Something Is Rotten In The State Of

Denmark Essay, Research Paper

Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” (Hamlet. 1.4, l.90) In every society a distinctive hierarchy or organization of power exists. In the Shakespearean world, life is kept constant through the maintenance of the Great Chain of Being or moral order. Any disruption in this chain is believed to cause chaos in society. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Denmark is thrown into chaos by the reckless actions of several characters that fail to follow the moral order. Hamlet is instructed by the ghost of his beloved father to restore order to Denmark and seek revenge on Claudius, the present king of Denmark and murderer of his father. By identifying the various levels of disorder in Denmark an evaluation of the effectiveness of Hamlet’s “antic disposition” as a plan to restore order will be made.

Throughout the play there are various factors that contribute to the disorder in Denmark. Chaos is even evident in the relationships and friendships Hamlet is involved with during the course of the play. In Act 1.Scene 3, Polonius ends the relationship between Hamlet and his daughter Ophelia. His reasoning is that Hamlet is merely flirting with Ophelia for the sake of his own amusement and he will not maintain anything more than a temporary attachment. However, the audience’s knowledge of Hamlet’s character convinces them that Polonius entirely misjudges the nature of the prince’s sentiments towards Ophelia. His love for her is innocent and pure, yet their relationship is cut off and forbidden to continue. In contrast, the relationship between Claudius and Gertrude is corrupt and unnatural and yet no one breaks them up or even questions their marriage. Another problem occurring in Denmark at the time is the amount of back stabbing between friends. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are to have met Hamlet at school and become quite close. However, these characters are quick to turn on their friend and work for the king. They are false friends who are sent by Gertrude and Claudius to discover what is wrong with their son. Their knowledge is superficial and their intelligence mediocre, so they are easily outwitted by Hamlet. They are fools, rather than knaves and their immoral and despicable work for the king behind Hamlet’s back adds to the disorder in Denmark.

At the beginning of the play there are many political and legal matters that contribute to Denmark’s chaos. The preparation for the expected battle with Fortinbras adds to the prime thematic idea of revenge that occurs within the play. The marriage of Queen Gertrude to her past husband’s brother seems unusual as well. Hamlet’s despair stems from his mother’s marriage to his uncle and it is this that is the driving force behind his yearning to set things right. By custom, Gertrude should have mourned her royal husband for at least one year before remarrying. However, she remarried with “most wicked speed.” (Hamlet. 1.2, l.156) She has, furthermore, married within the bounds of an incestuous relationship, making it evident to the reader that Denmark is in a state of disorder. Also, Hamlet has been cheated out of his rightful inheritance and he is naturally indignant at being compelled to live in the hated surroundings of the court. Hamlet’s sense that he has been deprived of his proper place as king and the suspicion that his father’s sudden death was not an accident add to his already felt doubts and forewarnings of disaster that “all is not well.” (Hamlet. 1.2, l.254) In response, he will put an “antic disposition” on in attempt to make things well in Denmark once again.

As the play opens, the reader learns that “all is not well” in the state of Denmark. The appearance of the ghost of the late king is a strange and ominous sign that “the time is out of joint.” (Hamlet. 1.5, l.190) When Hamlet first hears of his father’s ghost, he remarks: “My father’s spirit in arms! All is not well; / I doubt some foul play.”

(Hamlet. 1.2, l.253-254) Hamlet is aware that the appearance of ghosts is unnatural and warns of coming disaster. He understands that supernatural beings don’t exist unless they have unsettled business to take care of. Thus, when the ghost reveals the true circumstances of the king’s death, events really seem to be “out of joint.” The murder of a brother is a despicable crime, and when it is committed something is terribly wrong with civilization. The ghost urges Hamlet to seek revenge for his “foul and most unnatural murder.” (Hamlet. 1.5, l.25) This request establishes the dominant theme of revenge, which is prevalent throughout the play. Hamlet agrees to the ghost’s orders and decides to put on an “antic disposition” for all to see during the duration of his plan.

“The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, /That ever I was born to set it right!” (Hamlet. 1.5, l.190-191) At the end of Act 1, Hamlet is aware of Claudius’ treachery and has promised to avenge the murder of his father. He is aware of the various levels of disorder in Denmark and takes the responsibility of planning to restore order to the state.

He decides to feign madness to gain more freedom of action and to escape the too-close observation of those whom he himself wishes to watch. By examining the chaos within the supernatural, moral and political aspects of Denmark’s society and the corrupt relationships of Hamlet’s life it has been proven that thus far Hamlet’s antic disposition has not been effective in his plan to restore order to the state. In fact, he is defeating his own purpose because his eccentricities have caused the king to regard him with fear and suspicion, and to spy on his actions. His “antic disposition” is drawing a lot of negative attention to him, which isn’t helping in his plan to restore order to Denmark.


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