Deception, Betrayal, Spying

Who didn't do it?


Throughout Hamlet, every character embodies some form of deception, betrayal, or spying that eventually contributes to their downfall.

“Therefore our sometime sister, now our Queen, th’ imperial jointress of this warlike state, have we, as ‘twere, with a defeated joy, with an auspicious and a dropping eye, with mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage, in equal scale weighing delight and dole, taken to wife” (I,ii,8-14).

Gertrude betrays King Hamlet and Hamlet by hastily marrying Claudius. Claudius has also betrayed King Hamlet by killing him, taking his wife during a time of mourning, and taking his kingdom. Claudius continues to deceive the people of Denmark by covering up the acts that led to King Hamlet's death.

“Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz. And I beg you to visit my extremely transformed son right away. Go, some of you, and take these gentlemen where Hamlet is” (II,ii,36-39).

Gertrude betrays Hamlet by sending Guildenstern and Rosencrantz to spy on him to see why he has been so mad. Gertrude and King Hamlet do this instead of simply asking Hamlet why he is acting so odd lately. Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, Hamlet's supposed friends, betray him by selling their loyalty to the King and obeying his orders to spy on Hamlet.

“Behind the arras I’ll convey myself to hear the process…’tis meet that some more audience than a mother, since nature makes them partial, should o’erhear the speech of vantage” (III,iii,29-35).

Polonius is spying on Hamlet for Claudius in an effort to understand why Hamlet is acting mad. During this time, Polonius plans to listen in on Hamlet's conversations to get a better understanding. Polonius spying for Claudius adds to the lack of trust between Hamlet, Claudius, and Gertrude.

“Oh, defend me, friends! I am hurt” (V,ii,327).

Hamlet cuts Claudius's throat with the poisoned sword causing his death. Throughout the play, Claudius has manipulated every person he has come into contact with to help become the King of Denmark and rid Hamlet from the land. Hamlet finally achieves what his father has asked of him to avenge Claudius.

Literature Criticism

Throughout Hamlet, we see Hamlet's multiple attempts to avenge Claudius because he killed King Claudius and married Gertrude hastily. We also see the devious actions of Claudius, Laertes, Gertrude, among others. In Anne Marie Hacht's "Hamlet" literary criticism, she agrees that: "nearly every character in Hamlet spies on another character or at some point conceals something" (Hacht). We see the betrayals and spying that each character commits throughout the play. Also, Hact draws attention that: "Hamlet himself, in his attempt "to catch the conscience of the king" and authenticate the Ghost's report, devises a complex series of surveillance strategies, including feigning madness and presenting a play during the performance of which he watches the king" (Hacht). We can see throughout the play the devious actions of each character as they continue to betray and manipulate each other to get a step closer to the King.

What does the play teach us about humanity?

In this tragic play, we learn that the corrupt ways of people in authority sooner or later affects the ones around them. In a literary criticism, we see that: "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely"("Lord Acton"). Due to Claudius's need for power, he has corrupt thoughts, which eventually lead him to killing his brother to gain absolute power. Through his corruption the people closest to him, like Queen Gertrude and Polonius, start to become influenced by his corruption. We can see that they begin to follow Claudius and his corrupt ways. We can see this in today's world as the number of countries under a monarchy are limited and the number of democratic countries are on the rise as it gives everyone a voice. A democratic state avoids power corruption by having a systems such as the Judicial, Executive, and Legislative branches that allows for checks and balances to take place. Today's world and democratic ideals are set in place to avoid downfalls like those that took place in the play Hamlet.