Denmark is a land wreaked by unnatural turmoil. From the opening scene we can infer that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. Throughout the play Shakespeare gives us insight into the inner rottenness of
Denmark. In Claudius we see a deceptive, scheming politician and
murderer. From his associate Polonius we see the unholy acts of sanctioned
spying. Hamlet undermines the true Christian principles for which a
“divine” King would have stood. Gertrude herself lends to the pervading
atmosphere of distrust and uncertainty in Denmark. With only a month
having passed between the point of the King’s burial and her remarriage
to Claudius, Hamlet explores the callous indifference of a mother
towards the feelings of a son, and perhaps more importantly, a mother who
engages in a “damn’d” and “incestuous” relationship with the brother of
her husband. Whether Hamlet is justified in casting harsh judgement on
Gertrude for her sexual liaisons remains unclear, especially given
Hamlet’s frequent misogynistic ramblings. In these ways the play Hamlet
shows us the areas of darkness in the society of Denmark, and
Shakespeare’s characterisation provides us a link to the inner
“rottenness” of the human condition. In doing so, the audience comes
away deeply affected by a classic tragedy.
Act I opens with a challenge (“Who’s there?”), immediately giving reason
to wonder if something is out of order. Francisco further reinforces
this initial impression: “’Tis bitter cold/ And I am sick at heart.”
Quickly, we are aware of his fear and question the state of the
country – a question made more pressing by the knowledge that the guards
are out in the middle of the night during the Sabbath, a day of rest.
As Horatio relates the passing of Old Hamlet, the Ghost’s appearance
strikes an immediate chord. Within the Ghost itself lies a distinct sense
of uneasiness that suggests the rotten state of Denmark is infected to
the core. The Ghost’s moral ambiguity is revealed in greater depth
during conversation with Hamlet. The Ghost of Old Hamlet seems to embody
the dark state of Denmark when, instead of asking for pity, it asks for
revenge – a morally dubious proposition, certainly by Christian
standards. “Let not the royal bed of Denmark be/ A couch for luxury
and damned incest.” The distinct imagery of the Ghost’s speech in Act
I gives us some insight into the depths of corruption in Denmark.
We are told in no uncertain terms of the “adulterate beast” that is
Claudius. And so the rottenness in Denmark is further reinforced by calls
for the murder of the King.
Claudius is himself an embodiment of much of what is wrong in the state
of Denmark. In his maiden speech to the court he says, “With mirth in
funeral and with dirge in marriage.” Such equivocation and twisting of
the natural order is common in Claudius, a character portrayed as being
morally bankrupt. Hamlet picks up on...