Why does Hamlet refer to Denmark as a "prison" in Act 2, Scene 2?

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In act two, scene two, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern surprise Hamlet, who seems pleased to see them. After their initial introductions, Hamlet asks why they have visited a prison. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern respond by saying that they do not think Denmark is a prison and Hamlet replies that his home country is indeed a large prison with many cells and dungeons. Hamlet's negative view of Denmark reflects his terrible situation.

Hamlet essentially views Denmark as a prison where Claudius is the warden because he is alienated, afraid, and worried. Hamlet believes that Claudius assassinated his father and is both disgusted and angry that his mother married his murderous uncle. Other than Horatio, Hamlet feels like he has no allies and is not allowed to return to the University in Wittenberg. Hamlet is also under Claudius's constant supervision as Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern continually spy on him. In addition to being confined at Elsinore, Hamlet also fears for his own well-being and must constantly disguise his emotions. The feelings of fear and Hamlet's need to hide his emotions reflect the condition and mindset of a prisoner. Overall, Hamlet feels like a prisoner in Denmark because he is alienated, fearful, and under the king's constant supervision.

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Hamlet is in a position where everyone is wary of him. He has had people looking at his every move. He feels as if in a fishbowl where anyone can take a go at him, and maybe even betray him. He is alone, he feels isolated, and he is not enjoying the most simpler joys of freedom, specifically, the freedom of being himself. In other words, he feels as if his life, reputation, secrets, and privacy are at the mercy of one entire country, hence, he must feel trapped in a wide-open space.

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