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Discuss physical corruption in Hamlet.I'm having trouble showing examples of physical...

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naru49mano | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 23, 2011 at 9:19 AM via web

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Discuss physical corruption in Hamlet.

I'm having trouble showing examples of physical corruption. Can anyone give me examples? I need it for an essay ASAP!

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Shakespeare uses Hamlet to portray the statement that physical corruption is a part of life. Everything is in the process of decay and nothing will remain forever. Hamlet hits this realization in act five scene one when looking upon Yorick’s skull. He speaks to Horatio of Yorick’s colourful life, filled with joy and merriment and the stark contrast of what he is now – anything but merry.  Hamlet constant brooding about death and morality (“’to be or not to be’ soliloquy”) reaches a conclusion when looking at Yorick’s skull – a physical reminder of the finality of death. He compares the jester’s condition to Alexander the Great who both meet the same end and become nothing but dirt and understand this end is inevitable.This revelation echoes the theme “memento mori” – remember thy death, reminding the readers that all humans meet the same fate in death portraying physical corruption.

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susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted July 24, 2011 at 9:17 PM (Answer #1)

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Your answer regarding physical corruption as portrayed in Shakespeare's Hamlet is quite good.  Your example regarding Yorick's skull is particularly appropriate since it is a physical manisfestation of the effects of death.  Until this point, Hamlet has been mostly concerned about the afterlife and the spiritual effects of death, concerns that are expressed most notably in his "To be or not to be" soliloquy, as you noted.  Further, as you noted, Hamlet's musings about Yorick portray death as the great equalizer, that even Alexander the Great's body in its decay can wind up as a plug for a beer barrel.

In this scene, Hamlet develops more thoroughly the ideas that he touched upon in Act 4, scene 3 when he described the way a "king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar."  After killing Polonius, Hamlet was interrogated by Claudius.  Hamlet's replies show another aspect of physical decay and corruption when he glibly mentioned the smell of Polonius' dead body and the fact that worms will soon be eating his body.

Another way to approach your topic of physical corruption is to examine the fates of the characters who die in the final act of the play.  The amount of poison each receives seems to be a physical representation of the inner corruption.  For instance, Claudius receives a double dose of poison, from the cup and from the sword.  Clearly he is the most corrupt of all the characters.

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teachersyl | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted July 25, 2011 at 10:17 AM (Answer #2)

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You can also talk about the effects of the poison in the final scene as physical decay. A poison destroys from the inside out, and Gertrude and Laertes (both of whom were morally poisoned by Claudius' scheming) were destroyed by the poison.

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