An Analysis of Imagery in Hamlet

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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During the play Hamlet, Shakespeare cleverly and carefully constructs imagery that writhes in the reader’s mind and keeps them second guessing everything and taking nothing at face value. Nearly every character goes through at least one significant change throughout the story. At times, each character may seem pure and good and at other times, the same character is a corruptible, vengeful human being. Shakespeare repeatedly uses imagery of a poison creeping through Elsinore, infecting everyone, and also, images of painting, so nothing is as it seems.

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The careful combination of these two sets of imagery creates an aura of mystery that captivates the reader and fills them with intrigue.

Shakespeare starts his imagery of a diseased poison creeping through society early on, in Hamlet’s soliloquy in which he compares the kingdom to an unweeded garden. The images of poison are much more easily invoked when a real-life poison is used in the story. Since poison was used to kill King Hamlet, and eventually Claudius, Gertrude, Prince Hamlet, and Laertes, the reader has poison on the mind. The poison seems to be oozing through everyone, beginning with Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. His mom, his advisor Polonius, his friends Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, his girlfriend Ophelia, and eventually himself, seem to be corrupted and using base methods to accomplish their goals. Every character in this play shows that they are capable of evil and underhand methods and this transformation oozes slowly through the characters as a poison seeps through the blood.

Things are not always what they seem to be, and this becomes a harsh reality for Hamlet in the play. In his mind, people seem to be fake, just as if they were painted over. Ophelia, his girlfriend, was spying on Hamlet, at the request of her dad. His friends, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz were also hired to spy on him. People seem to be painted to be disguised from who they really are. This idea of acting is reinforced when the players come to town, and the acting in the plays is similar to the real life saga being lived out in the kingdom. In this play, everyone, including Hamlet, seems to be putting on a pretense to fool other people.

When these two distinct imageries are used in tandem, Shakespeare creates a brilliant, intriguing effect. The final scene is the epitome of this combination. Laertes seemed to have his morals corrupted when he decided to kill Hamlet through treachery.

He was corrupted by the evil poison and his motives were painted over. Laertes acted as Hamlet’s old friend challenging him to a friendly duel. As Laertes’ death became imminent, the poison and facades were stripped away and he came clean. Hamlet was shocked by his ulterior motives and was also stunned by finding out everyone’s false pretenses. Towards the end of the play, every character seems diseased and painted, and this interesting combination causes miscommunication among the characters and leads to the death of several characters in this tragedy of blood.

Hamlet is a brilliantly crafted play. Evil appears good, good appears as evil, and everyone seems to have both good and evil within them. The true motives of everyone seem disguised in this play, and everyone appears to be out for themselves. In this tragedy, almost every character undergoes transformations. Sometimes these changes are a tangible corruption, or merely a perceived change in attitude through the putting on of pretenses. Hamlet clearly shows how all human beings have the capacity for both good and evil.

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An Analysis of Imagery in Hamlet. (2023, Feb 06). Retrieved from