Imagery Of Disease And Decay In Hamlet

1089 words - 4 pages

Imagery of Disease and Decay in Hamlet  

    William Shakespeare found that imagery was a useful tool to give his works greater impact and hidden meaning. In Hamlet, Shakespeare used imagery to present ideas about the atmosphere, Hamlet's character, and the major theme of the play. He used imagery of decay to give the reader a feel of the changing atmosphere. He used imagery of disease to hint how some of the different characters perceived Hamlet as he put on his "antic disposition". And finally, he used imagery of poison to emphasize the main theme of the play; everybody receives rightful retribution in the end.


 Early in Hamlet, Shakespeare's first use of imagery was of decay. Marcellus says, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (I; iv; 90), to Horatio after Hamlet leaves to talk with the ghost of his father. The imagery of decay used here gives the reader a background understanding of a few things. First, it foreshadows that the king's throne (the state of Denmark) is on shaky ground because Hamlet will shortly find out that his father was murdered and not bitten by a snake as was originally thought. Also, it reveals the building atmosphere of suspicion (something is rotten) which would play a role for a big part of the play. Then, two scenes later, imagery of decay was used a second time when Hamlet says, "For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion", (II; i; 182-183) to Polonius during their first conversation in the play. The imagery of decay used here subtly gets across information of a few things. First, it foreshadows that Hamlet (the sun) will kill Polonius (breed maggots in a dead dog). And secondly, at this point in the scene, Hamlet goes on to talk about his own death; "Into my grave?", (II; i; 205). As a result, the quote mentioned above that foreshadows Polonus' demise marks the beginning of a new atmosphere that will be implied by Hamlet's talk of death and depression. The imagery of decay used at slightly different parts of the play shows Shakespeare's mastery of imagery to change the atmosphere, and therefore, to give the story more impact.


Later in the play, Shakespeare began using imagery of disease. One example of this came when Hamlet says, "Sir, I cannot make you a wholesome answer; my wit's diseased", (III; ii; 296-298) to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when they were sent by the queen to give Hamlet a message. The imagery of disease used here exposes that Hamlet is distracted by the suspicion he has for Rosencratz and Guildenstern since they were caught earlier for spying on him for the king. Moreover, this quote implies that Hamlet is distracted with thoughts of how he will murder Claudius. However, Hamlet uses the word "diseased" to highlight his "antic disposition" and to make Rosencrantz and Guildenstern think that he is truly mad, and therefore, throws them off of his plans. Imagery of disease was used a second time when Claudius says, "Diseases...

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