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Summary: the Role of Corruption in Shakespeare's Play

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  Corruption can drastically change one’s state of mind and thus affect the decisions and actions one chooses to make. Corruption is powerful enough to confuse sound reasoning and judgement with illogical disillusionment. This can lead to one’s degradation and emotional instability. In the play Hamlet by Shakespeare, the corruption in Denmark, initiated by Claudius’ murder of King Hamlet, ultimately dismantles all that it touches- emotional stability, ability to reason, and relationships and trust- embodied by the deterioration of Hamlet as he tries to root out that corruption. The ensnaring trap of corruption destroys all those caught within its path.

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The corruption that Hamlet learns of within Denmark is where Hamlet first learns of the truth behind his deceased father’s death, thus causing negative complexity within Hamlet’s emotional and mental state. When Hamlet encounters the ghost of his deceased father, who tells him, “So the whole ear of Denmark is by a forged process of my death rankly abused...the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears a crown”. The phrases “forged” with “rankly abused” contrasted with “crown” signify the contrast between the inherent abuse within King Claudius’ regime with the implications of royalty and power associated with becoming a King. This renders dissonance in King Claudius’ persona, underlying how King Claudius’ outward image as “goodly” should not be trusted from his inward persona and true intentions. By further paralleling King Claudius to a “serpent,” an image synonymous of deceit and evil, the ghost is degrading and to an extent, belittling King Claudius’ role as King. The deep feelings of apathy and injustice the ghost feels towards King Claudius causes Hamlet to realize the corruption within Denmark. When the ghost appears before Marcellus, Hamlet’s friend, he recognizes the ghost’s appearance in relation to the corrupting state of Denmark, and states, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. The ghost’s vengeance toward King Claudius turns Hamlet’s sorrow into one of deep anguish and remorse at his inaction towards avenging his father’s death as he learns King Claudius was the one to murder his father. Hamlet then blames himself for his cowardice and inaction by calling himself derogatory words such as “pigeon-livered” . By comparing himself to a “pigeon,” he dehumanizes his existence and equates himself to lesser than that of an animal, belittling his cowardice and using it to symbolize his feelings of self-depreciation for not having the bravery to take vengeance upon King Claudius. The growing discursiveness in the complexity of emotions Hamlet feels-from anguish, remorse, guilt, vengeance- causes Hamlet’s state of mind to be one of disarray and confusion. Hamlet then shifts from instability in his mental state to self-degradation when he calls himself a “whore”. Hamlet inwardly condemns, belittles, and thus degrades himself to the worst possible insult, calling himself a woman, to emphasize his unimportance and seemingly lost position he feels within society. The many emotions Hamlet feels-from the anguish and remorse he feels for his deceased father, to the vowed vengeance he promises the ghost, to the guilt and self-blame Hamlet feels for his cowardice, adds onto his emotional state to become more convoluted.

The corruption that Hamlet learns of Denmark affects his line of reasoning, thus blurring and distorting the lines of reality and pretense in where Hamlet’s sanity lies. When Hamlet learns of the truth that King Claudius was the one behind his deceased father’s death, he is determined to put on an “antic disposition”. Hamlet’s determination to act out of feigned madness allows him to openly speak his mind, deriding Polonius by stating, “[he] shall grow old as [he] is,”. This causes Polonius to observe how “though this be madness, yet there is method in it”. Hamlet is an enigma by confounding doubt amongst the people around him. He acknowledges the capricious nature in his temperament and disposition when he states, “ ‘I know a Hawk from a Handsaw’ ”. The “antic disposition” Hamlet puts himself in, blurring the lines of reality with pretense, is signified by the phrases “Hawk” and “Handsaw.” His words suggest that just as the wind blows towards an uncertain direction “north north-west”, the unpredictable direction of the wind reflects Hamlet’s uncertainty and ambiguity in the steps he should take as revenge against King Claudius for murdering his deceased father. However, the phrases “Hawk” and “Handsaw” contrast Hamlet’s ambiguity in his mental state and serve as a warning to Rosencratz and Guildenstern that he is capable of differentiating between a “Hawk” and a “Handsaw,” in this case between a friend and a foe. Hamlet’s antic disposition in his feigned madness does not seem to be overtaken by his “real” madness when he states, “My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time...It is not madness That I have uttered” . Hamlet’s instability in his mental state and the complexity of emotions that result are reflected by a shift in tonal nuance from self-depreciation to denial then acknowledgement of his feigned madness becoming a reality. However, the semblance of Hamlet’s madness is contrasted when he acknowledges the complexity of emotion he feels in regards to his “feigned” madness and is a result of the corruption within Denmark. Hamlet acknowledges his madness when he states how it will “will skin and film the ulcerous place, whiles rank of corruption, mining all within, infects unseen” . By paralleling his “madness” to being able to “skin” and “film,” the “ulcerous place,” Hamlet connotes how his madness has the capability to proliferate outwards, while corruption has the capacity to proliferate, or in this case, “infect” the unseen. In doing so, Hamlet denotes how his madness grows due to the corruption he learns of within the state of Denmark, establishing a cause and effect relationship between the two traits.

The corruption in Denmark leads to Hamlet's madness to become increasingly blurred with his feigned madness, which ultimately breaks the relationships and trust of the people Hamlet loves. Hamlet’s madness blurs the lines between where his antic disposition starts and ends. His seeming madness becomes apparent when the sexual corruption between Gertude and King Claudius becomes a reality to Hamlet. He states, “Frailty, thy name is woman” and later comments how Gertude married “with such dexerity to incestuous sheets”. By paralleling “frailty” to “woman,” Hamlet’s hatred toward his mother and King Claudius’ sexual relationship corrupts and allows him to become misogynistic towards all women, alluding to a diminished level of respect and trust Hamlet now has for his mother. Hamlet’s misogynistic attitude towards women and the role of sexual corruption on Hamlet becomes apparent again through the way he treats Ophelia. Ophelia describes Hamlet’s madness “as if he had been loosed out of hell to speak of horrors”. Telling her to go to a “nunnery”. Hamlet belittles Ophelia, degrading her to someone as lowly as a prostitute. This causes Ophelia to become overwhelmingly distraught, stating, “O’ woe is me”, and later on driving her woe to a point of lunacy and insanity. Even in her insanity, she longs for Hamlet to return to her, asking, “Where is the beauteous Majesty of Denmark,” . Ophelia’s behavior signifies that despite Hamlet’s demoralization and degradation of her, her moral conscience is largely dependent on her love for Hamlet, suggesting how the corruption that affected Hamlet is detrimental in affecting his behavior towards her, thus affecting her human psyche.

The role of corruption and the ever-so dangers corruption dictates in Hamlet's life are apparent in society today, whether in its forms of abuse of power or in its effect in distinguishing the right from the wrongs of society. Corruption has the power to blur the lines between ethics with debauched reasoning and distort the lines of truth with dishonesty, causing a greater disparity and an imperfect blend between two cultures that are prevalent among society: yin with yang. Through Hamlet, the reflection of corruption’s yin and yang among society leads to a cognizance of the inevitable: that one’s corruption can lead to their greed and selfish ambition, and thus affect their sanity and relationships with others.         

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