Deception is a recurring theme in Hamlet. In a tale of murder, love, and politics, deception could have no more fitting place. The lies and pretensions interweave each other, and there is no character left out of this web. All the central characters have their secrets to hide and mistruths to spread, and this is central to the plot and its progression.
King Claudius deceives all those around him with his mourning and celebrating demeanor, and his strange celebration and waking. He seems to grieve for the brother that he slew, and works to console all others that may or may not grieve for his brother’s death, such as his nephew and step-son Hamlet. His pretense is great, and forces Hamlet to investigate the truth of the ghost’s tale, unraveling the mystery of his father’s death and others’ involvement.
Prince Hamlet has perhaps the most devious series of deceptions in the tragedy. He feints madness, in order to soften up the minds of those he seeks to learn information from, by putting them off their guard. Hamlet also sets in motion a plan to discover his uncle’s guilt in the murder of his father through a play within a play within a play, aptly named “The Mousetrap.” His clever pretension also leads Polonius astray in his presumption as to the cause of Hamlet’s supposed strange manner and Ophelia to believe that his love for her has gone with his sanity.
Ophelia is also key in the theme of deception in the play. However, she is more so privy to the intentions of others to deceive than to her own. Her lies are merely a sense of self-preservation in a world dominated by men. She deceives Hamlet on her feelings for him at the behest of her father, Polonius, in his scheme to determine the true cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior. Ophelia in turn is actually herself deceived by Hamlet’s scheme to feint madness. Essentially she is the channeling of Polonius’ plot of political investigation, and as used as she may be by all sides, she is not seriously affected by it towards the end of Act III, other than through the death of her oppressive father.
It is interesting to note that Hamlet is not an overly grotesque or passionate play, but rather one of subtle mind games and political plotting. The many layers of lies and half-truths spoken by all the characters tinge on how dark things in Denmark really are, when none can speak their minds truly, even so a mad man. Deception could ask for no better home than in this play, filling the minds of all it’s many characters and intriguing plot turns.