In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, there is a prevalent and almost overwhelming theme. All
throughout the play, all of the characters appear as one thing, with one standpoint, and one outlook.
However on the inside, all of these characters are completely different. This ‘mask’ theme, the way that all
of the characters portray themselves as one person on the outside and one different one on the inside, is not
in the least disguised by Shakespeare. Claudius, the murdering king, appears to be a somewhat kind,
caring, and friendly person. But inside he is different. He is cold, calculating, and self-serving. But this
might also be a mask. The women in the play, Ophelia and Gertrude, both use a type of mask to cover
what is obvious in their lives, masking it so that they can continue living as if their existence was without
and cruelty. And finally Hamlet hides behind his madness, be it real or pretend, a person who is indecisive
and spiteful. Masks in this play are not just a theme; they are the whole basis of it.

The mask theme develops throughout the play as various characters try to cover their secret
intentions with a veneer of a whole other person. One of the most obvious, of course is Claudius. Claudius
murdered his brother, the former king Hamlet, in order to become king himself. This murder, which was
done in secret, with no one but Cladius knowing that the act was committed by him. Not only is he the
King of Denmark, but he is also married to Queen Gertrude, his brothers former wife. These hideous and
awful crimes have not been punished, and no one knows that Claudius has done this. When Claudius
confronts anyone, he must become someone totally different. Claudius puts on a mask of his own. He is
no longer the self-serving, cold, calculating man that he really is, out he becomes a kind, caring man who
does his very best to ensure that Gertrude stays with him, and also so that he can do his best to keep Hamlet
from trying to take the kingdom and destroy what Claudius has worked for so long to gain. To this end
Claudius wears his mask. But is Claudius really the mask or what he is underneath? This is called into
question when Claudius tries to seek redemption for his sins. This scene shows that his character, like
Hamlets is not quite as clear cut as most men. Claudius wrestles with his guilt by asking himself, “Where
to serves mercy/ But to confront the visage of offense?/ And that’s in prayer but his twofold force,/ to be
forestalled are we come to fall,/ Or pardoned being down?” (3.3.50-54) He then answers his own question
by saying, “But, O, what form of prayer/ can serve my turn? “Forgive me my foul murder?”/ That cannot
be, since I am still possessed/ of those efforts for which I did the murder!/ My crown, mine own ambition,
and my queen.” (3.3.55-59) So Claudius comes to the understanding that, even though he wears
redemption like his outside self, his real self cannot give up the trappings of this position. Claudius, in his
questioning, has separated the mask from the person and has found that the mask is the fake Claudius. Not
every character is so confused as to their nature, however.

The in Hamlet are confused in a much different way. Both Ophelia and Gertrude mask
themselves to the harsh realities of their life. Ophelia’s mask is far more fragile than any other. Despite
Hamlets almost incessant cruelty to Ophelia drives her, eventually insane. She puts up a defense at first ,
trying to protect herself from Hamlet’s cruelty, but it fails. Ophelia believes for awhile , that hamlets loves
her deeply, and that he would never harm her directly. But soon, through his words and his actions, such as
killing her farther, shatter her mask that served to protect her from Hamlets assaults. When the truth and
reality bit her, she breaks under its pressure and commits suicide. Gertrude, the other woman in the play,
has a much stranger mask. She refuses to see or believe the truth that Hamlet shows her, the truth that
Claudius murdered her husband for the kingdom. She