The Corruption of Denmark in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Neil Sabharwal, 11-1
English 630-516
Ms. Cara Woodruff


I N W I L L I A M S H A K E S P E A R E ‘ S


March 31, 2009
2046 words

No nation is entirely free from corruption. Nevertheless, if corruption is strong enough, it can hinder the good governance and decay the fabric of society. It is an obstacle to sustainable development, and leaves little room for justice to prevail. Throughout the play, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, a corrupting disease plagues Denmark and the people within it. The incestuous marriage between Gertrude and Claudius, in addition to murdering King Hamlet, is the main example of deceit, corruption and evil. Throughout the play we can sketch a progression of this corruption, through disease, in the characters of Polonius, Claudius, Ophelia and Hamlet. This directly causes the downfall of the castle and Denmark. At the end of the play, the castle and the land are taken over by Fortinbras, the final even that signifies the fall of the nation. In Hamlet, Shakespeare depicts Claudius as the source of corruption in Denmark, which slowly spreads through Elsinore and leads to the downfall of Denmark. In the beginning of the play, the ghost of King Hamlet arrives to warn Prince Hamlet about the corruption in Elsinore. The ghost tells him that he was murdered by poison inserted into his ear by Claudius. Claudius is the first to fall sick with the disease of corruption. King Hamlet was a powerful ruler, who kept his nation strong, intact and clean. At the time of his rule Denmark could have been described as an “unweeded garden”(I.ii.135), similar to the Garden of Eden. Claudius’ sin creates a dirty and contagious weed in this garden. This leads Marcellus to say that “there is something rotten in the state of Denmark”(I.iv.90). This statement refers directly to Claudius’ corruption, as he is the catalyst of the rot and death of the nation. His malevolent actions, which bring him to power, plague the people around him. The ghost tells Hamlet: “If thou didst ever thy dear father love— / … [to] / Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (I.v.23-25). The images of rotting and foulness in odor entering the castle symbolize the contagious property of sin. Furthermore, if a ghost appears, it indicates that something drastically bad or catastrophic has or will occur. This demonstrates how appalling Claudius’ actions are and the level power it has to corrupt everyone else in the castle. Prince Hamlet is portrayed by Shakespeare as a noble prince who is trying to fight the evil and corruption of the world. After the ghost’s visit, he knows his goal is to restore order in Elsinore. Unfortunately, this corruption affects him himself which causes him to go mentally insane and leads to his death. The first sign of this madness is when he contemplates suicide, which is sinful in Catholisism. 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?
He hesitates whether it would be easier to die rather than to fight against the corruption and all his troubles. The murder of his father, the incestuous marriage of his mother and uncle, and Ophelia’s supposed rejection of him is just too much for him to endure. Hamlet has just come home from university in Wittenberg, where he was taught to think and use ideals and is now having difficulty living in a world that is so rotten. The power of Claudius’ deceitful deeds has the ability to slowly destroy a character as noble as Hamlet. He comes to the conclusion that no one would willingly bear the pains of his life if they were not afraid of what comes after it. It is this fear that causes Hamlet’s incapacity for action. The indecision to kill Claudius prolongs the growth of the madness in himself. His original intentions of the antic...
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