Rotten in the State of Denmark

Category: Hamlet, Ophelia
Last Updated: 18 Apr 2023
Pages: 3 Views: 599

Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” takes place during the Middle Ages in Denmark, though the play is written in the mindset of those living in the duration of the English Renaissance. Elizabethans strongly believed in order restoration in society or else chaos would ensue. In a manner of emphasizing the decay and corruption throughout the play, Shakespeare effectively utilizes figurative language and character development in order to support the concept that “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark. ” The use of metaphors within the play by Shakespeare accentuates the deterioration in Denmark.

Hamlet refers to humanity as the “quintessence of dust” (II, 2, 272). By making the comparison to dust, he proves that he believes humanity to have rotted, thus illustrating that the kingdom is decaying as its people are by a sense of morality and order. Hamlet continues on later in the play to state that “It will but skin and film the ulcerous place/While rank corruption, mining all within/Infects unseen” (III, 4, 147-148). This further establishes that Denmark is declining as the corruption spreads and is unchecked. Through the metaphorical comparisons, Shakespeare is able to indicate the decay within Denmark.

Double entendre usage throughout “Hamlet” confirms the degeneration of the kingdom’s state. Hamlet makes reference to both the body and life in saying, “When we have shuffled off this mortal coil/Must give us pause” (III, 1, 66). He means both removing his human flesh and ending his everyday life, signifying the corruption in the kingdom as he wishes to find an easy way out of the troubled state that it is in. Later on, Hamlet mentions Polonius’ body is “at supper” and informs Claudius that “We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots…two dishes, but to one table” (IV, 3, 21-24).

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Supper means both that Polonius is at supper and that he is the supper. In this way, as maggots symbolize decay, it suggests that people fatten animals to feed upon; therefore, they fatten themselves for maggots and are all equal in death, as everyone is food for worms as the body deteriorates. The underlying notion of decomposition through double entendre insinuates that there is corruption within Denmark. Character development is another method in which Shakespeare indicates corrosion in Denmark. In terms of Ophelia, Hamlet describes her as a “dead dog” and states that “the sun breeds maggots in a dead dog” (II, 2, 178).

By implying that Ophelia is a dead dog that breeds maggots, he indicates both that the sun rots a dead body and maggots feed within, as well as it is an aspersion to her character, since a “dead dog” is a “bitch. ” Thus, Hamlet portrays the corruption in Ophelia’s character as he insinuates that she is a “bitch” by utilizing a term that symbolizes decomposition. Later on, Claudius states, “We have done but greenly/In a hugger-mugger to inter him; poor Ophelia/Divided from herself and her fair judgment” (IV, 5, 82-84).

This suggests that Ophelia’s mental state is compromised due to the secrecy of her father’s death, further reinstating that the kingdom is corrupted. The alteration of Ophelia’s character and deterioration of her mental state represents the dwindling of the state of Denmark. The entirety of “Hamlet” epitomizes Renaissance England society by stressing the notion that without order, chaos will ensue. Shakespeare signifies the mentality of Elizabethans throughout the play through his use of figurative language and character development in order to substantiate that there is, in fact, “something rotten in the state of Denmark. ”

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Rotten in the State of Denmark. (2017, May 21). Retrieved from

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