Imagery of Disease in Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The disease imagery in Hamlet serves to constantly remind the reader of the initial problem in
the play: King Hamlet's poisoning by his brother. After hearing his father graphically describe
the murder, it is constantly on Hamlet's mind. For this reason, many of the images that Hamlet
creates in the play are connected with disease and poison. The literal poisoning becomes
symbolic of the rest of the events of the play. Remember that poisoning through the ear can be
taken literally or figuratively (through speech and lies). Look at Polonius's conversation with
Ophelia about Hamlet, Claudius' lies to Laertes and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. There are
examples of decay imagery throughout the play. This is all shown in "Something is rotten in the
state of Denmark." These images of decay, disease, rankness, rot, and ulcers constantly pop
up in the play. The idea of an ulcer that is constantly infecing and eating the body is also
prevelant. Check out I.iv.23-38, II.ii.181, II.ii.250, II.ii.504. "The dram of eale doth all the
noble substance of a doubt to his own scandal" "That for some vicious mole of nature in them.
Rosencranz's "The cess of majesty..." Iv.iii "A certain convocation of politic worms..."
III.iv.144-9 "It will but skin a film the ulcerous place..." The images of disease all refer to the
rottenness of court or the sin of Claudius & Gertrude. Finally check out W.H. Clemen's "The
Development of Shakespeare's Imagery." It is a great resource. Hope that helped!
C. Watts ed., Hamlet, Harvester New Critical Introductions to Shakespeare (New York:
Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1988).
S. Wofford ed., Hamlet (Boston, Mass.: Bedford Books, 1994) with accompanying
I took a Shakespeare class in high school (about two years ago). Out
professor told us that the flowers signified the loss of Ophelia's
sanity caused by the rejection of her lover, Hamlet, and the murdering
of her father, Polonius(sp?), by which Hamlet is guilty. Also, he
said that it was questionable whether Ophelia took her own life,
or accidentially fell in the water.
I wanted to respond to Tom's posting on Christian imagery in Hamlet. I thought
he brought up some interesting points that I had overlooked in my reading. The idea
of the Ghost of Hamlet as a parallel to the Holy Ghost is obvious to me. I agree with
Tom in his description of what the Holy Ghost (spirit) is meant to be to us Christains.
Along those same lines, the Ghost of Hamlet seems to have the same purpose in this
play. He speaks to Hamlet without ever saying a word. He seems to guide him in his
quest to revenge his death. Just as Christians are taught to "feel" the presence of
the Holy Ghost, Hamlet feels the presence of his father's Ghost. In the scene where
he is argueing with Gertrude, Hamlet stops when he "feels" his father's ghost. I
believe he indeed felt his...