Something Rotten in the State of Denmark

In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the words “Something is rotten in the state
of Denmark.” (I.iv.90) were spoken by Marcellous shortly after Hamlet leaves to follow a
ghost. Marcellous and Horatio both feel that Hamlet should not be left alone with the
ghost. Even though Hamlet directed them not to follow him, Marcellous feels that it
wouldn’t be right if they didn’t follow him because “Something is rotten in the state of
Denmark.” (I.iv.90) When examined, that statement can refer to many of things about
the ruling class that are rotten in the state of Denmark
One idea of the rottenness is the marriage between Hamlet’s uncle Claudius and
his mother Gertrude. Many consider the marriage almost incestuous, and Claudius feels
he must justify it by stating that he had the approval of the courtiers and that the marriage
was in the best interest of Denmark. The marriage is also suspiciously corrupt because it
took place only two months after the death of King Hamlet. Those circumstances cause
Hamlet to become extremely upset at his mother for her apparent lack of mourning and
helps support the idea of foul play King Hamlet’s death.
Another example of the rottenness in Denmark is King Hamlet’s death. Unknown
to the people of Denmark, it was Claudius who killed King Hamlet, and stole his crown
and his wife. Claudius had won the love of Gertrude and then murdered the King by
pouring the poisonous "juice of cursed hebona"(I.v.63) into his ear. This poison invaded
his defenseless body and "swift as quicksilver it courses through / The natural gates and
alleys of the body."(I.v.67) In a sense the poison used by Claudius spreads throughout
the entire country of Denmark.
Rottenness in Denmark is also seen in the ghost of King Hamlet. Just the sign of
a walking ghost is a bad omen in itself, a sign that something rotten will or has taken
place. The ghost has come to inform Hamlet that King Hamlet was murdered by
Claudius, who deprived him of a last opportunity to confess his sins. King Hamlet tells
the prince because of this he is doomed to spend his days within the purgatorial fires of
his prison and roam at nights. The ghost then calls upon Hamlet to avenge the murder.
Hamlet swears that he will, which will eventually lead to the total decay of him and his
Many things are rotten in the state of Denmark, and images of decay, corruption,
and rottenness are common throughout the first act. In this act, most of the corruption
has originated from the royalty, and the royalty is directly connected to well being of the
state of Denmark. In that sense, the royalty resembles what Hamlet calls “ unweeded
garden / that grows to seed,”(I.ii.135) because in an unweeded garden the weeds will
eventually kill and corrupt the once healthy plants. In the 1st act of the play, the rotten
royalty is set on a course that will eventually spoil the whole country and bring it to ruins.