The phrase`Something is rotten in the state of Denmark` is attributed to Marcellus, inthe context of the appearance of old Hamlet’s ghost in the first act of theplay. The meaningful line refers to the political and social realities ofDenmark, rathen than to some object that is rotten per se. However, throughoutthe text, the reader is struck by the fact that there are few things, if any,which are not rotten in the state ofDenmark. Therefore, I believe the saying ought to be discussed in the followingmanner. In Act 1, scene 1,the ghost of the late king shows itself to Marcellus and Horatio.
Consideringcertain religious beliefs, ghosts are the souls of people who had not clinched theirdeals with this world, thus they lurk on earth to avenge for their death. Thisaspect illustrates the fact that theghost itself could be considered rotten – after all, old Hamlet has beenmurdered by his own brother, Claudius. This reality constitutes the firstelement of rottenness in Denmark – fratricide, as it is told by the ghostitself: ’tis given out that, sleeping in mine orchard,/A serpent stungme.
So the whole ear of Denmark/Is by a forged process of my death/Ranklyabused. But know, thou noble youth,/The serpent that did sting thy father’slife/ Now wears his crown.’ (Hamlet, act1.scene 5. 35-40)Still, Claudius didnot poison old Hamlet out of madness. Envy and greed appear to be the mostsensible reasons for his conduct. By killing his own brother so as to usurphim, marry his wife, and reign over Denmark, Claudius seems a rotten characterin himself. Not only does he kill hisbrother, but he also convinces Gertrude of Hamlet’s madness and of the threatthat he is for everyone at Elsinore.
Later on, he will conspire with Laertes tokill Hamlet by poisoning him, as well: `And that he calls for drink, I’ll haveprepared him/A chalice for the nonce, whereon but sipping,/If he by chanceescape your venom’d stuck/Our purpose may hold there.` (Hamlet, act 4, scene7).It is a strikingfact that the young Hamlet was named after the late king. Perhaps their nameinfluences their destiny according to the Latin saying `nomen est omen`.Another peculiar resemblace between the father and son is their death. Both theold and the young Hamlet have the same fate, that of being poisoned byClaudius. Poison could be considered a lait motif, because not only the twoHamlets die because of it, but also Gertrude, the queen, Claudius, who himselfplanned Hamlet’s murder, and, ultimately, Laertes. According to Marjorie Garber,poison itself is the one rotten element that leads to the doom of so manycharacters of the play: `’Poison-the something rotten in the state of Denmark’.
(MarjorieGarber, 2004, p.489). Another facet of decay in Denmark is the incestuousmarriage of Gertrude and Claudius. Not only is this aspect striking because thequeen re-marries so soon after her husband’s burial, but also because shemarries her brother-in-law, Claudius.
This marriage is incestuous, thereforeimmoral, and it will contribute to Hamlet’s supposed madness and desire to killClaudius, so as to restore the balance at Elsinore : ‘twentieth-century criticismconcerned with the “incest motif” in Hamlet, and influenced by Freud, oftensingles out the relationship between Hamlet and his mother. But in thesixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Claudius’ easy phrase “our sometimesister, now our queen” would have been at least as provocative, and at least aspotentially disturbing.’ (Marjorie Garber, 2004, p.482)Apart from this, ruthlessness is an important partof the rottenness that Denmark has become.
Characters mentioned in the play, aswell as courtiers, are marked by this feature. Hamlet himself admits to beingcruel, but in comparison to others, such as Claudius, he is the least ruthlessof them. Based on his ruthlessness, greed and cold-bloodedness, Claudius is thereal villain in this play. Killing his brother, seducing his wife and beingmade king of Denmark, all these point to his monstrosity. Hamlet wishes to cause the king’s remorse bycreating a play that supposedly shows the murder of old Hamlet, the scene ofClaudius’ poisoning. Hamlet is well-intentioned in his trial of awakening inClaudius humane feelings such as honesty, regret and remorse.
Young Hamlet’sultimate wish is that his step-father would confess his deeds: `i’ll have these players/Play somethinglike the murder of my father/Before mine uncle: i’ll observe his looks/i’lltent him to the quick: if he but blench,/I know my course. The spirit that Ihave seen/ may be the devil and the devil hath power/to assume a pleasingshape: yea, and perhaps/out of my weakness and my melancholy, as he is verypotent with such spirits,/abuses me to damn me: i’ ll have grounds/morerelative than this: the play’s the thing/wherein i’ll catch the conscience ofthe king.’ (hamlet, scene.
.. act..).Another characterthat is ruthless is the queen of Denmark. She marries her brother-in-law toosoon after her husband’s demise. Her cruelty comes from the fact that earthlythings, such as power and wealth, are above the transcendental thing that loveis.
Supposedly, she marries Claudius just so she could still be the queen ofDenmark, so she could keep her wealth and royal power. This supposition couldbe defended by her refusal to keep wearing mourning attire.(clothes). She evenjudges Hamlet for his choice of dressing in all-black, as the custom goes. ‘again it is useful to imagine thestage as a visual spectacle, glittering with jewels, torches, and liveriedattendants. In the center, the King and Queen, splendid in silks and furs;Claudius bejeweled and be ringed, his head crowned, the very emblem ofconspicuous consumption. And to the side, Hamlet, a mute spectator of all thismagnificence, startling in black from head to toe.
“good Hamlet, cast thynightly colour off”(Hamlet, act 2.scene 1.68) (Marjorie Garber, 2004, p.477).Immorality is yet another rotten thing at the royalcourt of Denmark. Hamlet is among the few characters that live accordingly tomoral values and principles, which is why he is believed to have gone mad.
Hedespises his mother because she is incestuous, he despises his uncle because heknows he is the murderer of his father and also because he knows just howrotten and ruthless Claudius is. Hamlet seems to be mad only because certaincharacters believe him to be, solely because his existence is dissimilar totheir twisted way of life. In corrupt societies, the people who are not`rotten` and therefore believe in moral, social, political justice, are seen as`lunatics`, an adjective Claudius himself attributes Hamlet. (CAUTA IN TEXT).
Hamlet’s extremely lucid and coherent soliloquies prove his sanity. (ADDFRAGMENT OF THAT TO BE OR NOT TO BE PART). Denmark,as it is portrayed through the tragedy’s characters, is a decaying society,where murder, envy, pride, fratricide, adultery, immorality, and crueltyco-exist, eventually leading to the demise of the royal family. The image ofsuch a country can be traced even nowadays, which makes the play still relevantand meaningful. The line `something is rotten in the state of Denmark` was notmeant to be interpreted literally, but on a spiritual, metatextual level; therottenness of the spirit, of the society is what the playwright intended tohighlight: ‘whenwe are told that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” we do not thinkfirst of pollution problems in Scandinavia, but rather of a generally corruptsociety or situation, a pervasive decay’. (Marjorie Garber,2004, p.