A mask is a covering worn on the face or something that disguises or conceals oneself. All the characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet hide behind masks to cover up who they really are, which contridictes a main idea, expressed by the fool, Old Polonius, “To thine ownself be true” (Polonius – 1.3.84). All the characters share strengths and triumphs, flaws and downfalls. Instead of revealing their vulnerabilities, each of them wears a mask that conceals who they are and there true convictions. The masks brought about feelings such as fear, hatred, insanity, indecisiveness, ambitiousness, and vengeance all of which contribute to the tragic ending of the play. Shakespeare reveals the idea of the masks in the first lines of the play, “Who’s there” (Barnardo – 1.1.1). “Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself” (Fransisco – 1.1.2).
These masks are upon each character, placed there by either society, self-ignorance, or guilt. Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter and Hamlet’s lover, hid behind a mask, just like Queen Gertrude’s. It was, according to the society and the culture of the time, in the best interest of the woman to display a passive behavior for their personal preservation, which served as Gertrude’s mask. Gertrude was brought up to believe that when a woman protests her innocence, in any matter, too much then people will begin to think otherwise. Gertrude revealed the idea of her mask, when responding to Hamlet inquiry of her likes to the play, her response was a bold reply, “The lady doth protest too much methinks” (Gertrude – 3.2.254), while viewing “The Murder of Ganzago.” Hamlet’s disgust with his mother’s lack of strength, in regards to Claudius’ sexual temptations, was evident in his soliloquy, after Gertrude begged him to stay with her and Claudius in Elsinore. “And yet, with a month let me not think on ‘t; fratility, thy name is woman.” (Hamlet – 1.2.149-50) Gertrude’s submissiveness is also evident in her refusal to face the pain of the true nature of her husband’s murder. Gertrude begs “O Hamlet, speak no more! / Thou turn’st my eyes into my very soul, / And there I see such black and grained spots / As will not leave their tinct” (Gertrude – 3.4.99-103). In relation to Gertrude, Ophelia is even weaker and more passive. This is obscure to the audience until, her confrontation with Hamlet, set up by Claudius and Polonius to determine whether it was Polonius’ refusal to allow her to see Hamlet that made him crazy. It was during this confrontation that Hamlet openly spurned and rejected her, leaving her no place to turn except to herself. Ophelia is rendered ineffectual regarding the loss of her father because she can not take revenge against her lover, Hamlet, who is also her father’s murderer. After her father’s murder by Hamlet, her true love, two of the three men she loved most were forever lost and the third in some far off country, Ophelia could no longer find any sense of security, and without security her sanity would be nowhere found. The masks created by society for Ophelia and Gertrude resulted in the tragic endings for both of them, Gertrude by the hand of her husband, Claudius, and Ophelia, by the loss of her loved ones.
Self-ignoranceis the laking knowledge or comprehention of one’s own self, and therfore the self-ignorance of Rosencranz and Guildenstern, allowed for the King to coax them into betraying their good friend Hamlet, by posing as a spy for the King. Upon the arrival of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet welcomed his friends but became suspicious about their reasons for visiting. After Hamlet asked them three times for their business with Hamlet, and received lines such as, “To visit you, my lord, no other reason.” (Rosencrantz – 2.2.292), Hamlet then asked if they were sent for, Gulidinstern replied with, “What should we say my lord?” (Guildenstern – 2.2.299).With this Hamlet concluded to Rosencranz and Guildenstern that the “good queen and king have sent for you.” (Hamlet – 2.2.304-05), and agreed that they had been sent for. Rosencranz and Guildenstern’s masks of friendship towards Hamlet resulted in no information to the King of Hamlet’s insanity, and their death in place