To what extent does Shakespeare deal with these themes in Hamlet? As consistent with all Shakespearean tragedies, Shakespeare uses the fatal flaws of the central characters to bring about their downfall which ultimately leads to their death. In Hamlet, deceit and betrayal initiates the failures of the main characters, particularly Prince Hamlet, King Claudius and Ophelia. These themes are pivotal to their actions and are used to expose the flaws of the characters that lead to their downfall and eventually, death.
Shakespeare begins the play with the depressed, yet innocent Hamlet, who is in mourning for the recently dead king, his father. He is angry at his mother, for quickly marrying the new King, also his uncle. He feels betrayed by his mother because she was able to forget her previous husband so quickly and easily. He is melancholic because of his father’s death but more because of his mother’s “speedy marriage”. In his fury, he stereotypes all women as weak, “Frailty, thy name is woman.
” He is uncomfortable with what he feels is an unacceptable situation and he senses, “It is not, nor can it come to, good. ” Despite his negative feelings, his emotions are controlled and he does not even consider the possibility that his father was murdered and he is portrayed as blameless and wide open to deceit. Shakespeare creates the first twist of the play when Hamlet meets the ghost, his “father’s spirit”. The ghost divulges to a shocked Hamlet that his father was victim of “murder most foul” and urges the prince to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
The serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown,” thus revealing to Hamlet the betrayal and deceit of Claudius. Hamlet is outraged and disgusted by what he learns and promises the ghost, “Thy commandment all alone shall live within the book and volume of my brain. ” He will seek nothing but revenge and he entrusts only the loyal Horatio and Marcellus with his sinister findings. Claudius murders his own brother and king to introduce the complex web of deceit and betrayal that make up the play.
After Hamlet’s meeting with the ghost, Hamlet is convinced that he has been victim of betrayal and deceit as he refers to the spirit as “an honest ghost”. His previously controlled emotions reach boiling point and he is furious enough to call his mother a “most pernicious woman”. He is traumatised by the news and his emotions start to become uncontrolled causing Horatio to say, “These are but wild and whirling words, my lord. ” Slowly, the idea of revenge overcomes all his thoughts and Shakespeare feeds idea of deceit and betrayal into his mind.
Hamlet decides that the only way he can see through the deceit and confirm the murder claim is by deception himself. He decides to “put on an antic disposition” to enable him to spy on his uncle without arousing any suspicion. Ophelia, although innocent, is a character who is in the way of Hamlet without meaning to do any harm. Her father is the Lord Chamberlain who is capable of extracting all scraps of information from her, against her will. He is very loyal to the king and will pass on anything he knows to him.
As a consequence, Ophelia cannot be trusted with the truth and is subjected to deceit and betrayal. Hamlet deceives her by deliberately acting mad to confuse her and telling her that he “loved her not”. This is a downright lie as is obvious towards the end of the play when he is distraught to discover her death and tells an equally distressed Laertes that “forty thousand brothers with all their quantity of love could not love her more than [he] did”. Hamlet betrays her by being cruel and sarcastic to her and making comments such as, “Get thee to a nunnery” to keep her away from him.
Hamlet is forced to take this path because he knows she must not find out what he knows regarding his father’s death; otherwise he risks endangering his life from Claudius. Shakespeare uses all the deceit and betrayal to create a conflict of loyalty inside Ophelia and she is unsure whether she should stay true to her love Hamlet or obey her father. She betrays Hamlet by choosing to obey her father rather that staying loyal to Hamlet. Despite her feeble attempts to try to defend Hamlet by saying, “He hath importuned me with love in honourable fashion,” she cannot disobey her father.
She is torn between a strong father and a strong lover but being the dutiful daughter she promises her father, “I shall obey, my lord,” when ordered to stay away from Hamlet and not to “give words or talk” to him. She deceives Hamlet when she allows Claudius and her father to spy on him by trying to engage him in conversation in the presence of the two men. Her decision to obey her father means she is completely reliant on him. Being a lady of her time, she does not have any independence and needs the support of a man which makes her vulnerable and ultimately a failure.
Hamlet’s rudeness towards her and her betrayal of Hamlet makes her believe that he will not care for her again. When her father dies she feels as if she has lost everything and this drives her towards insanity and eventually, death. As is obvious from the beginning of the play, Hamlet’s main failure is that he is very indecisive and thinks about issues too much which lead to his downfall and ultimately, death. He is also quite lonely and throughout the course of the play, only Horatio remains loyal to the prince and Hamlet can talk to and trust only him.
All others, including his girlfriend, Ophelia, betray him and he cannot speak freely with them. The lack of people to talk to means that thoughts build up in his mind and he is constantly thinking about issues, such as revenge and suicide, too much without being able to reach an appropriate decision. His main failure and fatal flaw is this inability to make quick decisions and take action before it is too late. Typically, Shakespeare shows Claudius’ main flaw and failure to be his ambition which is what possesses him to perform the evil deed of murdering the king.
He confesses, “I am still possess’d of those effects for which I did the murder, my crown, mine own ambition and my queen. ” He tries to convince himself that he cannot turn around and make up for what he has done because he has waded too far into the pool of evil. He offers what is really an empty prayer because his “words fly up” but “thoughts remain below” and he says, “Words without thoughts never to heaven go. ” His failure is that he is too ambitious and greedy and he cannot bear to think about life without his throne and queen.
He does not make any attempt to make up for what he has done because he does not want to which creates problems because eventually the truth is discovered and this brings about his downfall and death. All the actions of the main characters are shaped by Shakespeare through the themes of deceit, betrayal and failure. He uses the deceit and betrayal of Claudius and Ophelia to cause Hamlet himself to deceive and betray which enables him to discover the truth. Shakespeare uses the deceit and betrayal to bring out the failures of the characters that lead to their downfall and death.