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Imagery(or motifs)in William Shakespeare's "Hamlet"

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Imagery(or motifs)in William Shakespeare's "Hamlet"

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  • March 31, 2003
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In Hamlet, imagery of disease, poison and decay, are used by William Shakespeare for many purposes. Marcellus' line in Act I illustrates the use of this imagery very well, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Corruption is rampant, like a contagious disease infecting the court. The atmosphere of disease serves to heighten the audience's disgust for the events that are taking place in the play. Secondly, disease leads to death, so the diseased society of Denmark is doomed. Because of this sense of doom, there is a slight foreshadowing of the play's tragic ending. The tragic atmosphere is enhanced by the motif of disease and decay. These descriptions of disease, poison, and decay help us to understand the bitter relationships, the anxious, chaotic atmosphere, and also the emotional and moral decay of the characters existing in the play.

The image of decay is first used at the end of Act I to help comprehend the depression Hamlet feels in his first soliloquy about suicide. When Hamlet releases the words "O that this too sullied flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew," (I.ii, 129-130) he communicates how he wishes to not exist in this world anymore. An image of Hamlet's flesh rotting and combining with the soil is produced. At this moment, Hamlet's true emotions liberate, and his pain and his yearn for death can be felt. Hamlet continues to say "How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world! Fie on't, ah, fie, 'tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely."(I.ii, 133-137) Here, Hamlet feels that the world around him is useless and in constant chaos. By creating these vivid images of death and decay, Shakespeare lets us peer into Hamlet's soul and recognize his real underlying motivations.

Claudius' relationship with Hamlet is harsh, for he harbors a great hatred for his nephew and even feels threatened and at risk when he is by Hamlet. Claudius says "But...