Imagery in Hamlet

Shakespeare uses dense imagery to reinforce the grand rhetoric with which he builds the world of the play Hamlet. Hamlet is one of the greatest works of Shakespeare because of its timeless thematic concerns. Elaboration on such themes is made possible by corresponding vivid imageries in a high poetry.

Use of imagery is organic in such a way that the nature of the theme goes along with the constituents of imagery. At the beginning of the play, the reason for Hamlet’s suffering is his father’s death and his mother’s hasty marriage with Claudius, his uncle.

His mother’s hasty marriage hints at the triumph of lust in her which gave in to Claudius’ advances. It’s shown by this imagery when Hamlet says, “she would hang on him as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on.” Hamlet describes his disgust at the mismatch between his mother and Claudius when he says that their marriage is like “Hyperion to a satyr.

Ophelia describes the magnitude of Hamlet’s madness saying that it is as “mad as the sea and the wind when both contend which is the mightier.” It perfectly describes the division and conflict between powerful elements inside Hamlet.

When Laertes confronts a mad Ophelia, he expresses his griefs saying “O heat, dry up my brains! Tears seven times salt, burn out the sense and virtue of mine eyes.”

Such imagery tells us of the depth of his anguish at the sight of his sister in such a state. Further, we come to know the decisive revengefulness in him when he says, “By heaven, thy madness shall be paid by weight, till our scale turn the beam.”

The corrupt state of Denmark, the political scenario which is primarily marked by the betrayal of Claudius which eventually destabilises the whole kingdom and the corrupt state of inner selves of certain characters in the play is described by the imagery of disease.

Its severity is described by Hamlet when he says that “the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.”

Hamlet says to Horatio in Act 1 when he talks of custom that “So, oft it chances in particular men, That for some vicious mole of nature in them, As, in their birth–wherein they are not guilty, Since nature cannot choose his origin– By the o’ergrowth of some complexion, Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason.”

The whole imagery is that of some disease. Similarly, when Hamlet and Polonius are talking about honesty, Hamlet talks how rare it is and the imagery he uses is “for if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a god kissing carrion...” 

Throughout the play, there is extensive use of animal imagery too in order to show the bestiality in the nature of human beings. Through such imagery, one relates to critical situations portrayed in the play.

Such imageries activate our sensory perception. Imagery is one of the most brilliantly used technique by Shakespeare across all of his works.