the disease imagery in Hamlet serves to constantly remind the reader of the initial problem in the play: King Hamlet’s poisoning by his brother. After hearing his father graphically describe the murder, it is constantly on Hamlet’s mind. For this reason, many of the images that Hamlet creates in the play are connected with disease and poison. The literal poisoning becomes symbolic of the rest of the events of the play. Remember that poisoning through the ear can be taken literally or figuratively (through speech and lies). Look at Polonius’s conversation with Ophelia about Hamlet, Claudius’ lies to Laertes and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. There are examples of decay imagery throughout the play. This is all shown in “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” These images of decay, disease, rankness, rot, and ulcers constantly pop up in the play. The idea of an ulcer that is constantly infecing and eating the body is also prevelant. Check out I.iv.23-38, II.ii.181, II.ii.250, II.ii.504. “The dram of eale doth all the noble substance of a doubt to his own scandal” “That for some vicious mole of nature in them. Rosencranz’s “The cess of majesty…” Iv.iii “A certain convocation of politic worms…” III.iv.144-9 “It will but skin a film the ulcerous place…” The images of disease all refer to the rottenness of court or the sin of Claudius & Gertrude. Finally check out W.H. Clemen’s “The Development of Shakespeare’s Imagery.” It is a great resource. Hope that helped! C. Watts ed., Hamlet, Harvester New Critical Introductions to Shakespeare (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1988). S. Wofford ed., Hamlet (Boston, Mass.: Bedford Books, 1994) with accompanying essays. I took a Shakespeare class in high school (about two years ago). Out professor told us that the flowers signified the loss of Ophelia’s sanity caused by the rejection of her lover, Hamlet, and the murdering of her father, Polonius(sp?), by which Hamlet is guilty. Also, he said that it was questionable whether Ophelia took her own life, or accidentially fell in the water. I wanted to respond to Tom’s posting on Christian imagery in Hamlet. I thought he brought up some interesting points that I had overlooked in my reading. The idea of the Ghost of Hamlet as a parallel to the Holy Ghost is obvious to me. I agree with Tom in his description of what the Holy Ghost (spirit) is meant to be to us Christains. Along those same lines, the Ghost of Hamlet seems to have the same purpose in this play. He speaks to Hamlet without ever saying a word. He seems to guide him in his quest to revenge his death. Just as Christians are taught to “feel” the presence of the Holy Ghost, Hamlet feels the presence of his father’s Ghost. In the scene where he is argueing with Gertrude, Hamlet stops when he “feels” his father’s ghost. I believe he indeed felt his presence before he say him. There is no evidence in the text to support my claim, but it is just an interpretation I have. Another reference I like is “our saviour’s birth is celebrated”, (1672, line 140). This also to me shows how King Hamlet is often viewed as Christ-like. There seems to be a constant parallel between Christ and Hamlet throughout the play. I’m not sure if this is direct or indirect. A scene that I felt also had strong Christian imagery in it was during Act IV. When Hamlet goes to see his mother, he seems to be on a mission. The entire play he has been more focused on showing her the error of her ways, than getting revenge on Claudius. This has a certain sence of Hamlet trying to be almost God-like. He attempts to show his mother a portrait of good vs. evil when he sets up the mirror to compare King Hamlet to Claudius. By doing this, he wants to point out the sins that Claudius (as well as Gertrude) have committed. At the same time, he wants to glorify his father’s perfect image. To me, Hamlet is attempting to show Gertrude the error of her ways in an almost Christ-like sence. He is overcome with the belief that everything he is doing is correct and good. I get the image of him trying to act like Jesus, a pure man in a group of sinners. Another issue in Hamlet that has been argued about comes during that same bedroom scene. Why can Hamlet see the Ghost and not his mother? At first, my answer is that since Hamlet is free of guilt towards his father’s death, he can see him. I had the impression that Shakespeare made the ghost only visible to him because Gertrude had sinned against him. I don’t think this way anymore. If I base the fact that Hamlet sees the ghost because he is without sin, that argument can be taken away because Hamlet has just murdered Polonius. Polonius is an innocent man. Surely, this is a great sin in the mind of the ghost as well as in the mind of Hamlet. Polonius had done nothing to bring about the death of King Hamlet. This is where Hamlet begins his own downward spiral of sin. If he is after Claudius for comitting a sin, he is guilty of two murders to innocent people by the end of the play. Shakespeare’s Christian imagery in this play seems to be stronger than in any of the other plays we have covered so far. However, he does tend to slip in, either intentionally or not, a reference to God, Jesus or a Biblical passage in almost all of his plays. Is this his personal touch to his writings or was this a common theme for writers of this time period? Two images? Or two types of images? As far as types of images, you can’t go wrong discussing images of decay/disease and images of warfare/violence. Images of decay include: “Tis bitter cold/And I am sick at heart” (I.i.8-9). “the moist star/Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands/ was sick almost to doomsday with eclips” (I.i.118-20). the world as an overgrown garden–”things rank and gross in nature possess it merely” (I.ii.136) “The canker galls the infants of the spring/Too oft before their buttons be disclos’d” (I.iii.39-40) About drinking– “in the general censure take