Under the mask of a well governed country, there lays the terminal disease of Denmark. William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” portrays the image of disease which causes the deterioration of Denmark. The country had a king with the ability to keep the country healthy. Then Denmark experienced disorder upon his sudden yet unnatural death. Upon his death, the ghost of King Hamlet sent his son Hamlet to avenge his death. The entire kingdom is filled with hate and discouragement. The thematic image of rottenness illustrates the moral and political corruption of the society in three different ways. At first, this fatal collapse begins with the foreshadowing mood in the beginning of the play. Then, it emerges into the decay of virtues and leadership from various characters. Follow by Hamlet’s mask of madness for vengeance. With no cure, the disease leads to the corruption of the country.
Images of disease and sickness foreshadow the unhealthy condition of Denmark. The first act displays the mood and tone of the play that revolves around the theme of moral and political corruption. When the play begins, Francisco states, “I am sick at heart” (I.i.6). Immediately, the image of sickness can be seen from this statement. Then, in the fifth act, Marcellus enters talking to Horatio. He states, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (I.iv.67). The ghost is an ominous omen for Denmark. This is predicting the coming sickness of kingdom. Then Hamlet says, “tis an unweeded garden, that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature” (I.ii.136). An unweeded garden is one that is not well maintained. No harmony can be Duong 1
seen in this garden. Hamlet’s mother marries his uncle upon his father’s death. Therefore, Hamlet’s world is out of order. As a result, the image of disease and sickness from the first act forms a mirror reflection upon the political corruption of play.
The decay of virtues and leadership from various characters also contribute to the destruction of Denmark. Claudius has murdered the great King Hamlet. When the first metaphorical sin is committed, it would cast Denmark out of its Eden-like state. This act proves that Claudius lost his sense of humanity. Hamlet says, "They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase soil our addition" (I.iv.106). This proves that Claudius has poor leadership skills. Respect for the royal family died when Claudius takes control of Denmark and transforms it into a country swamped with drunkards. Claudius has a great hatred for his nephew. Hamlet is a disease to Claudius, "But like the owner of a foul disease. To keep it from divulging let it feed/ Even on the pith of life,"(IV. I. 21-23). He feels that his life is at risk, because of Hamlet. The image of disease shows the dreadful relationship between Hamlet and Claudius. Also, Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, is married to Claudius. Claudius claims, “To be contracted in one brow of woe/ Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen/ Have we as t’were with defeated joy,” (I.ii.5-10). Gertrude’s remarriage is wrong by moral standards. Claudius is a weak king who is the cause of political corruption. Gertrude’s remarriage leads to moral corruption. This worsens the condition of Denmark because royal family shows the decay of virtues and leadership. When the ghost of King Hamlet ordered his son to get revenge, Hamlet wears on a mask of madness in order to keep an eye on Claudius. He then summarized the actions of the play “The Mouse Trap” to Claudius. The motif of poison and decay is noted here as Hamlet describes Duong 2
how the victim died. He says, “The king poisons him I’ the garden for his estate...You shall see the anon of how the murderer get the love of Ganzago’s wife” (III.ii.257-259). Furthermore, Hamlet speaks to Rosencrantz in the third act that he could not, "Make you a wholesome answer; my wit's diseased" (III.ii.294). Thus his spirit and intelligence is corrupted. When the play ends, Hamlet explains, “Tis now the very witching time of night, When churchyards yawn and hell itself breaths Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood, And do such bitter business as the day would quake to look on” (III.ii.368-367). The words such as “contagion” and “blood” are an image of disease which contributes to the central theme of the play. Therefore, the images of blood, death, disease and hell reinforce the rotting state of Denmark. The thematic image of disease illustrates the moral and political corruption of Denmark. First, this fatal collapse began with the foreshadowing mood in the first act of the play. Then, it follows up to various characters that lost their sense of virtuousness. This triggered Hamlet’s madness for vengeance. The first act establishes the tone and mood of the play. Different characters of the play that lost the sense of morality also added a spark to the destruction of Denmark. Claudius and Gertrude’s actions show a lost sense of morality. All of these aspects illustrate the moral and political corruption of the play because it contributes to the thematic factor of corruption. Therefore, Claudius, Gertrude and Hamlet were all affected by this terminal disease. From the start to end, William Shakespeare uses the images of disease, death and decay to solidify the corruption that Denmark and the royal family have to face.