In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the theme of corruption and decay is a running feature. We follow a sequence of this corruption mostly through one character, King Claudius, which inevitably leads to all other characters who come in contact with this man being ultimately tarnished also. The very moment we are informed of Claudius’ “foul and most unnatural murder”, the state of Denmark begins to perish. I believe that this evident theme of corruption and decay is reinforced by Shakespeare time and time again by his masterful use of dominant images throughout. Shakespeare tends to create patterns of imagery to define his characters and in this case his themes.
I will discuss three images in relation to the play’s theme. One form of this imagery is that of the weed, which despite best efforts to overcome it, still manages to thrive and overrun the better part of human nature. Similar to the multiplication of weeds is the spread of disease, another potent metaphor that is used often throughout Hamlet. Finally, there is poison, which acts in many forms both literally and metaphorically.
We are first introduced to the image of the disease and the weed near the beginning of the play. Shakespeare uses the image of the weed in Hamlet’s soliloquy just before he has learned of his father’s murder. Hamlet has just met with Claudius and Gertrude, who have convinced him not to go to Wittenburg, but to stay in Denmark with them. Hamlet’s grief is heartfelt and is exacerbated by his mother’s untimely marriage to his uncle “so soon that the funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables”. He quickly goes on to speak about the corruption in Denmark, and expresses his hatred for the world believing that it is”an unweeded garden/ that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature/ Posses it merely”. It is clear to me that Denmark is rotting from the inside out while the entire world is corrupt to young Hamlet – reiterating the main theme of the play using this...
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