Four of the main characters that attempt to deceive Hamlet by hiding behind this mask are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Polonius, and King Claudius.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of Hamlets childhood friends who are not as they appear. They give the appearance of being Hamlet’s friend, yet in reality, the pair only came to Elsinore because they were summoned. Knowing that his so-called friends are lying about the purpose of their visit, Hamlet discloses nothing to them.
The kind of duplicity Iago demonstrates here points to his deep-seated cynicism about the world.
It also serves as a warning to the audience to remain wary of appearances.
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the main theme of the play is appearance versus reality.
The characters within the play appear to be sincere and honourable when in reality they are corrupt and immoral.
They are asked by the King and Gertrude to spy on Hamlet in order to find the reason behind Gertrude’s “too much changed son” (II. Surprised by his friends’ unexplained arrival, Hamlet questions what has brought them there. Hamlet instantly sees through their lies and insists “you were sent for, and there / is a kind of confession in your looks…I know the good king and / queen have sent for you” (II. Having gotten no answers for the King, the two were asked to go to Hamlet once more and continue to seek the real reason for Hamlet’s behaviour.
Rosencrantz lies when responding “To visit you my lord, no other occasion” (II. Hamlet has little patience since being lied to and reveals to the pair that he is aware that they are spies and saying to them: [Y]ou would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops, you would pluck out the heart of my mystery, …….. 343-350) Although appearing to be Hamlet’s friends, he quickly sees that in actuality, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are only trying to pry him for information.
Throughout the play Polonius conspires with the King on ways to eavesdrop on Hamlet. Polonius acts as if his actions are for the king, when in fact it will benefit him greatly if the reason behind Hamlet’s strange behaviour is because of his love for Ophelia.
When Hamlet is going to speak with his mother, Polonius suggests “Behind the arras I’ll convey myself / To hear the process” (III. Polonius also humiliates his daughter Ophelia by forcing her to read love letters from Hamlet aloud to the King and Gertrude.