Disease Images In Hamlet Essay

Disease Images In Hamlet Essay

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Hamlet's Disease
The somber images of poison and disease taint the pages of Hamlet, and shadow the corruption pervading the recent and future events of the castle. The poison with which Claudius kills King Hamlet spreads in a sense throughout the country, until "something is rotten in Denmark", as Marcellus notes (I.4.90). Shakespeare shades in words of sickness continually during the play, perhaps serving best to illustrate the ill condition of affairs plaguing not only Denmark, but the characters as well.
     Shakespeare immediately conveys the sense of cold and apathy in the opening scene. As the play opens in the cool, black night, Barnardo and Francisco are high atop the looming walls of Elsinore, keeping watch for the impending revenge of enemy Fortinbras (I.1). Midnight strikes and Barnardo notes, subtly referring to the sentiment of Denmark, that "tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart" (I.1.8). Since the beloved King Hamlet has died and the Queen remarried, the morale of the people is low, and cold.
     The act continues, and the Ghost appears out of the dark shadows (I.1). Horatio, who had doubted the men's earlier details of sightings, now contemplates the reasons for the Ghost's visit as the spirit disappears into the ramparts. He tells the men of King Hamlet's battles, and adds how the appearance of the Ghost reminds him of what he has read about the portents of Rome, just before the assassination of Julius Caesar. As "the graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead did squeak…[the moon] was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse" (I.1.120). Horatio believes that the vision of the haunting Ghost is a forewarning to Denmark, just as the pale, sick moon was to Rome an image of the ill events to come. Even future events are drearily portrayed to the reader, a sense of the power of Fortune. This force was also referred to earlier, in Hamlet's soliloquy of the "slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune", going on to speak of being "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought" (III.1.90), yet another image of disease.
     Still in the opening scenes of the play, even men outside of the country can sense the rotting inside. Scornfully, Claudius says Fortinbras thinks "by our late dear brother's death, our state to be di...


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...is "rotten in Denmark?" Hamlet must be the one to accomplish this, but he is ill as well, contaminated with a sickness of thought. Though his madness is arguably feigned, this "antic disposition" reiterates Hamlet's lack of resolution. Throughout the play, Hamlet has opportunities to rid Denmark of ills, such as striking the kneeling Claudius, but he hesitates constantly due to the sickness of his mind. Thus, Hamlet seems to have his own personal theme of irresolution, quite a contrast to Laertes quick and passionate decisions, who if he were Hamlet, would have "cut his throat in church" (IV.7.127).
     The end of the play seems to culminate each character's sickness into their downfall, with "purposes mistook, fall'n on th' inventors heads" (V.2.385). The deadly poison Claudius prepared ends his own life, as it does to Gertrude and Laertes for their ill trust of the malicious king; the obvious mental disease of Ophelia leads to her demise. Hamlet, the indecisive tragic hero and one character who could have ended the disease plaguing Denmark, is unable to do so because he is afflicted with his own illness as well.

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