William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been considered the greatest tragedy to ever be written. With a focus on the third of five acts in Hamlet, Shakespeare develops the theme of both physical and psychological decay and corruption through the actions, dialogues, and figurative language of the characters. The evidence of this theme can be seen though the breakdown of the royal family, and the monarchy, by the events surrounding Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, The Mousetrap, and the moral decay of the characters through the use of spying and poison.
Hamlet’s character is the most puzzling of the whole play. His mind erodes further and further as the play unfolds. In act three, Hamlet asks himself whether he should commit suicide or fight the hardships in life:
“To be or not to be – that is the question:/ Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/ Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/ And, by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep–/ No more.”
Hamlet has mentally decayed since the murder of his father. He has been driven to the point of contemplating suicide. According to Hamlet, no good can come from life. The only thing that stops people from killing themselves is the uncertainty of life after death. The format that Shakespeare used when writing Hamlet’s soliloquy portrays an insane man speaking with two voices. One wished to commit suicide and the other does not. The back and fourth talk insinuates madness such as schizophrenia. The decay of Hamlet’s mind had produced the question of suicide that he had asked of himself.
The Mousetrap is a perfect example of the corruption within the royal family. Not only did Hamlet produce the play to make a mockery of Claudius’ intelligence, but he also created a “trap” for the king to fall into. Hamlet says to Horatio:
There is a play tonight before the King./ One scene of it comes near the circumstance/ Which I have told thee of my father’s death./ I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot,/ Even with the very comment of thy soul/ Observe my uncle.”
Hamlet has undermined the King by producing the play, and involved Horatio to observe Claudius’ reaction to it. The scheme against King Claudius goes directly against the honor code of the middle ages. One could easily be put to death as a result of such disgraces to the King. The play itself contained the murder by way of poisoning, which is one of the most dishonorable ways to die. Since the royal family is seeking revenge on one another it cannot be strong. The Mousetrap represents the corruption of the royal family, and the disintegration of the monarchy.
A spiritual form of decay is seen through Claudius’ inability to seek forgiveness through prayer. Claudius cries out: “What then? What rests?/ Try what repentance can. What can it not?/ Yet what can it, when one cannot repent?/ O wretched state! O Bosom black as death!/ O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,/ Art more engaged!”
The piercing truth behind all that Claudius has done overwhelms him. He is unable to seek repentance for the evil deeds that he has committed. His soul has been corrupted by the murder of his brother.
As Claudius knelt to cry out to God, Hamlet approaches him with thoughts of murder. He tells himself that Claudius should not meet his death while praying, for he will go to Heaven. Hamlet wants Claudius to have the worst death and afterlife possible as revenge for his father’s death:
Now might I do it pat, now he is a-praying,/ And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven,/ And so am I revenged. That would be scanned:/ A villain
kills my father, and for that,/ I, his sole son, do theis same villain send/ To heaven. Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge.”
The murder of Claudius and the unwillingness to send him to Heaven expresses the corruption of Hamlet’s morals. Also, it obviously further shows the corruption of the family.
After the confrontation with Claudius, Hamlet sought his mother, Gertrude. The opening lines of their conversation direct the rest of the dialogue. Hamlet says to his mother, “Now, mother, what’s the matter?” Gertrude responds, “Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended,” and Hamlet returns, “Mother, you have my father much offended” (3.4.11-13). Hamlet plans to yell at his mother for the evil that she has participated in. Hamlet’s argument with his mother displays not only the corruption of the family, but also the decay of Hamlet’s morals. Although Gertrude has done such evil things, it is questioned whether Hamlet has the authority to scold his own mother. Also, the morality of Gertrude herself is corrupted because she does not accept the evil that she has done, saying, “O, speak to me no more!/ These words like daggars enter in my ears” (3.4.107-108). Both Gertrude and Hamlet both suffer from corruption, which will leads to their downfall.
William Shakespeare uses act three to further develop the theme of physical and emotional decay and corruption in Hamlet. The pinnacle of act three is Hamlet’s production of The Mousetrap. The and the majority of the act deals with the rising action of the preparation for the play, the climax of the play and Claudius’ reaction to it, and the falling action of Hamlet’s confrontation with Claudius and Gertrude. Decay and Corruption can be seen in all parts of act three through the actions, dialogue, and figurative language of the characters. The corruption and decay that lies within all characters of the play leads to the downfall of the monarchy, and the demise of Denmark.