Prisons and punishment

Alongside the idea of traps are occasional images of imprisonment:

  • For Hamlet, as he tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Act II scene ii, the court of Denmark, from which he so longs to escape, is a prison
  • Rosencrantz remarks:

    ‘Then is the world one.'
  • Hamlet agrees:

    ‘A godly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o' th' worst.'

    Other reminders of prisons and punishment occur at times throughout Hamlet, giving hints of an oppressive world, and contrasting with the ideas of divine grace, mercy and forgiveness which also permeate the play:

    It is after he and Laertes have ‘exchanged forgiveness' in the final scene of the play that Hamlet uses a totally contrasting image:

    ‘Heaven make thee free of it!'

  • Hamlet's stockings are ‘down-gyved' in Act II scene i (i.e. like fetters)
  • If all men had their deserts, ‘who should scape whipping?' (Act II scene ii)
  • Hamlet feels he must be the ‘scourge' (whip) with which heaven punishes the corrupt court (Act III scene iv)
  • Claudius speaks of times when ‘th'offenders scourge is weighed' (Act IV scene iii)
  • Hamlet is physically ‘guarded to know your pleasure' when brought before Claudius in Act IV scene iii
  • When Hamlet is sleepless on the ship going to England, he feels mentally like ‘mutines in the bilboes' (mutineers imprisoned in chains).
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