In his famous play Hamlet, Shakespeare presents to readers a disease; a disease that is incurable and permeating through the members of the cast that ultimately leads to their deaths: corruption. Shakespeare presents this overarching theme of corruption through images of disease and decay through the characters Hamlet is centered around. The ghost of King Hamlet introduces this theme; Polonius, Hamlet, and Claudius reinforce the negative effects of a corrupt hierarchy.
Shakespeare utilizes the Ghost of King Hamlet to present an initial image of death and decay; he was supposedly an honest king who had been killed by his corrupt brother. His description of his own murder acts as an enabler to the transpiring events, as it leads to Hamlet’s decision to seek revenge. Utilizing a ghost as a third person enabler to events to come allows Shakespeare to continue using images of death and decay to reinforce the theme of physical corruption and highlight emotional corruption. The motif of poison as a representation of corruption is introduced here, as the Ghost explains to Hamlet,
“’Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown” (1.v.35-40).
Snakes are typically used to represent something sinister, especially when associated with being a “serpent”; the rumor that the King was killed by a serpent, and comparing Claudius, the real murderer, to a serpent, has a sinister connotation. This dialogue between Hamlet and the ghost of his father introduces Claudius as the main source of corruption in the state of Denmark.
One of the most obvious of corrupt characters is Polonius, the advisor to Claudius. Shakespeare presents Polonius as rather dynamic; his behavior changes depending on who he is around. The progression of his corrupt personality is seen primarily...