Who does the line, "Something is rotten in the State of Denmark," (Act I, Scene iv) refer to and who says it?
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Marcellus says this. He is one of the guards on duty when the ghost of young Hamlet's father, King Hamlet, appears. He means that there are strange and evil events occurring. He has seen the ghost of the former king, who died under mysterious circumstances, Prince Hamlet is going to speak to the ghost which has beckoned him despite the warnings from the others not to do so, and he has learned from Horatio that the country is preparing itself for war - so he sees many things going on that are not good. Unknown to him and to the audience at this point is the irony of that statement. Something is definitely rotten, or evil, in Denmark and that something is Claudius. He killed his own brother because of his ambition and his desire for his brother's wife.
Shakespeare sets up the entire theme for this play in the quote by Marcellus, for the Ghost is first seen by the watchmen. This becomes an interesting point further in the play as the Ghost is, obviously, not only a figment of Hamlet's imagination but also an entity seen by others outside the royal house. Also, there is much "rotten in the State of Denmark" besides the murder of King Hamlet by his brother. Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, has wedded and bedded Claudius when the King is "but two months dead!" Hamlet then is forced to deal with his father's murder and what he believes is his mother's adultery!
At the close of the play, the 'rottenness' in Denmark leads to the demise of all the Royals and the end of the royal lineage.
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