Something is rotten in the state of Denmark
He waxes desperate with imagination.
Let's follow. 'Tis not fit thus to obey him.
Have after. To what issue will this come?
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Heaven will direct it.
Nay, let's follow him. [Exeunt.]
This is one time when the popular misquotation—"Something's
rotten in Denmark"—is a real improvement on the original. But you
ought to be careful around purists, who will also remember that the
minor character Marcellus, and not Hamlet, is the one who coins the
phrase. There's a reason he says "state of Denmark" rather than
just Denmark: the fish is rotting from the head down—all is not
well at the top of the political hierarchy.
There have been some hair-raising goings-on outside the castle
at Elsinore. As the terrified Horatio and Marcellus look on, the
ghost of the recently deceased king appears to Prince Hamlet. The
spirit beckons Hamlet offstage, and the frenzied prince follows
after, ordering the witnesses to stay put. They quickly decide to
tag along anyway—it's not "fit" to obey someone who is in such a
desperate state. In this confused exchange, Marcellus's famous non
sequitur sustains the foreboding mood of the disjointed and
mysterious action. And it reinforces the point and tone of some of
Hamlet's earlier remarks—for example, that Denmark is "an unweeded
garden" of "things rank and gross in nature" (Act 1, scene 2). When
his father's ghost tells him his chilling tale in scene 5, the
prince will realize just how rotten things really are in