'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark' - At the end of the play, how might an audience have decided what this 'something' is and why it is 'rotten'.

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‘Something is rotten in the state of

Denmark.’ At the end of the play,

 how might an audience have

decided what this ‘something’

 is and why it is ‘rotten’.

Marcellus comments that something is rotten in Act One scene four, after Hamlet has seen the ghost for the first time and has departed to talk to it. In a short space of time, Marcellus has seen the ghost of the old King in arms and Hamlet, the heir apparent to the Danish throne airing his suicidal tendencies. Horatio his fellow officer of the watch has similar foreboding and morbid thoughts ‘This bodes some strange eruption to our state.’ Primarily this would appear to be the situation of Denmark as it prepares for war with the Norwegians, but could be a prophecy similar to Marcellus’s that this would bode badly for their nation state.

Wilson Knight wrote that if we were to see the world through Hamlet’s eyes, we would find:

‘Claudius as the blackest of criminals, Gertrude as

an adulteress, Polonius as a fool and Ophelia

as a deceit and decoy’

Certainly at the climax and conclusion of the play this would appear satisfactory to an audience as an answer as to ‘what is rotten?’ but there are other issues which change the situation. Claudius is corrupt; he has committed fratricide, and reaped the rewards of doing so. We never learn why Claudius murdered his brother, but the reasons could be numerous. It is proposed that he felt Denmark was being corrupted by King Hamlet, that his overwhelming lust for Gertrude drove him to murder her husband, or that he was simply a ruthless man who wanted to rule his land and would do anything to get it. That a man quite capable of such acts is the ruler of a country does not sit comfortably with the idea of a stabilised nation.  284

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        Claudius’s subsequent marriage to Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, causes him much consternation and distress. Their marriage is one that is in the eyes of the church a sinful one; it is seen as incestuous, despite the fact that King Hamlet was dead. To the Elizabethan audience Claudius would immediately be cast as an evil character because of his sinful behaviour, whilst to an Elizabethan court audience this would have not caused such difficulties. King Henry VIII married his brother’s wife after he died, and as such may have been an acknowledgement that such behaviour was acceptable, more a political statement. ...

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*** 3 Stars This is a good essay which includes critical comments and a strong idea of how the original audience would have responded. The essay remains focused on the question but at times statements need to be supported more strongly by textual evidence. A strong beginning but loses some momentum towards the end.