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Decay and Corruption in Hamlet

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Sarah Rae Clemas

on 12 October 2013

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Transcript of Decay and Corruption in Hamlet

Decay and Corruption in Hamlet
Imagery and foreshadowing
Throughout the play, Shakespeare uses tons of imagery to disgust the audience, because Hamlet is disgusted with what his kingdom has turned into. His mom grosses him out, when she marries her dead husband's brother. Most of all, this is a tragedy.

“Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel? Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay, might stop a hole to keep the wind away…” -Hamlet (Act 5, Scene 1, Lines 216-222)
Made by Sarah, Martina and Reece
(Sarah & Martina's first prezi, you're obligated to clap)
From the Beginning
In the same way that Ophelia's dress pulls her down into the lake, most of the characters in Hamlet are victims of their surroundings, or"Denmark's Rottenness."
By “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”-Marcellus (Act 1, Scene 4, line 90)
• This quote encompasses the entire theme of decay and corruption. The state of Denmark and the events that happen are connected. When Claudius killed Hamlet Senior, not only was it murder, but it was also a crime against God, as the king was thought to be appointed by Him and Claudius had cheated his way to the throne. The following consequential incidents may have been a form of punishment reflecting on him and his kingdom.
• “[Denmark] appears no other thing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.” (Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 306-307)

Spoiler Alert: Everyone Dies
Imagine the horrific scene of dead bodies that awaits Fortinbras. All the disgusting things Hamlet says in madness are preparing the audience for worse.
Definition: to be slowly destroyed by natural processes, to be slowly broken down by the natural processes that destroy a dead plant or body.
intransitive verb
1: to decline from a sound or prosperous condition
2: to decrease usually gradually in size,
quantity, activity, or force
3: to fall into ruin
4: to decline in health, strength, or vigor
5: to undergo decomposition <decaying fruit>
Hamlet wonders if maybe the remains of Alexander might have been used to make something else, something we use for granted. Then he talks about Caesar and how he died, and who knows where his remains are now. Hamlet realizes that after our lives end, everyone just returns to the earth, and there is no getting around that fact. This goes along with the motif of decay which has been traced throughout the play, and which is a metaphor for the corruption which exists in Denmark when Claudius takes the throne by killing his brother. Ultimately, Hamlet becomes infected with poison from Laertes’ foil. Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius, and Hamlet are all dead, but who is responsible? Shakespeare’s use of decay and corruption imagery blames Claudius, and thereby exonerates Hamlet. The contagion all spread from one source: King Claudius. It does in fact only take one bad apple to ruin the whole barrel. After everyone dies however, we see that Fortinbras is set to take the throne, which shows us that Denmark can become strong and whole once again.
Sidenote: In case you
were wondering, why
yes! All my examples
are from the lion king!
Act One, Scene One
From the very first scene, the characters are edgy and suspicious of their surroundings. Neither Francisco nor Bernardo is comfortable, and it's a very tense moment to start the play on. In the text, they link Bernardo's edginess to the whole play's atmosphere.
“For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion—Have you a daughter? Let her not walk i’ the sun: conception is a blessing; but as your daughter may conceive, friend, look to ‘t.”- Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 2, lines 181-185)
Hamlet’s use of the imagery of a decomposing dead dog is a metaphor to the rotting state of Denmark and the corrupt goings-on.
Shakespeare tries to show that the sun, just like King Claudius, can spread corruption. The sun, which is the source of all life on Earth, including all the corrupt life forms as well. Kings are often associated with both the divinity of the heavens and the omnipotence of the sun. Therefore, the sun becomes the King. The importance of the sun can be seen when Claudius asks, “How is it that the clouds still hang on you?” Hamlet replies, “Not so, my lord; I am too much in the sun” (Act 1, Scene 2, Line 67). While many readers see the hidden pun between sun and son, few see the reference to the corrupting nature of the sun. At this point, since both the reader and Hamlet do not know of the corrupt nature of Claudius, it is hard to attribute the previously described rottenness to the King.
This part of the quote also relates to later on in Act 3, Scene 1, lines 121-122, when Hamlet addresses Ophelia: “Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” The sun relates to Hamlet Senior, who has often been compared with Hyperion, the sun god, for being a war-like king. He was murdered, and then visited Hamlet as a ghost, and his brother was engaged in an incestuous relationship; the family line seems to be cursed. If Ophelia conceives a child with Hamlet, she will be breeding sinners, men who have been similarly cursed because of the corrupted bloodline.

