Symbolic And Literal Meaning Of Poison In Shakespeare’s Hamlet

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William Shakespeare was a famous playwright who used plays and poems to talk about different societal phenomena. In Hamlet, he tries to show how the ambition and desire of seeking justice cause the tragic deaths of characters. In the play, Shakespeare’s use of poison is both symbolic and literal throughout the plot. As an object, poison is used to kill some of the characters in the play, while a symbol shows how moral vices destroy the lives of the royal family.

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The Hamlet story is set in medieval Denmark, where power struggles and revenge are the constant attributes in the characters’ lives. The use of poison as a tool occurs in Act 1 scene 5, where a ghost of his father tells Hamlet that Claudius killed him by putting poison in his ear. In the Act, we learn that this was a revelation of how Claudius’ rule would poison the kingdom and order of Denmark. Shakespeare uses this scene to reveal how Claudius’ rule would be by manipulation. Moreover, the revelation of his father’s ghost will also change Hamlet’s thoughts because he understands how dangerous Claudius is.

Claudius’ evilness and corruptions extend in the play through the metaphor of poison. Claudius wants to kill Hamlet just like his father, with poison, and therefore invites him to a friendly fencing match with Laertes. Claudius is cunning in every way, ensuring that he has lased the sword so that if Hamlet is cut with it, he will die. His wickedness has corrupted him into setting up another poison trap if Hamlet is the victor in the fencing duel by poisoning the wine cup that he plans to hand Hamlet after the match. However, things do not go as planned because Gertrude gets to drink the poisoned wine, and Claudius could not stop her.

Laertes, during the duel, cuts Hamlet with the poisoned sword, and after the poison enters him, he realizes that he has been poisoned and exclaims. His shock remark was towards Claudius’ evil deeds that would corrupt him to poison another person because of greed. The greed that the royal family has toward the throne becomes their demise. Hamlet realizing, he would die soon, kills both Claudius and Laertes using the poison-laced sword, and finally, he collapses and dies. Shakespeare’s use of poison in this passage is both metaphorical and literal because the poison, which is greed, corruption, and evil, is the reason the whole royal family dies.

The metaphorical use of poison is evident with the play’s central character Hamlet. He is poisoned by the news that Claudius killed his father, filling him with the burning desire of vengeance towards him. His actions are also manipulative because his quest to avenge his father blinds him into rejecting Ophelia. After Hamlet kills her father, she has no foundation to keep her from insanity, which happens, and eventually, she dies. The ‘poison’ that Hamlet has in his heart does not allow him to consider other people’s lives when weighed against his own. His ordering the death of his childhood friends Guildenstern and Rosencrantz to save his own life shows how the obsession of vengeance has poisoned Hamlet.

Claudius is a wicked man whose interaction with other characters leads to their death. He evil ways are the reason why there is so much ‘poison’ in the form of manipulation and poisoning of the mind. Claudius brings death to himself and the entire kingdom because his devious plans lead to the death of Gertrude, Laertes, and Hamlet. Others and more characters like Hamlet’s father are the victims of Claudius’ greed, desire for power, and manipulation. Shakespeare used the play to show how selfish pursuits can cause the fall of an entire kingdom.

Works Cited

  1. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Floating Press, 2008.
01 February 2021

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