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Shakespeare Quick Quotes

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Hamlet (1.4), Marcellus to Horatio
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.

For more please see the commentary for I am sick at heart (1.1.8).
Compare Marcellus' line to King Lear (5.3.377):

Friends of my soul, you twain
Rule in this realm, and the gored state sustain.


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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 >.


References
Mills, John A. Hamlet on Stage. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985.

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More Resources

 Five Classic Solutions of the Hamlet Problem
 Philological Examination Questions on Hamlet
 Quotations from Hamlet (with commentary)
 Hamlet Study Quiz (with detailed answers)
 Hamlet: Q & A

 Hamlet's Humor: The Wit of Shakespeare's Prince of Denmark
 All About Yorick
 Hamlet's Melancholy: The Transformation of the Prince
 Hamlet's Antic Disposition: Is Hamlet's Madness Real?

 The Significance of the Ghost in Armor
 The Significance of Ophelia's Flowers
 Ophelia and Laertes
 Mistrusted Love: Ophelia and Polonius

 Divine Providence in Hamlet
 What is Tragic Irony?
 Seneca's Tragedies and the Elizabethan Drama
 Shakespeare's Sources for Hamlet

 Characteristics of Elizabethan Tragedy
 Why Shakespeare is so Important
 Shakespeare's Language
 Shakespeare's Influence on Other Writers
 Games in Shakespeare's England [A-L]
 Games in Shakespeare's England [M-Z]
 An Elizabethan Christmas
 Clothing in Elizabethan England

 Queen Elizabeth: Shakespeare's Patron
 King James I of England: Shakespeare's Patron
 The Earl of Southampton: Shakespeare's Patron
 Going to a Play in Elizabethan London

 Ben Jonson and the Decline of the Drama
 Publishing in Elizabethan England
 Shakespeare's Audience
 Religion in Shakespeare's England

 Alchemy and Astrology in Shakespeare's Day
 Entertainment in Elizabethan England
 London's First Public Playhouse
 Shakespeare Hits the Big Time

More Quick Quotes

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)

More to Explore

 Hamlet: The Complete Play with Explanatory Notes
 Introduction to Hamlet
 The Hamlet and Ophelia Subplot
 The Norway Subplot in Hamlet

 Analysis of the Characters in Hamlet
 Hamlet Plot Summary with Key Passages
 Deception in Hamlet
 Hamlet: Problem Play and Revenge Tragedy

 The Purpose of The Murder of Gonzago
 The Dumb-Show: Why Hamlet Reveals his Knowledge to Claudius
 The Elder Hamlet: The Kingship of Hamlet's Father
 Hamlet's Relationship with the Ghost

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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...

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 Soliloquy Analysis: O this too too... (1.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!... (2.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: To be, or not to be... (3.1)
 Soliloquy Analysis: Tis now the very witching time of night... (3.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: Now might I do it pat... (3.3)
 Soliloquy Analysis: How all occasions do inform against me... (4.4)

 Ophelia's Burial and Christian Rituals
 The Baker's Daughter: Ophelia's Nursery Rhymes
 Hamlet as National Hero
 Claudius and the Condition of Denmark

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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.

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 In Secret Conference: The Meeting Between Claudius and Laertes
 O Jephthah - Toying with Polonius
 The Death of Polonius and its Impact on Hamlet's Character
 Blank Verse and Diction in Shakespeare's Hamlet

 Hamlet's Silence
 An Excuse for Doing Nothing: Hamlet's Delay
 Foul Deeds Will Rise: Hamlet and Divine Justice
 Defending Claudius - The Charges Against the King
 Shakespeare's Fools: The Grave-Diggers in Hamlet

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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)

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