“‘Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely.” (Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 139-141).
Hamlet can see the kingdom decaying around him from Claudius’s corrupt reign; ‘weeds’ are sprouting from neglect and impotent ‘husbandry’, or rather, incompetent ruling.
Denmark is a garden that needs weeding, and it is possessed by a man (Claudius) who is ‘rank and gross’ especially when taking his incestuous relationship into consideration.
The weed imagery and the decomposition imagery are linked together. "And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed. That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf" (Act 1, Scene 5, Lines 32-33). The Ghost tells Hamlet that if he does not take revenge on Claudius, Hamlet will be "duller" than the disgusting weed that grows on the banks of the river of forgetfulness. Therefore, if you don't avenge me, you're a disgrace.
Act 4, Scene 5 lines 180-190 is where Ophelia images herself giving her father a proper burial, and she assigns flowers with corrupted meanings to the King and Queen. There's no decay in this scene, but a clever way to blame the king for her father's death.
Decay is used in the text as a metaphor for how the corruption affects the characters. This presentation focuses on the effects of the corruption, and the root causes for it.
The End
"Yet here she is allow'd her virgin crants, / Her maiden strewments and the bringing home / Of bell and burial" (Act 5, Scene 1, lines 240-242), the priest complains of Ophelia's funeral. "Her virgin crants" is a wreath of flowers, and "strewments" are flowers to be scattered over her grave. If the priest had had his way, rocks would have been thrown on Ophelia's grave, because he thinks she committed suicide. But Laertes tells the "churlish priest" that she will have flowers even after her death. He says, "Lay her i' the earth: / And from her fair and unpolluted flesh / May violets spring!" (5.1.238-240). Moment later, the Queen, saying "Sweets to the sweet" (5.1.243), scatters flowers on Ophelia's grave.
In this scene, we have the only pure character being freed from corruption. She gets "unpolluted flesh" and the symbolism behind the flowers is all pleasant.
They literally fight in her grave. They corrupt this beautiful moment. Laertes has been influenced by the king to fight Hamlet. They fight on rotting flesh, that's the epitome of decay of this noble society. After that, everyone is doomed.
Hamlet is also warning Polonius about the metaphor of the Claudius being the sun. The sun, the source of all energy and life on Earth, also “gives birth” to insidious life forms. Hamlet continues by telling Polonius to “let her not walk i’ th’ sun” (line 184). He does not want Ophelia corrupted by Claudius, which is why he tells her to go to the nunnery. She takes it as an insult, but he means that he literally wants her to leave so she will be safe. Hamlet knows that while she is in court, she is still under the influence of the "sun".
“Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but...two dishes, but to one table. Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.” (Act 4, Scene 3, Lines 20-33).
The first line alludes to Polonius being buried in the ground and eaten by worms. This is a reflection of the state of Denmark at this point in the play—the plot has taken a turn for the worse and there’s no going back, because Denmark is already a corpse in the ground that’s begun its irreversible decomposition. The fact that Hamlet says this about Polonius particularly reveals what a corrupt man Polonius was. He has meddled, spied on, and manipulated other characters such as his own son and daughter. A worm is the ‘emperor’ for diet because it eats everyone, from peasant to king, and Hamlet is saying how despite the hierarchy in their corrupt society, death and decaying will come for everyone. They fatten animals to eat their meat, and fatten themselves up for the worms that will eat them when they’re dead and buried, whether king or beggar.

“That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once; how the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were Cain's jaw-bone, that did the first murder! This might be the pate of a politician, which this ass now o'er-reaches one that would circumvent God, might it not? -Act 5, Scene 1, of Hamlet and the skull
"O! my offense is rank, it smells to heaven" (Act 3, Scene 3, line 37).
This is more evidence of the corruption stemming from King Claudius. It also reveals how he only admits his crimes to God, and only furthers the spread of corruption in regards to society.
In this scene, we see Hamlet making light and deriving amusement from death and "the universality of physical corruption in the dead" (p. 80, Coles' Total Study Edition), having been previously appalled by the moral corruption in society and people he's acquainted with. In his madness, he's 'surrendered' to that reality and it amuses him that a grotesque fate still awaits every person.
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