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). [...]
[...] The audience and Ophelia know him to be hiding in a place where he can spy on them. Ophelia's willingness to play along as if she is alone leads Hamlet to burst out bitterly, “wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them” (III.ii, lines 138-139). His rage stems from the fact that Ophelia, his former sweetheart, would try to deceive him along with everyone else. Although Hamlet will not put up with being manipulated himself, he is not above doing it to others. [...]
[...] However, her ability to play a role is put to a good use later, as she tells Claudius that Hamlet is as the sea and wind when both contend/ Which is the mightier” (IV.i, lines 7-8). She goes on to imply that Hamlet's killing of Polonius was accidental, when it appears Hamlet was attempting to kill the king. Hamlet is the best player of them all. In every case where it is necessary, he carries on the “antic disposition” which he explained to Horatio (I.v, line 172). [...]
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