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"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" is spoken by Marcellus at the beginning of the play. He is responding to the appearance of the ghost and also the preparations for war against Norway that he sees occurring. At this point, the audience is unaware that the new king, Claudius, poisoned his brother, the old king. The audience also is aware that Claudius has just married his brother's widow, who happens to be Hamnlet's mother. This would have been considered incest by Elizabethab audiences. Although it is the ghost's appearance that prompts the remark that something is rotten, the line has greater meaning as the play progresses. Hamlet goes on a search for revenge against Claudius, Claudius responds by plotting to kill Hamlet. This all occurs against a background of intrigue by Fortinbras, who is also plotting revenge against Denmark for the loss of Norwegian territory during the reign of Hamlet's father.
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