Rottenness in hamlet

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Universidad Central de Venezuela
Facultad de Humanidades y Educación
Escuela de Idiomas Modernos
English Culture III

Rottenness in Hamlet
(An essay on moral corruption)

Prof. Reygar Bernal

By Carla Sarco-lira

Caracas - June, 2010.
Corruption is as old as history itself. This issue is present in every society around the world. Maybe for that reason it has always been a populartheme in literature. In this essay, we will analize moral corruption in Hamlet; its imagery, causes and consequences, starting by Claudius and then referring to the other main characters as they are corrupted. To do this, we will understand corruption as the process of decay in which a person loses his values and principles and lets his lowest and dishonnorable emotions to take over the control ofhimself. It is the degradation of moral and virtue. In Hamlet there are other types of corruption involved such as mental and physical corruption, they will be subtly referred to in this essay when necessary, specially if they are vinculated –for being cause or consecuence- to the moral corruption of the character.

At the beginning of the play the character of Claudius is already very corrupted,since he killed King Hamlet in order to become the new King. Claudius did not respect his brother as a relative, and either as his king (James, 2003) Yet, since the only proof that Claudius is a murderer is the testimony of a ghost, the reader may not be very sure about whether Claudius is guilty or not. At least he cannot confirm it until act II. What is more evident from the very beginning isthat Claudius is somehow unmoral since he comes out of mourning very early. He wants to marry Gertrude two months after the King’s death. Although for us that relationship is not really incestuous –for Claudius is not really blood-related to Gertrude̶ it results a little shocking his rush regarding the marriage. Other examples or rottenness in Claudius are his attempts to turn everybody againstHamlet (Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Laertes, and so on), and also is plot to kill him. When his plan of sending Hamlet to his death in England failed, he proposed to Laertes the idea of the poison sword in the fencing match, taking advantage of Laerte’s rage, sorrow and desire of revenge.

Corruption in Hamlet starts with Claudius and then spreads all around progressively, reaching all thecharacters. Claudius’s treachery is a downward spiral for the rest (Schwartz, 2003). His actions, for example, fill Hamlet with rage, hate and thirsty for revenge. For that reason Hamlet plans to disconcert others. He does this by pretending to be mad; corrupting his behavior and his speeches. Hamlet eventually corrupts also his love to and his relationship with Ophelia, whom he rejects for consider thatshe is the corrupted one. Yet, he killed her father by accident and never regrets or feels sorry for it.

Another important figure in Hamlet’s corruption is his father. Hamlet is not a revenge-person. He belongs to the new system of justice and laws. Yet, his father pushes him into revenge. Anger, pain and his sense of loyalty and duty towards his father corrupt his nature. Although in thebeginning he debates largely whether to do what his father requested or not –to kill Claudius-, he finally decides to do it. Corruption is more slowly progressive in Hamlet than in any other character of the play.

Also, some courtiers are seduced by Claudius to conspire with him (Schwartz, 2003) such as Rosencrantz, Guildenstern. There are authors who speak about corruption in Polonius.Nevertheless, it is hard to state that he becomes corrupted within the play. It rather seems that, just as Claudius, Polonius was already rotten when he came into the play. The first time he appeared in Act I, he is saying goodbye to his son Laertes, who is leaving to England. He gives him and Ophelia, some advice on honor and good behavior. Nonetheless, in act II he asks Reynaldo to spy on Laertes. He...
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