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Free «Hamlet essay» Essay Sample


Disease or sickness refers to any slight departure from health, while corruption is the deviation from an ideal. In the play “Hamlet”, a number of images have been used to refer to the contamination and disease. Imagery is one of the stylistic devices used by playwrights and poets, so as to discuss important themes. The main aim of this paper is to analyze the playwright’s use of imagery to address the theme of disease and corruption in Denmark.

In this play, celestial bodies, such as the moon, was said by Horatio to have been “sick almost to doomsday with eclipse” in Act I, while Hamlet says that the moon is “thoughtsick” referring to his mother’s sin. In Act III Hamlet says “To my sick soul”, referring to the true nature of sin, which he so vaguely hints about his mother’s sin until she mourns in Act IV. He also says that his heart is diseased (III.ii.308). This corrupted state of his mind is so clearly dominating over him, because that similar corruption has infected Denmark. Therefore, he has taken the inherent state of corruption in Denmark into his mind, has internalized it, and this has made him partly insane, which is also a form of sickness hence sin or corruption. Other people in the same state as Hamlet are Gertrude, who speaks of her sick soul (IV.V.17), Laertes, who has sickness in his heart, and the madness of Ophelia that is described as a poison of some deep grief.



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Shakespeare also uses the sun, which represents an agent of corruption, and the stench that comes as a result of rotting represents the cunning evils of Claudius that have made the whole kingdom of Denmark to be corrupt. The olfactory connotations referring to stench are “foul”, “rank”, and “offence”. These images illustrate the depth of moral disintegration in this country. Hamlet’s emphasis is on mortal flesh corruption, meaning there is something rotten in Denmark. When human bodies die, they putrefy, and therefore are foul. He also emphasizes that the stinking that rises from the rotting bodies illustrates the peak of loathsomeness of the sort of lecherous and evil, with which Claudia had corrupted the whole kingdom.

In the extract (I.i.118-20), where Brutus is said to have had “some sick offence”, which is associated to the night the portents of Rome visited. This sickness is in a general sense localized, and is later connected to the physical decay in the second line he utters. Also, when the King asks Hamlet why is that clouds still hung on him, he answered “I am too much I’ th’ sun”.  The sun in this context refers to Claudius, having in mind that the sun is a powerful agent of decay, which also means corruption. It may also refer to the King, hence he says he does not yet recognize the King’s influence for evil. He also envisions the role played by the sun in breeding maggots in a dead dog, hence associating the King’s ability to spread corruption wherever his influence falls. Shakespeare in “o that this too solid flesh would melt” has it in mind that the sun is the melter of “snow” and not “flesh”.

Hamlet still uses “musty”, “prostitute” and “horse’s urine” to refer to his mother, to add the extent of malodorousness in the play. The use of “canker” referring to cancer, and also “vicious mole of nature” represents a manner of evil spreading that eventually causes total infection and hence destruction. Hamlet mentioning “foul and pestilent congregation of vapors”, which represents the King’s victims, such as Claudius, who are viciously spreading evil through the court. In(III.iii36) Hamlet once again refers to Claudius as a “mildew’d ear”, which represents bad smelling fungi communicating infection spread to a healthy person; she is an evil woman in the court that is always contaminating others with her evils.

The queen’s incest is symbolized by a noisome smell as well as garbage and nasty sty. However, there is a repulsive sensory connotation of rank may mean “corrupt foul, festering”.  Again, the state of corruption in Denmark is described by the images of the “people are muddied” and “thick and unwholesome in their thoughts and whispers”, which are comparable to poisoning the whole body by a tumor. The word “Denmark” is also used by Hamlet symbolically to refer to either Claudius, the murdered king, or the body politic to show the link that exists between the king and the state.

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Shakespeare used a lot of images, which he draws from objects very familiar to him and those normally around him. This helped to communicate his ideas in the simplest means possible. Using this style enables the playwright exercise his great artistic skills, so as to use images in such a frequency and repetition to achieve the cumulative effect of the themes they reinforce. The images convert ideas or emotions, which are abstract to concrete imagery, which our basic instincts can be appealed to.  

What is “rotten in the state of Denmark” refers to various emotional states that confronted Hamlet due to unfortunate circumstances. Fortunately, he did not allow things to get out of hands, yet he procrastinated the steps he should have taken to save himself until it was too late. Claudia had poisoned the king of Denmark, and the diseased king wanted his son, Hamlet, to avenge for his death. Hamlet stabs his former lover’s father, who then drowns herself. Hamlet is also truly in love with his mother. Worse still, Denmark was under siege by the Norway army. Hamlet was not able to revenge for his father, because he saw him praying, yet he would go to heaven if he killed him, and it was discovered late that Hamlet was actually a girl.

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The play “Hamlet” by Shakespeare uses a lot of imagery to discuss the theme of sickness and corruption, using the images of disease and contamination. The love betrayal, intrigue at home and abroad, as well as revenge, are illustrated. The state of Denmark is said to be rotten, because of the evils practiced, such as murder, corruption in courts and revenge.


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