Appearance Vs Reality “Hamlet”: Analyzing The Role Of Violence

The Concealed Reality of Hamlet’s World

In great literature, violence exists for a reason. In Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the idea of violence develops the plot and characterization of the characters. Specifically, in Act III, scene four, Hamlet “accidentally” kills Polonius, illustrates the motif of appearance versus reality, shows Hamlet’s transition from being overly indecisive to acting recklessly, and sets the ground for the final scene of the play. At the beginning of the scene, despite the appearance of Queen Gertrude’s seemingly empty room, Polonius’ concealment behind a tapestry shows the conflict between reality and appearance.

Hamlet’s Appearance vs Reality: The Madness Debate

The scene continues with the idea of appearance versus reality by developing uncertainty regarding whether Hamlet is acting in madness or his acting has led to his actually losing his mind. After the murder, Hamlet shows no signs of guilt or remorse about his actions: “Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell./ I took thee for thy better. / Take thy fortune/ Thou findest to be too busy is some danger” (III.iv. 38-41). The fact that Hamlet used words such as “wretched,” “ rash,” and “ intruding fool” to describe Polonius shows Hamlet’s lack of remorse for his actions. This shows that Hamlet believes Polonius is a fool that got what he deserved for snooping around other people’s business. Furthermore, the scene continues with Hamlet criticizing his mother for being immodest due to her hasty marriage to Claudius. This power dynamic between Gertrude and Hamlet shows that even though it appears, Gertrude is the queen, Hamlet is the one dominating.

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The Transition of Hamlet’s Character: From Indecisive to Reckless

The scene also furthers the characterization of Hamlet as he shifts away from being constantly indecisive and overanalyzing as he experiences a murder. Previously, he continuously contemplated the thought of killing Claudius: “Contagion to this world. / Now could I drink hot blood/ And do such bitter business as the bitter day/ Would quake to look on” (III.ii. 422-425). Hamlet’s view of committing murder – a deed he views to be so horrible people would tremble even during the day – shows that even after the visits of the ghost, Hamlet remains indecisive about killing Claudius. He also overanalyzes the situation.

Even though he received the opportunity to stab Claudius, he chose not to because Claudius was in the midst of praying. However, in this scene, Hamlet is hotheaded and acts without any thinking. “How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead” (III.iv. 29). The fact that Hamlet immediately jumps to the conclusion that it’s a rat and stabs the tapestry instead of checking first demonstrates Hamlet’s recklessness. Compared to Hamlet’s other actions and careful thoughts, during this scene, Hamlet does not ponder about who might be behind the tapestry. Hamlet, in this case, can be seen as his own foil character. Unlike Hamlet, that overanalyzes every situation, Shakespeare uses the scene to show that Hamlet is capable of acting irrationally. This contrast between the characteristic of Hamlet creates a fuller characterization of Hamlet. Thus, it shows Hamlet’s indecisiveness towards Claudius was not because he wanted to devise the perfect plan but rather his ego.

The Turning Point: The Death of Polonius

The scene also plays a pivotal point in the play as it transitions from planning and scheming to setting the stage for the final bloody ending. Before this scene, despite Hamlet’s words and thoughts, there were no committed actions. However, the killing of Polonius signifies the turning point as the plot changes from the over-analyzation without action into a limited-planning full of action. After the killing of Polonius, there was no turning back – Hamlet had committed a murder. This action also leads to the insanity of Ophelia as she mourns the death of her father and the rejected love of Hamlet. Furthermore, it continues the theme of revenge as Laertes now desires revenge against Hamlet. This allows Claudius to use Laertes as a tool to carry out his plan of eliminating Hamlet. The murder in Gertrude’s bedroom makes Claudius more wary of Hamlet as he views Hamlet as more of a threat.

Thus, he secretly signals England to assassinate Hamlet. In a twist of events, Laertes becomes a pawn for Claudius in his plans to kill Hamlet by poisoning the wine or the swords. More importantly, this action of slaying Polonius led Hamlet to become less indecisive as he has now experienced killing and can act boldly. This development is shown when he forcefully pours the wine down Claudius’ throat without mercy. Polonius’ death creates a greater impact during the play as it accelerates the plot while adding greater meaning.

In the works of literature, the idea of violence exists to illustrate important meanings and further establish the plot of the book. Shakespeare uses the death of Polonius in Hamlet to demonstrate the idea of revenge. The actions of Hamlet led to unintended consequences, which eventually led to the downfall of the hero, leaving it tragic.


