ophelia. Just as the king concealed his true evil identity, Polonius as well disguises his true self. Polonius wears the mask of falsehood as a defensive mechanism in discovering the cause of Hamlet?s wild behavior. He is able to manipulate his own daughter in achieving his objective. Like a thief robbing in the middle of the night, Polonius is quiet in his attempts in lurking behind the curtains for the undeniable truth.
Consequently, the theme of Hamlet concerning disguise is essential in understanding the story behind the characters acting a certain way. Finally it can now be seen that the three characters Hamlet, Claudius and Polonius do relate to the chameleon in that they employ the element of disguise in order to deceive their prey and thus achieve their ultimate goal. Nevertheless, as the play unfolds, it becomes clear that even though each character in Hamlet employed his own element of disguise, not every character is actually successful in truly deceiving their intended subjects. For example, King Claudius failed to disguise himself as an admirable king in attempts of stopping Hamlet; his failure resulted in his inevitable death. Likewise, Polonius failed to properly disguise his fiendish ways as a noble advisor to the throne, which as well resulted in his untimely murderous death. However, of the three characters, Hamlet indeed reveals to the reader his true intelligence as he is able to detect and see through the disguise of the others; all while maintaining his own disguise so well that he remains the undetected chameleon through to the end of the play.