It would hardly be preposterous to claim that Shakespeare must have had ulterior motives in giving the motif ‘acting and the theatre’ a significant part in “Hamlet” than simply to remind the audience that they are watching a play. Rather, when one considers that acting and the theatre are interlinked with deception and/or Façades, ‘acting’ becomes a more significant issue worthy of discussion. Indeed, through Hamlet’s “antic disposition”, Shakespeare arguably presents acting as a framework on which madness and duplicity are built in the “distracted globe” (pun on globe!) of Hamlet’s world.
Acting in “Hamlet” might be used by Shakespeare to highlight the deception, illusion and role playing of major characters in the play; for example, Hamlet claims that performances such as “…the fruitful river in the eye…” are mere “actions that a man might play”, perhaps directed at Gertrude, who although cried “like Niobe all tears”, upon King Hamlet’s death, married Claudius with “wicked speed”. Indeed, it might be argued that [mad] Ophelia, might, in singing “…bewept to the grave did not go with true-love showers” be acting as a sort of ‘licenced fool’, directing her comment at the queen and revealing Gertrude’s pretence as a devoted wife to have been a mere act.
This might be seen as:
(i). Shakespeare implying women are deceptive;
(ii). The fact that the masks many characters set up for themselves in the play collapse (e.g. Hamlet finds out about King Hamlet’s death despite Claudius’ efforts at dissimulation) imply that deception is futile, especially as although it might not go noticed “in the corrupted currents of this world”, “’tis not so above” (i.e. in heaven justice will be served, those who are deceptive will be punished).
(iii). Directed at the over-extravagance of the royal court and the focus on appearance and material wealth rather than substance or honesty (Notoriously, truth was found in the country, and duplicity at court). Acting might also be used to hold “the mirror up to nature”, exposing the corruption of the court as a whole. “the lapwing” Osric, who has only the “outward habit of encounter” is arguably living evidence of the “yeasty collection” (superficial bunch) that “the drossy age dotes on”.
However, there are undoubtfully many other motives Shakespeare may have had in his presentment of acting and pretence at Elsinore; I would love to hear any ideas you might have, please feel free to comment on your response!
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