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Paul Calfo
Dr. Curran
ENGL 4331
Combatting Corruption
Within Shakespeares Hamlet is a recurrent theme of corruption in
contrast to normality. Although Hamlet returns to Elsinore Castle unknowing
of the events that have occurred, it soon becomes clear to Hamlet that he is
the only person in Denmark who finds the states new condition peculiar. In
order to fight the corruption that has plagued the throne, he dons his suit of
literary armor and utilizes his cunning intellectual abilities in an effort to
manipulate those who seek to destroy him. In Act 1, Scene 2, Hamlet recites
a soliloquy that reveals he is discontented with the new tainted state of
Denmark, and he intends on doing whatever possible to correct both
Denmarks newly corrupted status and the wrongful death of his father
without compromising his own sanity. Furthermore, in Act 1, Scene 2, the
ghost of Hamlets father tells him the truth of his own death, which creates
the struggle Hamlet has with madness. After closely reading Hamlets
soliloquy, one may be able to discern that this famous speech follows a
distinct form: Hamlet speaks on the thought of suicide, despairs on suicide
by thinking about the fact that his mother married his uncle less than one
month after his fathers death, further expands on the fact that his mother

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remarried with his uncle so quickly, and maintains a theme of contamination,

taint, and corruption throughout all 31 lines of the soliloquy. Hamlets
soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 2, reveals that Hamlet is deeply troubled by the
contamination and corruption that have gripped Denmark, and he seeks to
purify Denmark in order for his old life of normality to return. Therefore,
Hamlets soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 2, reveals the abundant threat of
corruption to Denmark and the threat of this corruption to terminate
Hamlets very identity and sense of self.
First, when Hamlet delivers this soliloquy, his textual silence is broken,
and because of the lack of trust he holds for his surroundings, he uses his
language to free himself and rebuff the corruption he finds to be
omnipresent. Using language as a weapon to cut the bonds of restriction that
Claudius has placed reveals not only Hamlets intellectual capacity, but also
his desire to break free of Claudius new rule of Denmark. As such, Hamlets
complex syntax, word choice, and literary language in Act 1, Scene 2 reflect the
corruption he finds to be omnipresent within Denmarks political structure. After

obsessing over possible suicide, as well as soiled and dying things because
the life he once knew, one of purity and order, is gone, Hamlet begins a
movement within the soliloquy that focuses on the corruption he seeks to
Similar to Hamlets to be or not to be soliloquy, this monologue
begins with Hamlet contemplating suicide because of the emptiness he has
discovered in his new life. The first words of Hamlets speech are the

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following: Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, / Thaw, and resolve
itself into a dew, / Or that the Everlasting had not fixed / His canon gainst
self-slaughter! O God, God! (01.02.129-132) The implications of this
passage are very telling; clearly, Hamlet wishes that he himself would
melt, only to turn into a dewy vapor, the state of vapor being attainable
only after one has perished. Further, if it was not against religious law, or
canon, to commit suicide, Hamlet implies that he would perform suicide, or
as he puts it, self-slaughter. As such, Hamlet has resigned to a state of
misery, which seems only to be salvageable by ending the very corrupted life
he wishes melted. Hamlets contemplation of suicide is not a new or unique
threat to his agency, either. Suicide as an action is not an isolated thought
restricted to this one soliloquy, as his famous To be or not to be soliloquy
can demonstrate just less than two acts later in Act 3, Scene 1. Therefore the
newfound corruption in Denmark and Hamlets family, both of which
constitute his identity, becomes a threat to his agency and very state of life
throughout the whole of the play.
Hamlet follows this introduction of suicide in the soliloquy with explicit
thoughts of abundant corruption. He thinks about how stale life is now that
his father has been wrongfully slain, and how all that he knew about life
before he returned to Denmark is either gone or tainted. Hamlets current
state of identity is one of a futile attempt to regain agency because all of
what he once knew is no more. In succeeding lines, Hamlet calls Denmark an
unweeded garden / That grows to seed. (01.02.135-136) Referring to an

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unweeded garden reveals Hamlets belief that with his fathers death,
Denmark became an unweeded garden as opposed to a well-groomed
garden which has no weeds. This is especially interesting because Hamlet is
a descendant of royal blood, so the castle he lives in, the bastion of
Denmarks very identity, cannot even have groomed gardens (even if the
gardens are physically groomed, Denmark is full of weeds). The reader is
prompted to analyze what the potential weeds could be: Claudius murder of
the rightful king, Gertrudes hasty choice to marry Denmarks usurper, his
friends betrayal, incest, etc. Furthermore, this garden grows to seed,
which means that it grows to reseed itself into unending corruption and
failure to grow productively in the future, demonstrating that Hamlet both
cares about avenging his father and the goodness of Denmark. The fact that
Hamlet follows this by claiming that the rank and gross things in nature
possess this unweeded garden also carries with it implications of corruption.
These implications reveal that nature is an arbiter of purity, because pure
gardens are manifested by plants, animals, trees, etc. all things that are
naturally and orderly occurring on earth. Similar to an unweeded garden
being overtaken by impure plants such as weeds, Claudius has tilled this
unweeded garden, replacing what was pure and natural before (Denmark
representing a stable, beautiful garden) with complication, a usurped thrown,
and the corrupted punitive factors resulting from a murder which should not
have justly occurred. Had Claudius not murdered King Hamlet, Denmark
would have continued to be the beautiful and pure garden that it was before.

