The Theme of Corruption in Hamlet

January 24, 2022 by Essay Writer


The tragedy “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare is a timeless classic that is still popular today despite being written many centuries ago. The major topics of this tragedy are, treason, revenge, love, moral dilemma, and power. It is an illustration of the question of moral values and purpose of the human life. One of the main interrogation addressed in the play is the issue of corruption that is pictured on different levels and interpreted differently by the characters. In the play, corruption touches the antagonist Claudius, the protagonist Hamlet, and is even spread to the entire society of the Danish kingdom, which makes it one of the main and powerful theme in this piece.


The first important thing to mention is that even the purest characters of the tragedy cannot avoid corruption. The most complicated example of corruption is shown by Hamlet. His father is cruelly killed by his own brother (Claudius), and the prince has to choose between the violent revenge and forgiveness. The problem is that Claudius is already corrupted, therefore, for Hamlet, choosing the violent revenge means becoming similar to his uncle. However, he cannot forgive the death of his father. Hamlet’s famous interrogation “To be, or not to be – that is the question” (3.1.1749) relates to the issue of morals. He tries to decide what would be more immoral: allowing Claudius to get away with the murder or justice.


Another example of this theme is when Gertrude remarried shortly after her husband’s death, which is a kind of moral corruption that Hamlet strongly disapproves. His anger is portrayed in his first soliloquy; “Within a month, / Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears / Had left the flushing in her gallèd eyes, / She married. O most wicked speed, to post / With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” (1.2.154-158). This quote makes it obvious to the reader that Hamlet feels strong hatred towards Claudius and his mother. Their marriage was seen as too early, and inappropriate, especially since Claudius killed old Hamlet (his brother).


The image of Claudius is more complicated and toxic that it can appear. The reign of Claudius is seen as a prediction of the fall for the entire kingdom. With Claudius as the head of the country, the kingdom is destine to corruption. His ruling style is shown in the conspiracy with his loyal adviser Polonius, the person that does all the dirty work. He spies and reports everything to Claudius. The downfall of the kingdom is expressed when Marcellus says, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (1.4.728). The reigning style of Claudius is based on conspiracy, and can never lead to success. Additionally, the image of Claudius is ironically associated with the agent of corruption by comparison with the Sun: when Hamlet is asked what is wrong with him, he responds “Not so, my lord. I am too much I’ th’ sun” (1.2.269). The sun is known to be the agent of the physical corruption and decay of dead organisms, which may suggest that King Claudius has accelerated the decomposition of the people of Denmark. He compares himself to the sun which is beneficial for humans and is a symbol of power, yet he is not at all favorable for the people of Denmark.


To conclude everything mentioned above, corruption and immorality are the main themes in Shakespeare’s tragedy “Hamlet.” It is presented as something unavoidable for the kingdom under the reign of Claudius. Despite calling himself “The Sun,” he is only burning up justice and purity of the people of the Danish kingdom. Even the purest people turn out to fall back on his methods in the attempt to regain justice.

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