Marcellus comments that something is rotten in Act One scene four, after Hamlet has seen the ghost for the first time and has departed to talk to it. In a short space of time, Marcellus has seen the ghost of the old King in arms and Hamlet, the heir apparent to the Danish throne airing his suicidal tendencies. Horatio his fellow officer of the watch has similar foreboding and morbid thoughts ‘This bodes some strange eruption to our state. ‘ Primarily this would appear to be the situation of Denmark as it prepares for war with the Norwegians, but could be a prophecy similar to Marcellus’s that this would bode badly for their nation state.
Wilson Knight wrote that if we were to see the world through Hamlet’s eyes, we would find: ‘Claudius as the blackest of criminals, Gertrude as an adulteress, Polonius as a fool and Ophelia as a deceit and decoy’1 Certainly at the climax and conclusion of the play this would appear satisfactory to an audience as an answer as to ‘what is rotten? ‘ but there are other issues which change the situation.
Claudius is corrupt; he has committed fratricide, and reaped the rewards of doing so. We never learn why Claudius murdered his brother, but the reasons could be numerous.
It is proposed that he felt Denmark was being corrupted by King Hamlet, that his overwhelming lust for Gertrude drove him to murder her husband, or that he was simply a ruthless man who wanted to rule his land and would do anything to get it. That a man quite capable of such acts is the ruler of a country does not sit comfortably with the idea of a stabilised nation. 284 Claudius’s subsequent marriage to Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, causes him much consternation and distress. Their marriage is one that is in the eyes of the church a sinful one; it is seen as incestuous, despite the fact that King Hamlet was dead.
To the Elizabethan audience Claudius would immediately be cast as an evil character because of his sinful behaviour, whilst to an Elizabethan court audience this would have not caused such difficulties. King Henry VIII married his brother’s wife after he died, and as such may have been an acknowledgement that such behaviour was acceptable, more a political statement. Claudius as a character has more depth than this, as is illustrated when Shakespeare depicts him being unable to pray. At the heart of Denmark, there sits an incestuous marriage between the queen and her murderous new husband.
But is the marriage the actual problem rather than the characters of those involved. Sigmund Freud put forward his Oedipus theory, that in the heart of every man lies a desire to sleep with his mother and to kill his father. For Hamlet, his Oedipal complex has been fulfilled but by his uncle, Claudius. This is said to be a contributory factor into why Hamlet struggles to justify murdering Claudius, that he is admiration of him even. Indeed Claudius appears to be a masterful king, who diplomatically handles affairs of the state, the irritations of Polonius, his nephew’s mental instabilities and many more besides.
He is not presented in the way Iago and Macbeth are: they are cruel, relentlessly ruthless and callous. Claudius never soliloquises, there is always someone who hears his thoughts and feelings, and as such he is as a character less damaging because his mood is pre-empted. The scene in which he tries to pray is overheard by Hamlet, and it could be said to be the one redeeming feature of him characteristically. Hamlet is not only scared that he will go to hell if he killed him at the point, but perhaps that such a man could speak to god still, whereas he himself has not.
Shakespeare left out a scene that would have answered the crucial question of ‘what is rotten? ‘ that where we could see Claudius’s reaction to The Mousetrap. Perhaps if we saw repentance or suicidal feelings we would see that Hamlet was the rotten thing, but perhaps if he were seen feeling a greater sense of vilification of killing King Hamlet we would believe the rotten element was Claudius. The Ghost in Hamlet is a very potent symbol of the decay that is taking place in Elsinore. To an audience today it would be seen as a device used for dramatic effect yet in the period it would have told the audience that treachery was rife.
Shakespeare had recently written Julius Caesar, and as such his audience would have been well aware of what it symbolised. It also symbolises unrest, the upset of not belonging to either this world or the next, that in fact it belongs nowhere. Another great belief was that ghosts were demonic and would attempt to make a living person do wrong, and some would have believed that the ghost was trying to get hamlet to kill Claudius wrongly. Yet it is not the Ghost that is actually rotten. He no longer exists as a person to contribute to the state of Denmark apart from in Hamlet’s mind.
Hamlet’s mental state is the main theme of the play. He is suicidal and in mourning at the loss of this father, he is angry at his mother’s remarriage, he is having a strange affair with Ophelia, he believes his uncle murdered his father and married his mother with no proof, he feels inadequate to the young Fortinbras, who although in a similar situation handles it much better and so on. Hamlet feels an intense desire to avenge his father’s death, and at the time there was a widely held, though untrue belief that a son could only inherit from his father once he had sought revenge.
He sincerely believes that his father was killed by Claudius, yet he has no proof, only the hearsay of a ghost. He then wrestles with himself mentally to kill the King, and eventually once he has found the courage in himself he murders the wrong person, the bumbling Polonius. It would not be difficult to understand why he might see himself as a failure. He fails to avenge his father, to protect his mother, to hold a relationship with Ophelia, to kill Claudius and to live up to the same standards as set by the young Fortinbras.
Hamlet was, before his father’s murder, a spoilt young man, at university, who uses Ophelia and toys with her, who admire his father, and disrespects women. He is a misogynist and a chauvinist. He was never a ‘great man’ as his father was, another pressure added to him, the reputation to live up to the high standards which were set by his father. Hamlet is a deeply complex character, he has many facets and many moral and emotional dilemmas which plague him. He has a glum, morbid and lacklustre soul, which rarely brightens.
His personal psychological conflicts result eventually in the needless deaths of Ophelia and Polonius, thus his friendship with Laertes. There are a chain reaction of events that take place due to Hamlet and his indecisiveness, beginning with the murder of Polonius. Had he been more incisive then Claudius would have been deposed, and everyone could return to their lives as they were before his accession, yet without him a war with Norway may not have been avoided. It can be concluded therefore that Hamlet is the ‘something’ that is rotten in the state of Denmark.
If his character had not been included in the play, the Gertrude had no children, and then all would have been well. There would be no one to avenge the death of King Hamlet and all would be continued as per usual. There are many factors governing why Hamlet had become the rotten factor in the state of Denmark, which were caused by a chain of unfortunate events. Shakespeare had written Hamlet as a melancholy character, with whom it is difficult to have sympathy, and yet he finds himself as a tragic hero.
His fatal flaw was his indecision. The audience would be able to see that Claudius was a corrupt, selfish character, but like all villains had redeeming features, whilst with Hamlet although he elicits sympathy we have no reason to actually like him. He is melancholy, depressing, rude and troubled, he never makes us empathise with him. Throughout the play there is a sense of fear, doom and fate, mainly expressed by Hamlet. The answer as to why the something is rotten, i. e.
Hamlet, then we would have to reason that the events which unfold during the play create serious mental anguish for someone who is already experiencing anguish through the grief at the suspicious death of his beloved father, and the very factor that he sees a supernatural ghost. In conclusion Hamlet is the rot in Denmark because he has experienced problems which he simply has no way of dealing with. 1 Wilson Knight, The Wheel Of Fire, ‘The Embassy Of Death: An Essay On Hamlet’ Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Hamlet section.
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Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’. (2017, Jul 26). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/something-is-rotten-in-the-state-of-denmark-essay