Corruption in Hamlet
The theme of corruption in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare is introduced early on, already in the first act of the play. Corruption, decay and sickness are present on two main levels that are interconnected, the environment and the characters. This generates an overall feeling of unease and impending disaster that will pervade the entire play.
The feeling that not all is well in “Hamlet” is imparted already in the setting and environment. The story takes place in Denmark, a country that has just lost its worthy and beloved King. The transfer of power from one ruler to another is usually a cause of anxiety due to the uncertainty about the future. It is more so in “Hamlet” because the crown has been transferred to the dead King’s brother instead of to his son. The uncertainty and gloominess surrounding the death of the King and the transfer of power is reflected in the weather condition, the time of day, and the behavior of the characters. The first scene takes place on a cold night, “’Tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart”. Multiple guards patrol the castle of the new King, and they are noticeably nervous and suspicious. This is shown by the many short questions they fire at each other, such as “who’s there?”, “unfold yourself”, and “have you had a quiet guard?”.
The appearance of a ghost heightens the state of uncertainty and fear. The “eruption” of the spiritual world causes dread in those who witness it because to Catholic Danish a ghost is an ill omen, boding tragedy and bloodshed. Horatio comments how the appearance of the ghost ‘harrows him with fear and wonder’ and he alludes to the appearance of the supernatural before Julius Cesar’s assassination.
The corruption of the environment is the mirror of the character’s decay, as we discover in the second scene that introduces the main characters in the play, starting with the new King, Claudius. We learn of the “incestuous” marriage of the new King with his sister-in-law,...