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Death Decay And Disease In Hamlet Essay Questions

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Imagery of Disease and Corruption in Shakespeare s Hamlet

Imagery of Disease in Hamlet

In Hamlet Shakespeare weaves the dominant motif of disease into every scene to illustrate the corrupt state of Denmark and Hamlet's all-consuming pessimism. Images of ulcers, pleurisy, full body pustules, apoplexy, and madness parallel the sins of drunkenness, espionage, war, adultery, and murder, to reinforce the central idea that Denmark is dying. To Hamlet the very air he breathes is "a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours." Hamlet himself is a victim of a deep melancholy that results in fits of mania, and, until very late in the drama, he rots with a diseased will, unable to take the necessary action to revenge his father and save his country.

The following is a collection of passages in which we find such imagery. Please click on the scene for explanatory notes on each quotation.

Virtue itself 'scapes not calumnious strokes:
The canker galls the infants of the spring,
Too oft before their buttons be disclosed. (1.2.38-40)

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (1.4.90)

So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth--wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin--
By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason. (1.4.24-29)

And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood: so did it mine;
And a most instant tetter bark'd about,
Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust,
All my smooth body. (1.5.69-73)

For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a god kissing carrion. (2.2.189)

the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament
this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. (2.2.290-294)

But I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave's offal: bloody, bawdy villain! (2.2.550-552)

Make you a wholesome answer; my wit's diseased: but, sir, such answer as I can make, you shall command. (2.3.314-315)

And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought. (3.1.84-85)

My mother stays:
This physic but prolongs thy sickly days. (3.3.98-99)

Such an act
That blurs the grace and blush of modesty,
Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose
From the fair forehead of an innocent love
And sets a blister there. (3.4.40-44)

Look you now, what follows:
Here is your husband; like a mildew'd ear,
Blasting his wholesome brother. (3.4.63-55)

Sense, sure, you have,
Else could you not have motion; but sure, that sense
Is apoplex'd.

Do it, England;
For like the hectic in my blood he rages,
And thou must cure me. (4.3.64-66)

Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that's the end. (4.3.20-25)

To my sick soul, as sin's true nature is,
Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss. (4.5.17-18)

Her brother is in secret come from France;
Feeds on his wonder, keeps himself in clouds,
And wants not buzzers to infect his ear
With pestilent speeches of his father's death. (4.5.73-76)

Two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats
Will not debate the question of this straw:
This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace,
That inward breaks, and shows no cause without
Why the man dies. (4.4.25-29)

For goodness, growing to a plurisy,
Dies in his own too much. (4.7.117-118)

But, to the quick o' the ulcer:--
Hamlet comes back. (4.7.124-125)

I' faith, if he be not rotten before he die--as we
have many pocky corses now-a-days, that will scarce
hold the laying in--he will last you some eight year
or nine year: a tanner will last you nine year. (5.1.153-156)

and is't not to be damn'd,
To let this canker of our nature come
In further evil? (5.2.20-25)

How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Imagery of Disease and Corruption in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Shakespeare Online. 15 Jan. 2014.

The Hamlet Problem: Why the Delay?

"The fourth theory is a celebrated one from the standpoint of historical controversy. It assumes that Hamlet, at least at times, is insane. Melancholia, hysteria, psychic epilepsy, neurasthenia, madness or whatever you will, has been presented in turn to explain Hamlet's procrastination. Nearly all proponents of the madness hypothesis admit, however, that Hamlet had lucid intervals. As a matter of fact, the only defense of this theory that can be made is that pathological research has never yet been able to draw a sharp line of demarcation between sanity and insanity. Ibsen has demonstrated this dramatically in Hedda Gabler. Not all insane people are confined in madhouses any more than all criminals are now behind prison walls. But what is a criminal?" Haven McClure. Read on.

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The Hamlet and Ophelia Subplot
The Norway Subplot in Hamlet

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Hamlet Plot Summary with Key Passages
Deception in Hamlet
Hamlet. Problem Play and Revenge Tragedy

Diseases in Shakespeare's London. From a disease standpoint, Shakespeare was living in arguably the worst place and time in history. Shakespeare's overcrowded, rat-infested, sexually promiscuous London, with raw sewage flowing in the Thames, was the hub for the nastiest diseases known to mankind. Here are the worst of the worst. Read on.

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Quotations from Hamlet (with commentary)
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Points to Ponder. Hamlet's madness is an act of deception, concocted to draw attention away from his suspicious activities as he tries to gather evidence against Claudius. He reveals to Horatio his deceitful plan to feign insanity in 1.5: "To put an antic disposition on." Read on.

Did You Know.Hamlet contains more disease imagery than any other play, followed by Troilus and Cressida. The imagery in Troilus and Cressida is less subtle. An example can be found in Thersites' conversation with Patroclus: Now, the rotten diseases
of the south, the guts-griping, ruptures, catarrhs,
loads o' gravel i' the back, lethargies, cold
palsies, raw eyes, dirt-rotten livers, wheezing
lungs, bladders full of imposthume, sciaticas,
limekilns i' the palm, incurable bone-ache, and the
rivelled fee-simple of the tetter, take and take
again such preposterous discoveries! (5.1.17-24)


Other articles

Disease, Decay and Poison in Hamlet

Disease, Decay and Poison in Hamlet

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been considered the greatest tragedy to have ever been written, in which the theme of disease, decay and poison is embedded deep within the well-known plot of the play. Such theme is developed through the actions, dialogues and figurative language of the characters. These morbid images that are incorporated not only help the audience in grasping Hamlet’s true emotion, but also play a significant role in characterization, plot development and metaphorical message of the play.

