This line spoken by Marcellus (and not Hamlet as is commonly believed) is one of the most recognizable lines in all of Shakespeare's works. Despite its fame, this line is left out of some productions of the play╣.
The quote in context
Shortly before midnight, Hamlet meets Horatio on the battlements of the castle. They wait together in the darkness. From below they hear the sound of the men in the castle laughing and dancing riotously; the King draining his "draughts of Rhenish down" (10). Hamlet explains to Horatio his dislike of such behaviour. To Hamlet, drinking to excess has ruined the whole nation, which is known abroad as a land full of drunken swine.
Horatio spots the Ghost of Hamlet's father approaching. Hamlet calls out to the Ghost and it beckons Hamlet to leave with it.
Despite the pleadings of Horatio and Marcellus, who are afraid that the apparition might be an evil entity in disguise, Hamlet agrees to follow the Ghost and the two figures disappear into the dark.
Marcellus, shaken by the many recent disturbing events and no doubt angered (as is Hamlet) by Claudius's mismanagement of the body politic, astutely notes that Denmark is festering with moral and political corruption. Horatio replies "Heaven will direct it" (91), meaning heaven will guide the state of Denmark to health and stability.
Friends of my soul, you twain
Rule in this realm, and the gored state sustain.
╣ In one production of Hamlet, starring the famous actor David Garrick in the title role, the audience "did not hear 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark'; instead the scene ended with Hamlet following the Ghost offstage, a "strong" ending which no doubt regularly produced the desired effect" (Mills 38).
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare Quick Quotes: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com//quickquotes/quickquotehamletdenmark.html >.
Mills, John A. Hamlet on Stage. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985.
Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.
- Hamlet (1.1.42), Marcellus
Why is it more fitting that a scholar speak to the Ghost? As a scholar, Horatio would have a firm understanding of Latin, the language in which the exorcising of spirits would have been performed. Marcellus hopes that Horatio will have the proper Latin formulae to rid them of the spirit if it proves evil. Shakespeare uses the idea again in a hilarious scene in Much Ado About Nothing, when Benedick, complaining about Beatrice, laments, "I would to God some scholar would conjure her." (2.1.233)
Disease Imagery in Hamlet ... In Hamlet Shakespeare weaves the dominant motif of disease into every scene to illustrate the corrupt state of Denmark and Hamlet's all-consuming pessimism. To Hamlet the very air he breathes is "a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours." Images of ulcers, pleurisy, full body pustules, apoplexy, and madness reinforce the concrete sins of drunkenness, espionage, war, adultery, and most significantly, murder. Read on...
Fast Fact ... The first quarto of Hamlet was published by London booksellers Nicholas Ling and John Trundell. Four more quarto versions followed, and the play was also included in the First Folio of 1623. Please click here to learn more about the Bad Quarto of Hamlet.
Did You Know? ... Hamlet contains more disease imagery than any other play, followed by Troilus and Cressida. The imagery in Troilus and Cressida is less subtle. An example can be found in Thersites' conversation with Patroclus:
Now, the rotten diseases
of the south, the guts-griping, ruptures, catarrhs,
loads o' gravel i' the back, lethargies, cold
palsies, raw eyes, dirt-rotten livers, wheezing
lungs, bladders full of imposthume, sciaticas,
limekilns i' the palm, incurable bone-ache, and the
rivelled fee-simple of the tetter, take and take
again such preposterous discoveries! (5.1.17-24)