Hamlet | English | Virginia Union University

Hamlet Writing Assignment

Fully discuss one of the following quotations from Act One of Hamlet.  These are compact statements which each help us isolate and begin to see a pattern of theme in the play.  See how much you can tie them in to subsequent lines and speeches and events to get an overall idea of what this theme means.

1 – “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” (I.v.100)

            This theme is what I call variously rot, stink, corruption or disease.  In Sophocles great play, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus is crowned king of Thebes, and a plague almost immediately begins to sicken the city.  The ancient Greeks, and the Elizabethan English, for that matter, believed that when things were not right at the top, when the wrong person was king, when something unnatural was going on, the entire kingdom suffered.  Oedipus is crowned as a reward for killing the Sphinx, which had been terrorizing the city, but when he marries the Queen, she is, unbeknownst to him, his mother; this would be the unnatural relationship in the royal family causing the plague.  While there is no physical disease plaguing Hamlet’s Denmark, there are many references to a diseased society, the roots of which may be, in Hamlet’s view, at least, the unnatural marriage at the top.  He, and other characters often use imagery associated with disease, boils, impostumes, etc.  Find other examples and discuss as fully as you can.

2 – “…springes to catch woodcocks.” (I.iii.124)

            Another predominant them in Hamlet is one I refer to as trapping, or tricking, or spying, or eavesdropping, etc.  Polonius uses the above phrase in his Act 1 conversation with Ophelia, but many characters refer to tricks and traps and their various strategies throughout the play, and the biggest trap of all is the one sprung by Fortinbras at the very end.  Find other examples of this and discuss.

3 – “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world.” (I.ii.137-38)

                Hamlet is depressed.  Discuss why that is, and how he expresses it throughout.  Does his “antic disposition” become part of his character?  How does this death of his father and his mother’s rapid remarriage contribute to this?  Find other quotations to help in your discussion.

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