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Following the garden metaphor is Hamlets reference to Greek

mythology, another expression of the corruption that Hamlet sees in his
country. After saying that Hamlets mother waited not only two months to
remarry another King, Hamlet states, So excellent a King, that was to this /
Hyperion to a satyr. (01.02.140-141) Here, Hamlet articulates that his dead
father, King Hamlet, was a mighty and grand king, comparing the dead King
Hamlet to the titan children of Gaia, which was a symbol for Earth, and
Uranus, which was a symbol for the skies and heavens. Clearly, the dead
King Hamlet was a pure being representing the same characteristics of
Hyperion, including the sanctity of nature and the very Earth itself. In
contrast to Hyperion, Hamlet claims that Claudius is comparable to a satyr.
Satyrs are also Greek, but aside from this sole comparison, satyrs were
unattractive, impure, and savage creatures that were manifested by bestial
components. Satyrs were a combination of human and horse, or human and
goat, meaning that satyrs were a half-pure man and half-corrupted man
(having bestial morphology or bodily aspects). Incidentally, according to
Greek mythology, Hyperion was overthrown by the Olympians, similar to how
King Hamlet was overthrown by Claudius. Therefore, by making King Hamlet
a powerful and excellent Greek god-king, and Claudius a bestially corrupted
substitute for a man, Hamlet shows the corruption of Denmark in a new light
of humiliation and fraud.
After this comparison, Hamlet shifts his focus to the warped procession
of Gertrude and Claudius hasty and incestuous marriage. Being that

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Gertrude and Claudius marriage occurs summarily after the death of

Hamlets father, the marriage becomes another sort of corruption that
Hamlet must fight with. Hamlet grapples with the fact that Gertrude, his
mother, would behave in a way with the former King Hamlet that displayed
constant need for his attention and a genuine love that seemed unending.
Hamlet says, Why, she would hang on him / As if increase of appetite had
grown / By what it fed on, and yet, within a month / Let me not think on t.
Frailty, thy name is woman! (01.02.144-147) Not even Hamlets
perception of his own mother is saved by corruption here. Hamlet believed
that his mother genuinely loved his father, a love that would increase the
more that it was expressed. However, now that his father is dead, Gertrudes
actions show how she has corrupted even Hamlets belief of her character.
Additionally, he then compares his mother to an animals, similar to how
Hamlet compared Claudius to a satyr. This shows how now, the marriage of
his mother and his uncle display thoughts of total corruption; not even his
two parents now are pure and genuine: Why she, even she- / O God, a beast
that wants discourse of reason / Would have mourned longer! (01.02.151153) Hamlet reveals here that even a beast which possesses no reason
(reason being a defining philosophical characteristic of humanity) would
have mourned longer than his human mother. Therefore not only is Hamlet
declaring that his mother is inhumane, and therefore corrupt of her very
humanity, but he is also saying that she is a beast. Supposedly this is

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reflective of his two new parental figures (as his old mother has
metaphorically perished along with King Hamlet) corrupt relationship.
Subsequently, in lines 158-164, Hamlet states that there was great
speed with which Gertrude hastily remarried with another King, corrupting
the sacred royal bond that the Queen has with her King. He states, Within a
month, / Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears / Had left the flushing in
her galled eyes, She married. (01.02.153-156) He continues to say, O,
most wicked speed, to post / With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
(01.02.156-157). In this passage, Hamlet is further expanding on the length
of time that his mother waited to remarry; she moved with such dexterity,
or ability to act rapidly, to the sheets that Hamlets father once laid in, that
now they are incestuous because of Claudius position in those same
sheets. Essentially, because Claudius now lays in the sheets that Hamlets
father once laid in, the sheets his mother sleeps in are corrupted,
highlighting that what Hamlet once knew before his fathers death has been
replaced by taint. The tone of these lines exposes Hamlets frustration within
the uncertainty of Denmarks current status. He claims that before the salt of
Gertrudes fake, mock tears had left her sore eyes, she had remarried.
The last two lines of this soliloquy reveal perhaps the most important
part of Hamlets internal struggle while residing in Elsinore: the inability to
act. Hamlets looming futility as a result of the corruption of Denmark is a
theme that is present throughout the length of the play, and it bothers him.
In the last two lines he says, It is not, nor it cannot come to good, / But

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break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue. (01.02.158-159) Essentially,

Hamlet is expressing that his status as prince and royalty do not matter.
Ironically, no matter what he wants to do to act on this issue, he either cant
find the courage to do it, or he wants to confirm that his father was murdered
by Claudius before he avenges his fathers death. Hamlets futility, silence,
and inability to act are seen throughout the length of the play, but in his
soliloquies Hamlet can speak freely, cutting the bonds that Elsinore has
placed upon him.
Conclusively, a close reading and analysis of this soliloquy illustrate the
depth and importance of Hamlets language in his fight with corruption. In
the sub-text, a reader can find an entirely new meaning in Hamlets words.
Although everyone in Elsinore Castle feels that the marriage between
Claudius and Gertrude is normal, Hamlet is the only character in the play
committed to seeking justice for his father. Hamlets initial misery and
discontent are easily observable in this soliloquy, and the recurrent themes
of incest and corruption are prominent as well. Although this is only one of
several soliloquys that can be found throughout the play, this one is
especially important because it is the first, which means that it is the first
time the audience of the play gets to hear what is inside Hamlets
multidimensional mind. This soliloquy sets the stage for the play, and gives
the audience an idea of what is to come in future acts: a battle between
Hamlet and the corrupt members of Denmarks new state.