Hamlet does not just put practice his deception on those he views in an adversarial manner, however, but also on his former friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. When they attempt to question him as to what is wrong with him, he seems to be giving them an honest answer when he says "I have of late -- but wherefore I know not -- lost all my mirth" (Shakespeare, 1599). The reader/audience knows that this is a lie; Hamlet has already voiced his suspicions regarding Claudius, but he is unwilling to share them with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern because he does not trust their feelings towards him. Just the same, Jack deos not trust Gwendolyn's feelings towards him, and so will not reveal that his name is not Ernest. He asks her directly, "But you don't really mean to say that you couldn't love me if my name wasn't Ernest?," which starts an interchange that is only comic because of the deception being practiced (Wilde, 1895). In both plays, the main characters feel forced to deceive those they care about; in Hamlet, the effect is tragic, because Rosencrantz and Guildenstern care deeply for their friend; in Earnest, the effect is comic because all of the characters are so essentially shallow. Both plays use the issue of a hidden agenda to deepen the play's meaning, however, making the usage affirmative within the world...
In Hamet, this does not occur until the very end of the play, when Hamlet finally stabs Claudius and calls him an "incestuous, murderous, damned Dane" (Shakespeare, 1599). Gertrude is already dead, and Hamlet knows he is dying, so it is too late for the truth to do much good, but it is finally out. The truth in Earnest surprises everyone; Jack actually learns that his name is Ernest: "I always told you, Gwendolen, my name was Ernest, didn't I? Well, it is Ernest after all. I mean it naturally is Ernest" (Wilde, 1895). Here, the deception is revealed to have not been a deception at all, and the effect is comic. The revelation of truth in a tragedy makes the action all the more tragic, whereas the revelation in this comedy makes the entire rest of the play thatcame before that much mre hilarious through the pointlessness of the deception.
The use of deception in both Hamlet and the Importance of Being Earnest makes each play more of what it tries to be -- Hamlet is more reflective and more tragic, and Earnest is more pointless and comic. This is seen when the deceptions are first revealed to people that are untrusted, and deepened by their use with people whom ought to be trusted. Finally, the revelation of the deceptions brings both plays to their ultimate ends. With such masterful use of this device, it is no wonder that both Shakespeare and Osca Wilde are considered two of the great geniuses of playwriting.
Shakespeare, W. (1599) Hamlet. New York: Penguin, 1993.
Wilde, O.(1895). The Importance…
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