Ideas about death and physical decay constantly recur in much of the imagery in Hamlet not only in order to depict the character development and convey Hamlet’s true emotions to the audience, but also to serve as a metaphorical message on a larger scale. For instance, the imagery of decay is utilized to help comprehend the depression Hamlet feels in his first soliloquy about suicide: “O that this too sullied flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew” (I.ii

129-130), followed by his comparison of the world to an “unweeded garden.” This is the first time that Hamlet unleashes his thoughts on the situation and creates a visualization of death. Hamlet thus communicates with the audience putting strong emphasis on his desire not to exist in this world anymore. An image of Hamlet’s flesh rotting is produced, followed by a picture of a beautiful garden corrupted by disastrous weeds that will destroy the good life. At this moment the audience can grasp Hamlet’s true emotions as they are able to feel the pain and his yearn for death. Thus, the real imagery about the way Hamlet feels is brought forth. Furthermore, when Laertes comes to the castle to get information on his father’s murder, the hysterical Ophelia pretends to give him different flowers that represent something, but when she comes to the violets, which resembles faithfulness, she says that they have all withered “when my father died” (IV.v 182). In this quote, the imagery of decay is present because both her father and the flowers have died. This quote is significant to the play as a whole as it is a metaphorical image of corruption and moral decay plaguing not only the characters, but the whole area of Denmark as well, thus foreshadowing the eventual collapse of the nation. This metaphor once again appears in the dialogue when Marcellus states: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (I.iv. 100), thus foreshadowing the corrupt nature of Denmark leading to the breakdown of the royal family. Therefore, Shakespeare’s references to death and decay clearly reveal Hamlet’s desperate state of mind, simultaneously serving as a political metaphor which implies that the whole state is rotting.

Another significant recurring image throughout Hamlet is poison. which plays a significant role in plot development. Poison is also an important theme in the play, which is the main instrument of death. A seminal death image, which brings about the first and most important murder in the play, is the poisoning of Old Hamlet, directed deliberately by his uncle as he lies sleeping in his orchard. “Sleeping within my orchard, my custom always of the afternoon, 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 leprous 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 ” (I.v. 66-75) The audiences thus run into poison when we learn about the death of King Hamlet, who was killed by his brother pouring poison into his ear. The mention of poison holds a great amount of significance as it is used as a device that leads Hamlet to contemplate revenge upon Claudius. During the players’ reenactment of the crime in the later plot, the poison poured into Old Hamlet’s ear reappears. The recurring imagery of poison can be interpreted as a metaphorical message throughout the play as poison is being poured into ears in the form of gossip, suggestions of revenge, slander, evil thoughts that spreads sickness and disease upon the entire court of Denmark. “Here, thou incestuous, murd’rous, damned Dane, drink off this potion Follow my mother (V, 11, 302-304).” Eventually, Hamlet’ mom Gertrude is killed by a poisonous drink, which is followed by Hamlet, Claudius, Laertes who are also killed by the poisonous rapier. The use of irony and retributive justice in the play becomes apparent when Claudius uses poison to kill King Hamlet and in the end, the same poison kills him, as well as his wife, Laertes and Hamlet. After all, it is the use of poison that starts the story and unravels the denouement, thus possessing an important role in plot development.

The somber and dark images of sickness and disease are constantly brought up in Hamlet, and shadow the corruption pervading the recent and future events of the castle. Throughout such images, Shakespeare succeeds in creating an atmosphere of cold and desolated darkness. Early in the first scene, when Francisco and Barnardo are standing watch, Francisco says: “Tis better cold, and I am sick at heart?” (I.i.8-9). Francisco’s sickness foreshadows the sickness which is entering Denmark. The sickness in Denmark continues when Horatio is contemplating the reasons for the ghost’s appearance. “Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse?” (I.i.132). Horatio is describing the conditions in Rome just before the murder of Julius Caesar and he believes that the appearance of the Ghost is a portent to Denmark, as the sick moon was a portent to Rome. These quotes are significant because they create an ominous atmosphere for the entire play. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy, he says: “Things rank and gross in nature, possess it merely?” (I.ii.140-141). Hamlet apparently feels that the whole world is diseased. The sickness motif plays a significant role in the characterization of Hamlet, as it is extended with questions of Hamlet’s mental health as the story progresses. Hamlet’s dialogues related sickness and disease throughout the play reflects not only the outward condition which causes Hamlet’s spiritual illness, but also his own state. Indeed, the shock of the discovery of his father’s murder and the sight of his mother’s conduct have had a traumatic effect on Hamlet to the extent that when the play opens he has already begun to die internally, as all the springs of life are being gradually infected. Therefore, it is necessary to notice the repetitive use of phrases related to sickness and disease in the dialogues, for it creates an ominous atmosphere throughout the play and further aids in the character development of Hamlet.

In conclusion, the theme of disease, decay and poison is important throughout the play as it is incorporated with the aim of revealing Hamlet’s state of mind, conveying political messages, and adding greater significant to the plot development and characterization. Shakespeare successfully achieved his goal through utilizing the dominant theme of the play. As a result, the play has been making a long-lasting impression on the audiences.

Hamlet decay essay - Term paper Academic Service

Hamlet decay essay

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Hamlet decay essay

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Hamlet decay essay

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Death decay and disease in hamlet essay on revenge

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Essay revenge in and hamlet Death disease on decay

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