What does the following quote mean from "Hamlet": "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark"?what does it mean?

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cybil eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Marcellus' remark reveals his concern that something is wrong, terribly wrong, in the state of affairs in Denmark. He makes his comment following a discussion about why there has been a sudden increase in the production of armament. What threat does Denmark face? Then the appearance of the Ghost also poses a problem. Why would the ghost of the old king be wandering? Nothing seems to be normal, and even Marcellus, who is just a guard, not a high official or officer, realizes this fact. 

His comment foreshadows Shakespeare's further use of disease imagery throughout the play. The main cause of the rottenness or "illness" in Denmark, of course, stems from the murder of old King Hamlet by his brother Claudius, who now wears the crown. Not until things are set right---and the civil order is restored---will this rottenness be gone. Hamlet will recognize the problem and know his task after he hears the Ghost direct him to seek revenge. "The time is out of joint. "O cursed spite/ That ever I was born to set it right!" the prince will say (1.2.196-197)

brandih eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote is also discussed on the eNotes free Shakespeare quotes section.  Please see the link below for more information.