ENG 4U 2012: Characters Rarely Say What They Are Thinking….Or, The Invention of Lying

In Hamlet, characters rarely say what is on their minds. In Act I scene ii, for example, Hamlet is forced to hide behind double entrendres and asides; he cannot openly tell the King and the Queen what he thinks of their “o’erhasty marriage.” Similarly, because Claudius murdered the Prince’s father, it is difficult to imagine that he really has Hamlet’s interests at heart; yet, his address to the court might lead those in attendance to think he is actually concerned about his nephew’s melancholy.

  1.  If you remember, Act III scene i contains Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, and a rather troubling confrontation between Hamlet and Ophelia. Today, I’d like you to read the remaining lines with your group; in these lines, Claudius will tell Polonius of a plan he has devised to deal with Hamlet.
  2. The problem, unfortunately, is that Claudius isn’t telling Polonius the whole truth.  Thus, I want you to write a paragraph from Claudius’ perspective, explaining your real motivations for your decision. Of course, this will require you to speculate; after all, you haven’t read the rest of the play. Still, the following points might help you:
    • Do you agree with Polonius’ assertion that Hamlet is mad with love?
    • What reasons do you have for being wary of Hamlet?
    • Given what you did to Hamlet’s father, how might you deal with a problem like a mad prince?

    It might help you to think about the film Invention of Lying. In this film, no one is capable of telling fibs; the characters can only tell the truth, regardless of its impact on others. What might Claudius say if he were incapable of lying?



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