The Corruption of Denmark in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

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 ofDenmark”(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? (III. i.
58-62) 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 disposition are good but are soon corrupted by the Danish court. He is torn between the corruption in Denmark and his Noble self. Throughout the rest of the play, Prince Hamlet puts on an antic disposition.He pretends to go mad in order to throw off Claudius. However, Hamlet slowly starts to become truly insane as he acts foolishly without thinking of consequences, and often hurts the people he cares about. Polonius is one of the most corrupt characters of the play. However, we can see that his corruption is in his nature and not caused only by the murder of King Hamlet.
In his speech to his son, Leartes (I. iii), he opposes the virtue of being close-mouthed and discrete. Polonius later instructs his servant Renyaldo to spy on Laetes in Paris. This is very hypocritical of him as he is doing exactly what he condemned earlier.He also meddles into the relationship of Ophelia and Hamlet, without taking into account their feelings, and is only willing to satisfy his own goals. He does not want to offend the king or make it seem like he is pushing his daughter to marry Hamlet. Hamlet views Ophelia as someone pure, cares deeply about her and does not take into consideration their difference in stature.
Unfortunately, Polonius manages to corrupt their innocent relationship. After Polonius spies on Hamlet, to prove his insanity to the king, Hamlet suspects Ophelia of being involved in the spying and plotting that has been occurring.He tells her that “God has given [her] one face, and [she] make [herself] another”(III. i. 144-145). He tells her that she is an inconsistent and fickle person and thinks that she betrayed him. Hamlet’s mind is corrupted by the general evil in Elsinore.
Ophelia represents the values of youth, purity and innocence that are corrupted, like Hamlet, by the Danish Court. Her downward spiral into madness begins after the nunnery scene(III. i). She is manipulated by her father and cruelly abused by Hamlet. Before the scene, Ophelia trusted Hamlet’s nobility and Polonius’ wisdom.However, at the end, after her emotions and mind are damaged, she loses trust and faith in both men. Ophelia tells her brother: “”I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died”(IV.
iii. 180-1). As violets represent faith, she had given all of her faith to her father, and lost it when he died. She refuses to acknowledge the corruption in Elsinore and shields herself from it by childish chatter. Ophelia commits suicide by drowning herself. Suicide is an extremely sinful way to die, and is generally only done or contemplated if someone was truly mad.Ophelia’s spiral downfall that ends in death depicts how Elsinore has degenerated to the point that it can corrupt even the purest form of innocence.
Horatio and Fortinbras are the only characters in the play that are not affected by the disease of corruption. Fortinbras does not get affected since he is not part of the Danish court or Denmark itself. Horatio is one of the most intelligent and brave characters of the play. He is a learned scholar at Wittenberg, who knows how to deal with situations in a reasonable and intelligent manner.When the ghost appears for the first time, he does not fear it like the other characters whom he described becoming “almost to Jelly with the act of fear”(I. ii. 205).
He goes to report exactly what he saw to Hamlet directly. He is extremely loyal to Hamlet and remains honest and sincere during the entire play. He seems to be the only person who knows exactly what is happening and can accurately predict the future. He knows that the ghost will lead to Prince Hamlet’s suicide or madness and he tries to prevent Hamlet from meeting with him. Horatio does not have any strong or dependant relationships within Elsinore.He is a very solitary man, with little or no personal goals, making him immune to the disease of corruption. Although he dies at the end of the play, it is not because of the corruption of Elsinore, but because he offered to die alongside his friend.
With the fall of every character in the Kronborg castle, the fall of Denmark is inevitable. After the fencing match during Leartes and Hamlet, every main character, besides Horatio and Fortinbras is presumed dead. Fortibras sees this as the perfect time to take control of the throne and says: “I have some rights of memory in this kingdom,/Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me”(V. i. 390-391). He, like Prince Hamlet was seeking to take revenge on behalf of his dead father. Conversely, he did not delay his actions and he knew exactly the right time to take what he desired.
Since Fortinbras is originally associated with Norway, it is as if Denmark no longer exists as its own entity and can be considered the fall of the nation. Claudius, as the originator of the corruption in Denmark, is obviously the most evil, deceitful and corrupt character of the play. After murdering his wn brother to take power of the thrown, he marries Price Hamlet’s mother. This can be considered to be incestuous and morally reprehensible. Because of this union, Gertrude is now inevitably corrupt. She, like all other characters who have been affected, must die. In his speech announcing his marriage, he tries to show remorse of the death of King Hamlet by saying: “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death […]To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom/To be contracted in one brow and woe”(I.
ii. 1-4).His true intention is not taking care of his kingdom or its people, but power and control, through the manipulation of others. Claudius is corrupt enough that he is willing to do anything to justify his place on the throne. Most of his actions in the play are to eliminate threats and secure his power. He repeatedly tries to kill Hamlet by, for example, sending him with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be killed, setting up a fixed fencing match, and poisoning his drink. All of these backfire and end up hurting him in some way.
Claudius can clearly be seen as the originator of corruption of all the characters. Hamlet is corrupted mainly because of the murder of his father and marriage of his mother, which was committed by Claudius. Ophelia is corrupted due to Hamlet rejecting her and killing her father. However, since Hamlet’s mind suffers the corruption of Claudius’ crimes, Claudius can be named responsible for Ophelia’s fall. The murder of King Hamlet can effectively parallel the death of the state of Denmark by Claudius. In the begging of the play, the ghost of King Hamlet describes his death to his son.Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole With juice of cursed hebona in a vial, And in the porches of my ears did pour The leperous distilment .
. . . . . doth posset And curd, like eager droppings into milk, the thin and wholesome blood. So did it mine.
And a most instant tetter barked about, Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust All my smooth body (I. v. 61-73) He describes his body dying and decaying using images such as curdy milk, poison, rotting and leprosy. These images can be, in the same way used to describe the fall of Denmark.King Hamlet has fallen, and his land must fall with him. Claudius is responsible for both the murder of his brother, and the murder of Denmark. It can be clearly seen that Claudius is the originator of the corruption in Denmark.
His sinful deeds cause catastrophes in the Kronborg Castle, which result in the fall of every character and Denmark. His evil affects even the purest and noblest of characters such as Ophelia and Hamlet. Today’s society can learn a lot from Hamlet. Corruption has gone global; Scores of civilizations have perished due to greed and corruption.It seems it is ingrain in human nature to fall for the traps and deceit as depicted in Hamlet. There seems to be no remedy for corruption. In today’s global economy everyone wants to go ahead at the cost of someone else’ perish and would not stop at anything to achieve their goals.
As seen by Horatio, education and reason is the only remedy by which one can be made to understand the consequences of suffering of society due to corruption and malice.Works Cited Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Cambridge: Cambridge School Shakespeare, 2007.

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