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Hamlet: Poison Motif
Transcript of Hamlet: Poison Motif
Exploration into the use of literal poison and the figurative poison that infect Hamlet and Ophelia's minds.
During the play Ophelia was never literally poisoned but her mind was poisoned. The love and betrayal she felt for Hamlet and also the unjust murder of her father poisoned her mind and drove her to madness.
The Poisoning of King Hamlet
"Upon my secure hour they uncle stole/ With juice cursed of hebenon in a vial/ And in the porches of my ears did pour/ The leperous distilment" (1.5.61-64)
The ghost of King Hamlet describes to his son what his own brother has done to him. The literal poison used to unjustly kill him. This new discovery by Hamlet brings out the feeling that he must exact revenge on his uncle
Even before Hamlet discovers that it was murder and seeks to exact revenge, he is completely distraught by the death and the fact that his mother seems to have moved on so quickly.
"The canker galls the infants of the spring/ Too oft before their buttons be disclosed" (1.3.39-40)
Near the beginning of the play Laertes says this to his sister, the "infant of the spring", that she is too young and innocent to have her heart broken by Hamlet, the "canker". Hamlet's love is a poison to Ophelia, evident when he says he no longer loves her as she becomes upset since she believes she has been "deceived":
The death of Ophelia's father is what truly pushes her over the edge into complete madness.
The theme of poison continues and brought the play to a close. The literal use of poison was used towards the end of the play as many characters deaths were caused by poison. Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius, and Hamlet were all poisoned literally but also figuratively from the poison that Claudius brought into the royal family and Denmark.
"Hamlet." <i>SparkNotes</i>. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 26 May 2014. <http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/hamlet/themes.html>.
"Hamlet Navigator: Themes: Disease and Poison." Hamlet Navigator: Themes: Disease and Poison. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://shakespeare-navigators.com/hamlet/Disease.html>.
The Poisoned Kingdom
The essential "health" of Denmark seems to rely on the royal family. As the family becomes more poisoned and contrived, the health of the nation decreases.
When it is discovered by Hamlet that is was his uncle who killed his father he is shocked. This further maddens him as his mother seemed to move on so quickly to her husbands brother. Hamlet is so maddened by the act of revenging his uncle for what he has done it begins to alter his thinking and affect his sanity.
"...But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son-"
(aside) "A little more than kin and less than kind"
"How is it that the clouds still hang on you?" (1.2.64-66)
When Hamlet whispers to himself he is bitterly saying that being Claudius's nephew and son is too many family ties. Claudius also asks why Hamlet has been acting so gloomy still, implying that he should be over his fathers death by now. The death of his father, and the fact that his mother and Claudius are together and have gotten over the death so quickly, distresses Hamlet. These stresses on Hamlet begin to seep like poison into his mind, making his sanity questionable.
"But know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown." (1.5.38-40)
The ghost of his father, King Hamlet, told him that his own brother killed him which shocked Hamlet. The figurative poison that had already affected him seeped further into his mind as the idea of revenge entered his brain. This poison eventually caused so much conflict in Hamlets life that it leads to his death by literal poison.
"You cannot, sir, take from me any thing that I will more willingly part withal—except my life, except my life, except my life."(2.2.205-207)
The act of revenging his father and the grief that Hamlet has been through is poisoning him so deeply that it will surely kill him. When Polonius suggests he will leave him, Hamlet says there is nothing he would be more willing to let go of, except his life. Hamlet even admits he is willing to die. Eventually the poison does, literally and figuratively kill him. The madness that ensues, caused by the poisonous feeling of revenge, leads to Hamlets eventual death.
"You should not have believed me, for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not."
"I was the more deceived." (3.1.119-122)
"Oh, this is the poison of deep grief. It springs
All from her father’s death, and now behold!" (4.5.49-50)
Claudius says this when Ophelia goes completely insane, singing songs that make no sense. He is saying that the deep grief she is feeling since her father died is like poison to her mind. Ophelia is eventually driven so mad by the poison in her mind that she drowns herself, therefore the poison figuratively kills her as well.
"Denmark's a prison" (2.2.228)
Hamlet tells Rozencrantz and Guildenstern that to him Denmark is a prison. The state that Denmark is in seems to directly relate to the state the Royal family is in. Hamlet's father has just been murdered and the new corrupt King appears to be poisoning Denmark. Claudius marries his own dead brothers wife and gets away with it, creating corruption in the family and in turn poisoning all of Denmark. The royal family begins to fall apart it coinciding with the fall of the nation in which they rule.
"The foul practice, Hath turned itself on me. Lo, here I lie, Never to rise again. Thy mother's poisoned. I can no more, The king, The king's to blame."(5.2.313-316)
Laertes says this after Hamlet's mother and both Laertes and Hamlet are poisoned. He then realizes the poison and corruption that King Claudius brought into the kingdom.
From the beginning where King Hamlet is poisoned to the end where many of the players meet their demise, the use of poison as a literal and figurative corrupting force is evident throughout the play.
After the fight at the end of the play Fortinbras and the Norwegians take over the Kingdom. The Royal family had fallen and therefore the kingdom of Denmark fallen and was overtaken by Norway. In this instance the kingdom is poisoned by foreigners as the Royal family is literally poisoned.
"With sorrow I embrace my fortune. I have some rights to memory in this kingdom, Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me."(5.2.389-391)