corruption” (I.iv.24-35) “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (I.iv.90) “Though to a radiant angel link’d/Will sate itself in a celestial bed/and prey on garbage” (I.v.55-7) “Taint not thy mind” (I.v.85) “For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion” (II.ii.181-2) “Pestilent congregation of vapours” (II.ii.302-3) “my imaginations are as foul/as Vulcan’s stithy” (III.ii.83-4) “Tis now the very witching time of night/when churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out/contagion to this world” (III.ii. 388-90) “A mildew’d ear/blasting his wholesome brother” (III.iv.64-5). “Nay, but to live/In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,/Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love/Over the nasty sty!” (III.iv.91-4) “Lay not that flattering unction to your soul/That not your trespass but my madness speaks/It will but skin and film the ulcerous place/Whiles rank corruption, mining all within,/ Infects unseen” (III.iv.144-49). “diseases desperate grown/By desperate appliance are reliev’d,/ Or not at all” (IV.iii.8-10) “For like the hectic in my blood he rages,/And thou must cure me” (IV.iii.63-4) “To my sick soul…”(IV.v.17) “It warms the very sickness in my heart,/That I shall live and tell him to his teeth,/’Thus didst thou.’” (IV.vii.52-4) “Is’t not perfect conscience,/To quit him with this arm? and is’t not to be damn’d,/To let this canker of our nature come/ In further evil?” (V.ii.67-70). After establishing that this pattern of imagery exists, it’s important to explain its meaning. Simply put, Shakespeare uses imagery to support the notion of corruption spreading throughout the Danish court. Its source is Claudius, who killed the rightful king and incestuously married Gertrude. It corrupts Gertrude (in her agreement to this incestuous union), Ophelia (in her agreement to allow her father and Claudius to spy on her meeting with Hamlet), Laertes (who falls from honor by deciding to use treachery and poison to kill Hamlet), Hamlet (who is disabled by his indecision), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (who are induced to spy upon Hamlet, who is supposed to be their friend). Hope this helps. It is an incidental comment from a minor character which lays down, in the opening moments of the play, that which is to pin together all its aspects. Francisco the guard says, “I am sick at heart.” Francisco’s sick melancholy is faithful to the form which permeates the play — unexplained, difficult to define, but with a clear sense of dread. And, typically, his expression of misgivings is misinterpreted, perhaps even underestimated — Barnardo, seeking palpable reasons for Francisco’s distraction, asks whether Francisco has had a quiet watch. Perhaps he wonders if the ghost has disturbed Francisco. Whatever is ailing Fransciso remains secret, simply becoming a part of the anxious atmosphere. Throughout the play we can trace a progression of corruption in almost all of the main characters. We are constantly reminded of this decay through the imagery used. It is a significant point that the ghost, the only character that could arguably be termed an outside objector, and who is certainly qualified to make some form of prophetic judgment, should be one of the prime sources of imagery of disease, poison and decay: “Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole With juice of cursed hebona in a vial, And in the porches of y ears did pour The leperous distilment; whose effect Holds such an enmity with blood of man That swift as quicksilver it courses through The natural gates and alleys of the body, And with a sudden vigour it 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.” A graphic description, with consideration given to the fact that only moments before the ghost had instructed Hamlet not to pity it! Perhaps the most immediately obviously corrupt character in Hamlet is Polonius. His corruption has occurred long before the play begins; the progression is in the extent to which it is revealed to us. From this courteous, almost comically long-winded member of the court, emerges a personality that is first dominating (as he instructs Laertes “These few precepts in thy memory look thou character,”), then clearly abusive (towards Ophelia: “Affection? Pooh! You speak like a green girl,/Unsifted in such perilous circumstance,/Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?” and soon “I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth,/have you so slander and moment leisure/As to give works or talk with the Lord Hamlet./Look to’t, I charge you. Come your ways.”), then meddling and subversive, as he sets spies on his own son, and finally irredeemably and ultimately fatally corrupt and subversive, as he schemes and plots around Hamlet. His death — physical corruption — is a precusor, signifying to the audience the ultimate fate of all those characters exhibiting signs of corruption. [snip] Hamlet is finally separating his positive aspects which we have seen throughout the place — “O what a king is this,” says Horatio of Hamlet, “the observed of all observers” — from the circumstance and treachery against which they have struggled, and into which they have been entangled. Hamlet himself cannot not rule. He, too, has become corrupted, not in mind, but in history, by becoming the focus of the ancient revenger’s dilemma. Not taking revenge will reduce him and make him unfit for rule by his own standards… and taking revenge will do the same. Any action is morally dubious. Though Hamlet still maintains our sympathy at the end of the play, he has murdered five people and caused the suicide of one. But Hamlet can still decide Denmark’s future, by effectively appointing a successor. Thus, the corruption dies with him; all the inevitable justice is carried out; and Hamlet’s legacy remains. From a morally dubious situation, Hamlet is able to wrest an honorable death, and the chance of stability for the future of his country.
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