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Hamlet: Playing a Role

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  1. Introduction
  2. Imagining the distress the actor would show
  3. A trait Hamlet would have benefited from
  4. Aspects of playing and playmaking
  5. The ghostly king
  6. Conclusion
  7. Works cited

One of the most prominent themes in ?Hamlet? is acting. Its uses and abuses are constantly remarked on by Hamlet and other characters. Hamlet's view of play-acting is a complicated one; sometimes he admires it, but at other times he is disillusioned with the fakery that playing demands. In this mood, he deplores the ease with which acting can be used to manipulate others. Admiration comes through when he thinks of the player's tears for the non-existent Hecuba. He considers the actor to be able to turn his thoughts to concrete signs or actions, and wishes he was more like the actor. However, when others attempt to use acting to manipulate him, Hamlet sees acting as a cheap trick. This can be seen in his angry speech about Guildenstern attempting to ?play upon? him.

[...] to a bad epitaph. The encounter with the tearful actor causes Hamlet to muse on the difference between putting on an act and performing an act. He says, it not monstrous that this player here / Could force his soul so to his own conceit/ That from her working all the visage wann'd, / Tears in his eyes /What would he do/ Had he the motive and the cue for passion/ That I (lines 551-562). Hamlet goes on to imagine the distress the actor would show, while mocking himself because he has done nothing yet to avenge his father. [...]

[...] Another aspect of playing and playmaking is that of manipulation. Hamlet hates to be played upon. He takes Guildenstern to task for attempting to manipulate him into revealing the cause of his ?madness?. In an extended object lesson, he repeatedly asks Guildenstern to play on a pipe. When his schoolmate says he has no knowledge of the instrument, Hamlet says pointedly, is as easy as lying . give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music? (III.ii, lines 357-359). [...]

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