  1. Shakespeare, W. (1603). Hamlet. In The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Vol. 2). Oxford University Press.

What Does The Clock Symbolize In “The Masque Of The Red Death”

Edgar Allan Poe: A Master of Dark Narratives

The Father of the Modern Detective Story, Edgar Allan Poe, is one of the most well-known authors in history. His dark and gloomy writing style was unique to his time, and it has not been paralleled since. Poe uses symbolism, tone, and characterization to create his one-of-a-kind style.

The Masque of the Red Death: Clock and Its Symbolism

Poe utilizes symbolism in his stories “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Raven,” and “The Black Cat” in order to develop the plot. In the short story “The Masque of the Red Death,” Poe writes, “And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock.” As the clock strikes every hour, it reminds the revelers of the passage of time. The clock foreshadows the resolution of the story in which the Red Death claims the lives of all party-goers. In “The Raven,” the narrator states, “. . . vainly I had tried to borrow / From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore . . .” The narrator attempts to move on from his dead lover, Lenore, but is consistently reminded by the raven that he will never be able to; therefore, the raven symbolizes the memory of Lenore.

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Madness and Sin: Characterization in Poe’s Stories

Her memory haunts the narrator and makes him live in its shadow of grief for the rest of his life. In The Black Cat, Poe writes, “It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to name—and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared—it was now, I say, the image of a hideous—of a ghastly thing—of the GALLOWS!—” The white patch on his second cat grows into the marking of the noose he used to kill his previous cat. Seeing this mark drove him to murder his own wife, so it foreshadows his own inevitable ending – death by hanging for his crimes. Therefore, the symbols in his stories not only make the story more relatable but also further the plot.

Poe’s characters usually have some semblance of madness that compels them to commit evil sins in order to rid themselves of their reality. In The Black Cat, the narrator states, “The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer.” The character compares his temporary bout of uncontrollable insanity with a possession which is to say he has no control over his actions and his feelings. Mentally unstable criminals would use an excuse such as this to justify their actions to themselves and the court, which further implies that the narrator is somewhat insane. In The Cask of Amontillado, Poe writes, “At length, I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled— but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk.”

The narrator of this story decides to get revenge by killing someone for insulting him. Most often, stable people would more easily forgive and forget a mere insult; however, a madman’s emotions are heightened, and madmen are known for taking everything more personally than most. In The Tell-Tale Heart, Poe writes, “I loved the old man. He had never wronged me . . . I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this!.. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold . . . I made up my mind to take the life of the old man and thus rid myself of the eye forever.”The narrator is terrified of the old man’s eye, so he decides to take the life of the old man to avoid ever having to see the eye again. In most cases, this would be considered a much more drastic reaction to an insult which is proof of his insanity. Therefore, the lack of sanity that is found in Poe’s characters creates the main conflicts in his stories.

The Persuasive Tone of Poe’s Protagonists

Poe frequently begins his stories and poems with a persuasive tone, for he tries to convince readers that the main character is truly not as crazy as they are portrayed. This, in a way, could be representative of how Poe feels about himself and his past experiences in that he was ridiculed for his stories and received no credit, so he used the very stories that were unpopular back in his day to persuade his neighbors and his readers that he was not as damaged from his past as he may seem. In The Tell-Tale Heart, Poe writes, “You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded –with what caution –with what foresight –with what dissimulation I went to work!” The narrator attempts to persuade readers to believe in his sanity by comparing his actions to the actions of a true madman.

However, in doing so, he shows excitement toward the meticulous way he has planned out this murder which incriminates him. In The Black Cat, Poe writes, “Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a stupid action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not?” The narrator is trying to convince himself that he is somewhat innocent in his cruel deeds. In The Cask of Amontillado, Poe writes, “A thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.” The narrator believes that his revenge is justified because Fortunato insulted him and his family; however, the readers know that Fortunato has been tormenting the narrator for years, but only now, the narrator snaps, which indicates a mental breakdown. Therefore, Poe’s starting tone contributes to the characterization of the protagonist.

Poe’s use of literary elements such as symbolism, tone, and characterization create a style of writing that is distinctively his. His ability to manipulate the feelings of his audience shows his mastery of the English language. It is no wonder his stories are still taught and admired in schools today.


  1. Poe, E. A. (1842). The Masque of the Red Death. In The Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Harper & Brothers.
  2. Poe, E. A. (1845). The Raven. In The Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Wiley & Putnam.
  3. Poe, E. A. (1843). The Black Cat. In The Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Wiley & Putnam.

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