Unweeded Garden Symbolism In Hamlet

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All people wear masks in public; only in solitude they reveal their truer self. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this is especially true, where political intrigue and psychological unravelings manifest around the 17th century throne of Denmark. After the King Hamlet’s sudden and mysterious death, his brother Claudius marries the widowed queen Gertrude and assumes the kingship. Heir apparent Hamlet encounters his father’s apparition, who warns that his brother usurped the throne through fratricide. To uncover the truth, Hamlet dons the guise of madness. In the classic tragic style, after a series of poisonings, Claudius, Gertrude, and Hamlet all die. For much of the play, Hamlet ends up doing nothing, a subversion of the archetypal “all action and…show more content…
To the protagonist, reality is “an unweeded garden / That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely” (I.ii.139-141). Gardens are a common symbol for life, but in Hamlet’s case, it represents his unraveling. Weeds, these intrusive thoughts, have taken over, and the garden has gone to seed. This language, describing “rankness” and “grossness,” foreshadows the famous line, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (I.iv.100). Often in literature, the health of the kingdom and the ruler are directly linked. When something is wrong with the royalty, it reflects in the kingdom. When power has been seized through disgusting means, the kingdom becomes disgusting. So severe is the disparity between King Hamlet and King Claudius, it is like “Hyperion to a satyr” (I.ii.144). In Greco-Roman mythology, Hyperion is a Titan, often associated with the sun and light, while satyrs are goat-human hybrids. The literal interpretation is an obvious comparison between the righteous King Hamlet and the villainous King Claudius. Naturally, goodness is godly, while wickedness is animalistic. More interesting, however, is why this metaphor alludes to pagan mythology, despite the play’s Christian setting. There is a pervasive motif of Roman culture throughout Hamlet. For example, later in the soliloquy, Hamlet says his mother “followed my poor father’s body, / Like Niobe, all tears” (I.ii.152-53), and says his uncle is “no more like my father / Than I to Hercules” (I.ii.157-58). Niobe is a Greek maternal figure who mourned her children so much she turned to stone, while Hercules is an archetypal hero. Of course, these Greco-Roman references manifest to oppose Hamlet’s Christian morality, splitting him between Roman revenge and Christian forgiveness, and he cannot pick a side. However, they also highlight the protagonist’s unattainable expectations. Queen Gertrude
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