The Theme of Actors and Acting in Hamlet.


Many would perceive madness and corruption to play the most influential role in Hamlet. However, it could be argued that the central theme in the tragedy is Shakespeare\'s presentation of actors and acting and the way it acts as a framework on which madness and corruption are built. Shakespeare manifests the theme of actors and acting in the disassembly of his characters, the façades that the individuals assume and the presentation of the \'play within a play\'. This intertwined pretence allows certain characters to manipulate the actions and thoughts of others. For this reason, it could be perceived that Shakespeare views the \'Elsinorean\' tragedy as one great puppet show, "I could see the puppets dallying".


The façades that the individual characters assume are all essential to the complex deception and insanity that follow. Shakespeare\'s characters, it would seem, all have \'multi-faceted\' personalities (with the exception of Horatio). The true thoughts of these characters are seen only as asides, soliloquies or, in Hamlet\'s case, through the manipulation of language.


Furthermore, Shakespeare introduces the Players to add an extra dimension to his ideas on the effects of disassembly. The juxtaposition of the \'play within a play\' acts as a subtle literary device that suggests that, as Hamlet\'s play occurs in the middle of the play, the play itself revolves around the pretence undertaken by the majority of Shakespeare\'s characters.


Shakespeare\'s presentation of the way in which King Claudius acts correlates with the view that each \'Elisinorian\' character assumes a pretence. Shakespeare presents King Claudius as manipulating subjects by carefully employing a range of oratory techniques. In his first speech to the court, Claudius conveys a sense of unity in Elsinore after his "dear brother\'s death" by using plural pronouns, "we", "us" and "our". In a further attempt to gain favor of his audience, flattery is used when he refers to the court as thinking on Old Hamlet in the "wisest sorrow". Shakespeare also utilizes sequences of threes in Claudius\' speech to add strength and fluency,


"Sometime sister, now our Queen, / The imperial jointress" (Act I Scene II)


The word "imperial" reminds the court of Denmark\'s achievements, appealing to their patriotic side. King Claudius\' oration skills may make him more attractive to his court but this is purely pretence. Behind closed doors, Claudius\' guilt and unease manifests itself in asides and soliloquies.


"O my offence is rank, it smells to heaven; / It hath the primal eldest curse upon it, / A brother\'s murder" (Act III Scene III)


Here, disease imagery is used to convey the disease of corruption that appears to have infected those from Elsinore. This is the true King Claudius - without the superficial grandeur. From this example of multi-faceted personality, it can be seen how Shakespeare uses the pretence of his characters as the basis of their complex personalities. If this is compared to the introspective nature of Hamlet\'s behavior, the difference between the two main instigators of corruption is quite marked.


Like Claudius, Shakespeare displays Hamlet\'s true feelings in soliloquies. In comparison, Hamlet is a great deal more melodramatic and uses much more vivid imagery. In the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy, Hamlet questions his very self-existence. It could be argued that this is down to Hamlet\'s supreme University-bred intellect. Alternatively, Hamlet\'s elaborate introspect could be a symptom of his alleged insanity- if this is the case it is important to remember that depression is a mild, though incredibly absorbing, form of madness. Although Shakespeare presents Hamlet\'s imagery as elaborate and vivid, it is by no means verbose, as in the case of Polonius. From the audience\'s perspective, it would seem that Hamlet\'s pretence of insanity is an act of depression rather than true, developed madness, as his speeches remain well balanced and rather calm, given his situation.


A clear example of the way in which Shakespeare presents Hamlet\'s madness as a deep-rooted depression is in his speech to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Shakespeare has chosen to allow Hamlet\'s depression to surface at this point to convey his deeply felt hurt that his old friends have betrayed him.


Shakespeare presents another side to Hamlet\'s pretence through the way that he interacts with Ophelia, while Polonius and Claudius are listening nearby. The audience does not