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Imagery of Disease and Decay in Hamlet

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 …

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…mastery of imagery that helped Shakespeare lift himself in the world of literature and to give him a solid place as one of the greatest playwrights of all time.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Bodkin, Maud. Death and Decay in Hamlet Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1934.

Burnett, Mark, ed. New Essays on Hamlet. New York: AMS Press, 1994.

Levin, Richard. 1990. ‘The Poetics and Politics of Bardicide.’ PMLA 105: 491-504.

Vickers, Brian. Appropriating Shakespeare: Contemporary Critical Quarrels. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 1993.

Watson, Robert N. 1990. ‘Giving up the Ghost in a World of Decay: Hamlet, Revenge and Denial.’ Renaissance Drama 21:199-223.

Wright, George T. 1981. ‘Hendiadys and Hamlet.’ PMLA 96:168-193.

Shakespeare, William. The Tradegy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992

Revenge and Vengeance – Revenge More Important than Oedipus Complex

Revenge More Important than Oedipus Complex in Hamlet

A boy’s streak of vengeance is not always merely Oedipal. Hamlet’s revenge, and the situations that spur it, are not based on his love for his mother, but on the need to avenge his father’s death. Although Hamlet is the only one who hears the ghost talk, others experience the sight. This proves that he does not subconsciously create the hallucination in order to rid his mother of her new lover. Once learning that his father was murdered, and that no one witnessed his death, Hamlet feels compelled to punish the killer. Even though the murderer is his mother’s new husband, Hamlet acts to avenge his father’s death, not out of jealousy for his mother’s partner. Hamlet is very angry with Gertrude, his mother, for marrying so soon after her first husband’s death. His fury is based solely on his mother’s rapid wedding and the person whom she wed, not on Hamlet’s sexual desires towards his mother. Although Hamlet may love his mother, his actions of revenge are based on his need to avenge Old Hamlet’s untimely death.

The Oedipus Complex is a “universal law” which suggests that all boys become their mother’s lover in dreams. “Freud believed that in the phallic stage of development, every boy becomes his mother’s lover in his dreams”(1).This may cause them to try to rid their mother of her lover out of jealousy. In Hamlet’s case, his revenge is not based on his sexual desires towards his mother but on his need to punish his father’s killer. Old Hamlet’s spirit, which was seen by Horatio, Bernardo and Marcellus even before gaining access to Hamlet, is not a figment of Hamlet’s imagination. Hamlet did not subconsciously create the spirit as a means of creating a reason to …

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…loyal son’s revenge.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Adelman, Janet. Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare’s plays, ‘Hamlet’ to ‘The Tempest’. London and New York: Routledge. 1992.

Guerin, Wilfred L., Earle Labor, Lee Morgan, Jeanne C. Reeseman, and John R. Willingham. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Heilman, Robert B. “The Role We Give Shakespeare.” Essays on Shakespeare. Ed. Gerald Chapman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965.

Pitt, Angela. “Women in Shakespeare’s Tragedies.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Shakespeare’s Women. N.p.: n.p., 1981.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. The Riverside Shakespeare. ED. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Haughton Mifflin Company, 1974.

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