This Winter We Have Likely All Became Quite Familiar With

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This winter we have likely all became quite familiar with disease. In Shakespeare’s time, everyone certainly was. It was a significant part of life and it held significant symbolic value. Shakespeare made the most out of the motif of a physical disease or deterioration to address moral failures of the characters within the play. Much like a disease, moral corruption, and references to disease, spreads throughout the court of Denmark until it is at last purged with violence.
Just as a disease starts with a single infection, the evil deeds in Hamlet start from a single seed, and from this seed, “things rank and gross in nature” grow. Shakespeare uses the motif of disease and rot to illustrate this. It starts with a single immoral act,
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They agree to help Claudius, thereby “catching” the moral disease. Although their “symptoms” don’t manifest themselves until later in the act on 2.2.326 when Hamlet describes his surroundings, likely including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in his description, as “a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours”. Just in the same way, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a foul air about them as they have been recruited into the corrupt plot of Claudius. However, just two more isn’t enough, Claudius needs more involved in his scheme so he sees an opportunity in Polonius. With the innocent intentions of trying to determine the source of Hamlet’s seeming madness. He approaches the new King, Claudius and Queen with an offer to help spy on Hamlet. Although Polonius had no bad intentions, he was now in league with the Claudius, the original perpetrator of the moral disease, and therefore open to infection. Shortly after this agreement was made, Hamlet enters and is accosted by Polonius. As soon as it becomes apparent that Hamlet recognises Polonius, he mentions maggots in a dead dog, and carrion(2.2.197). Although not explicitly disease ridden, carrion is typically rotting. In a similar way Polonius doesn’t explicitly have bad intentions for Hamlet but his actions do benefit Claudius and his rotten plot. So much like a contagion spreads to new hosts, this moral corruption, and mentions of physical corruption have spread from Claudius to Polonius. Hamlet’s

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