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The meaning and origin of the expression: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark'?

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Prince Hamlet and officers Marcellus and Horatio see the ghost of Hamlet’s father - the Danish king, recently murdered by Hamlet's uncle Claudius.

Hamlet follows the retreating ghost and Horatio asks Marcellus what he thinks the aparition signifies, to which Marcellus replies 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark'.

The line is generally accepted to be a reference to the felonious murder, implying it was not the work of Claudius alone but a conspiracy which is an indication of wider state corruption.

The expression is still used in modern-day contexts, unrelated to Shakespeare or Denmark, whenever a widespread iniquity is suspected. That might be in stories where a journalist thinks 'something doesn't smell quite right'.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark'?

What's the origin of the phrase 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark'?

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark'From Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act I, Scene 4, 1602:

HAMLET
My fate cries out,
And makes each petty artery in this body
As hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve.
Still am I call'd. Unhand me, gentlemen.
By heaven, I'll make a ghost of him that lets me!
I say, away! Go on; I'll follow thee.
Exit Ghost and HAMLET

HORATIO
He waxes desperate with imagination.
MARCELLUS
Let's follow; 'tis not fit thus to obey him.
HORATIO
Have after. To what issue will this come?
MARCELLUS
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
HORATIO
Heaven will direct it.
MARCELLUS
Nay, let's follow him.