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These are the words of Marcellus (Act 1, scene 4, line 100) after Hamlet has gone off in pursuit of the ghost, apparently the shade of his father. At this point in the story Hamlet wasn’t sure who the ghost was or what he had come for, but within moments the ghost would claim to be his father and would ask Hamlet to revenge his death at the hands of his brother the new king. “Murder most foul…by a brother’s hand of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatched.’ Act 1, Scene 2 , line !83) ‘The serpent that did sting thy father’s life no wears his crown (Act 1 Scene 2 line 148)The words of the officer presumably refer to the corruption at a court where a king could be poisoned and deposed by his own brother, something that courtiers may well have suspected. And where a murderer who within weeks, less than two months, had married the former queen, Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, and still no one did anything.In this same scene Hamlet promised his father swift revenge – lines 135,136 ‘Haste me to know’t that I, wings as swift  as mediation or the thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge.’ However the rest of the play is concerned almost entirely with his failure to do so – he wants to do so, but is concerned about his own salvation, and when he finally does kill the murdering king Claudius it is using the poison that Claudius had prepared rather than by any plan of his own.Marcellus’s words were true of a court where many must have suspected the truth, but did nothing about the regicide/fratricide. But the words were also to some part prophetic of Hamlet himself. In 1900 Sigmund Freud wrote ‘Hamlet is able to do anything -except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father and took that father’s place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realize.” Hamlet is horrified by what has happened, but now Claudius was his father figure and his mother was married to him – Freud saw it as an almost perfect example of the Oedipus complex – wanting to kill one’s father, because of love for the mother. Yet, though he is expected to accept Claudius as his step father, at the same time he sees the wedding as not only hasty but incestuous. Hamlet says, “O most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” (.Act 1, Scene 2 ,line 157). Yet he doesn’t openly condemn them. His secret thoughts on the subject are kept for the audience in his soliloquies..At the time the play was written ghost’s were generally believed to be evil spirits and Hamlet would have been expected to share this belief – his words in Act 2 Scene 2 line 569 are ‘’the spirit that I have seen may be a devil. I’ll have grounds more relative than this,’ which is why he arranged the fratricidal play, which parallels what seems to have occurred and which seemed to expose Claudius as guilty. Yet he goes after the ghost.Another way in which the words of the officer could be interpreted  are as  referring to a court where people in mourning attend a wedding.  In Act 1, scene 2 Claudius explains to the court how he mourns his brother, but has chosen to balance this with the  joy of a wedding. This isn’t a normal way of going about things, and Hamlet continues to wear his black mourning clothes despite the pleas of his mother. Act 1 scene 2, line 68 ‘Good hamlet cast thy knighted colour off, and let thine eye look like a friend of Denmark’ i.e. support the new king and situation – your father is dead, but get over it.The words ‘rotten in the state of Denmark’ may be taken to be referring to Hamlet as Denmark, in that he is of the royal line of that country. Soon he would take on the persona of a mad man, an d he certainly becomes very disturbed in his mind, contemplating suicide even, so again the words could be said to be prophetic.The play is about indecision – is the ghost who he appears to be? Did this crime, without witnesses really occur? Claudius is not the usual stage villain. He is never sen on stage as performing an evil act – in fact Hamlet, having later decided to stab him finds him at prayer. Gertrude obviously loves her new husband. Was she in on the plot? What were her motives for remarrying so quickly? So many unanswered questions.This play was written in the final years of Elizabeth – a queen who had her own cousin executed in order to protect her throne. Soon her cousin’s child would be crowned king of England. Shakespeare was a secret Catholic, a religion he shared with the executed Mary, Queen of Scots. He could not openly defend the Catholic cause, but is there a possibility that he is hinting at where his loyalties would lie. The plays early scenes explore the idea of the turmoil that transfer of power because of the death of a head of state could bring. The majority of the play goers would remember no other ruler than Elizabeth. She represented stability to them. The play was first performed in about 1600 according to Riley and McAllister, Elizabeth being at this time 67 years old. She would be dead within three years and her heir was unknown to these people. But those who did not remember would still have known their history – they would have known about the terrible things that had happened in the cause of obtaining and keeping a throne. They must have wondered and worried about what would happen. Yet they were hopeless to bring about change, just as were the courtiers of Denmark, and Hamlet in particular. The ghost urges revenge, but the message of the play is that revenge helps no one and the innocent will suffer – as did Ophelia.BibliographyRiley,D. and McAlister,P. The Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Shakespeare.Continum, New York 2001.Shakespeare, W. The Complete Works, Spring Books, Middlesex, 1968

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