Corruption is a key theme in this play, particularly focused on the way that the nervous transition from one ruler to the next creates a sense of unhealthy disease in the royal family and the state as a whole. It is no accident that one of the most well-remembered lines...
Corruption is a key theme in this play, particularly focused on the way that the nervous transition from one ruler to the next creates a sense of unhealthy disease in the royal family and the state as a whole. It is no accident that one of the most well-remembered lines from this play is "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." This line, said by Marcellus in Act I scene 4, links the presence of the ghost to some sort of corruption at the very core of Denmark as a country. Repeatedly characters in this play make links between the state of health of the nation and the legitimacy of its ruler, and Denmark is often compared to a body that is in a diseased state thanks to what Claudius and Gertrude have done. There is an implicit contrast between the former King Hamlet as a good, legitimate ruler, under whose care Denmark as a country flourished, and then the political and corrupt Claudius, under whose care Denmark declines. This is something that time is used to convey as this impression of "something rotten" being at the heart of Denmark intensifies as the play advances. In addition, the repeated references that Hamlet makes to his mother's relationship to her brother-in-law/husband also indicate the moral corruption of her actions:
Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty,—
This reaches a climax in Act IV where Hamlet significantly accuses Gertrude of sexual corruption in her very bed chamber, which is of course an excellent use of place by Shakespeare to accuse her, as this is the precise setting where her "crimes" occur. Time and space in this play are therefore used by Shakespeare to develop the theme of corruption through both an intensifying of how corrupt Denmark is through the morally illegitimate reign of Claudius, and also the moral corruption of Gertrude herself in marrying Claudius so soon after her first husband's death.