Hamlet: Brutal Truth



Disillusionment. Depression. Despair. These are the burning
emotions churning in young Hamlet\'s soul as he attempts to come
to terms with his father\'s death and his mother\'s incestuous,
illicit marriage. While Hamlet tries to pick up the pieces of his
shattered idealism, he consciously embarks on a quest to seek the
truth hidden in Elsinore; this, in stark contrast to Claudius\'
fervent attempts to obscure the truth of murder. Deception versus
truth; illusion versus reality. In the play, Prince Hamlet is
constantly having to differentiate amongst them. However, there
is always an exception to the rule, and in this case, the
exception lies in Act 2, Scene 2, where an "honest" conversation
(sans the gilded trappings of deceit) takes place between Hamlet
and Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern. Via the use of prose and
figurative language, Shakespeare utilizes the passage to
illustrate Hamlet\'s view of the cosmos and mankind.

Throughout the play, the themes of illusion and mendaciousness
have been carefully developed. The entire royal Danish court is
ensnared in a web of espionage, betrayal, and lies. Not a single
man speaks his mind, nor addresses his purpose clearly. As
Polonius puts it so perfectly: "And thus do we of wisdom and of
reach / By indirections find directions out" Act 2, Scene 2,
Lines 71-3 The many falsehoods and deceptions uttered in Hamlet
are expressed through eloquent, formal, poetic language (iambic
pentameter), tantamount to an art form. If deceit is a painted,
ornate subject then, its foil of truth is simple and unvarnished.
Accordingly, when the pretenses of illusion are discarded in Act
2, Scene 2, the language is written in direct prose.
Addressing Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet pleads with them
to deliver up honest speech about the intent of their arrival:
"[offer up] Anything but to th\' purpose." Act 2, Scene 2, Line
300 In a gesture of extreme significance, in a quote
complementary to Polonius\' aforementioned one, Hamlet demands:
"Be even and direct with me whether you were sent for or no." Act
2, Scene 2, Lines 310-11

Being the bumbling fools they are, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern
disclose their intentions and purposes to Hamlet, revealing the
King and Queen\'s instructions. Thus does truth prevail in this
passage. For this reason, the whole passage is devoid of the
"artful" poetic devices that are used in the better portion of
the play.

The recurring motif of corruption also appears in the passage.
Due to the wicked internal proceedings in the state of Denmark
(e.g. murder, incest), Shakespeare implies that the whole state
is "soiled", which in turn has a direct negative consequence in
the grand universal scheme of things. Imagery of warped and
distasteful plants, in place of the traditional "aesthetically
correct" beautiful flowers in a garden, serves to further
reinforce the degeneration theme: "\'Tis an unweeded garden that
grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it
merely." Act 1, Scene 2 Essentially, all of life, and all that
was good and beautiful in life (e.g. the garden) is sullied.

Hamlet, the disillusioned idealist, continues with the motif when
he disheartenedly declares: "the earth, seems to me a sterile
promontory" -Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 321-2 [the air] "why, it
appeareth nothing to me but a fouled and pestilent congregation
of vapors." -Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 325-6 The above lines
represent Hamlet\'s cosmic view on the planet. He finds the world
to be empty and lifeless, dirty and diseased, and his particular
place in it to be desolate and lonely. Indeed, he feels so
isolated and entrapped in his native land that he says: [the
world is a prison] "A goodly one, in which there are many
confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o\' th\' worst."
-Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 264 -6 This view of the world exemplifies
the micro/macro concept, where Denmark is the "micro"
manifestation of a prison for our hero. The taint of "micro"
Denmark leads to repercussions that in turn affect the whole
universal order, leading to the consequence of the world itself
becoming the "macro" manifestation of a prison in Hamlet\'s eyes.

Further along in the same paragraph, Hamlet offers up his opinion
on man, extolling his virtues and excellent qualities ("what a
piece of work is man^+").