The purpose of the Gravedigger

The Shakespearian novel, Hamlet is
considered a tragedy and respects this throughout all the acts. The acts are
weaved with betrayal, uncertainty and surprises. Such characteristics are
momentarily put aside as the fifth act debuts. Act V scene i is commonly
referred to as the grave digger scene. This section of the play has multiple
functions. It serves as a comical relief in such a dark play, it also sets the
tone for the final scenes and serves as a relationship between life and death.

                   The
well-known grave digger scene takes place in a very suspenseful part of the
play. The scenes prior are tragic and intense. Hamlet puts an end to Polonius’s
life unknowingly and runs off to England with Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. Ophelia
becomes untameable and suicidal and finally Horatio receives a letter from
Hamlet which says that he is coming back. Such wild events put the readers on
edge and keep them hungry for more. As they wait for Hamlet to arrive on stage,
the two gravediggers are brought forth and engage in a playful discussion
regarding the technicalities of the situation. They question if the deceased is
worthy of a Christian burial considering the way her life ended, since suicide
is typically frowned upon by the church. The two men further jest about how
Ophelia’s life ended; such humor is well characterized by the Gravedigger
himself in the following lines:

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

Give me
leave. Here lies the water. Good. Here stands the man. Good. If the man go to
this water and drown himself, it is, will he nill he, he goes. Mark you that.
But if the water come to him and drown him, he drowns not himself. Argal, he
that is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life. (Shakespeare, V,
i, 15-21)

The
two men, clearly question the method Ophelia choose to end her life and whether
the law supports the coroner’s decision for a Christian burial. As they
continue to unearth Ophelia’s resting place they find the time to tell a joke “What
is he that builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright, or the
carpenter?”(Shakespeare, V, i, 42-43) and The Other answers with “The
gallows-maker, for that frame outlives a thousand tenants.” (Shakespeare, V, i,
44-45). Which is ironic as they are currently unearthing old remains to make
room for new ones. The two men dilute the theme of death and tragedy in this
act. This form of comical relief is a common attribute in Elizabethan dramas
and eventually made an appearance in many of Shakespeare’s works. The first
debut of comic relief in Shakespearian writing was in King Lear which was put
into effect with the Fool, it was later used in Macbeth with the Porter and finally
in Hamlet with the Gravedigger. In conclusion, Shakespeare uses comical relief
to deescalate the situation and temporarily halt the drama to make the climax
piercing. 

            Shakespeare is known for tragic
novels and twisted conclusions; Hamlet is no exception to this. The final act
is full of unexpected events and scenarios, which are introduced to act 5 by
the gravedigger scene. This scene’s purpose is to be the lull before the main
event. This serves as a sort of set up to the heart pumping climax of the story.
The events that take place before and after the grave digger scene are
thrilling so this scene acts as an intermission in the drama and the two grave
digger relieve some of the tension with jokes all while keeping the theme of
death present. Once the men see Hamlet and Horatio they quit joking around and
resume their digging while unearthing bone after bone of previous residents of
such resting place. Hamlet questions the Gravedigger as he is quite fond of
physical decomposition of the human body. As Hamlet spoke with Horatio he
mentions the dead being “…chapless and knocked about the mazard with a sexton’s
spade…” (Shakespeare, V, i, 90-91) which shows the insensitivity towards the
physical remains of men and woman. He goes on to say “Did these bones cost no
more the breeding but to play at loggets with them?…” (Shakespeare, V, i, 94-95)
meaning the bones of the dead are only good for bowling and serve no emotional
or spiritual value. Hamlet is finally realizing that after one is dead, they
are no one; they are simply a pile of bones. He was intrigued by the equalizing
effects of death. Death is certain, weather royalty or peasant, death is inevitable
and everyone will perish. This realization is essential for the continuation of
the act and to set the tone for the final scenes of the play.

            The theme of death is present
throughout the play and is prominent during the last act. The grave digger
scene represents this theme as it bridges the gap between life and death. The
Gravedigger is approached by Prince Hamlet and his friend Horatio, they start
conversing and he throws a skull to Hamlet and says “…This same skull, sir,
was, sir, Yorick’s skull, the King’s jester” (Shakespeare, V, i, 186-187).
Hamlet does not believe the man at first, takes the skull and explains that he
was friends with Yorick “Allas, poor Yorick! I knew him…” (Shakespeare, V, i,
190-191) the prince later questions how this is Yorick’s skull “Where be your
gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont
to set the table on a roar? Not one to mock your own grinning? Quite chapfallen?”
(Shakespeare, V, i, 196-199). Hamlet was shocked to see what death does, to see
what he looked like while he was alive compared to after he perished. This eye
opening realization for Hamlet puts things into perspective. Another link
between life and death in this scene is showed when Hamlet asks the Gravedigger
“…How long thou hast been gravemaker? ( Shakespeare, V, i, 145-146) the
Gravedigger responds with “…It was the very day Hamlet was born…” (Shakespeare,
V, i, 151-153). This exchange highlights the continuity of death and the fact
that death is prominent. Therefore this scene creates a link between life and
death for Hamlet. Once the prince is exposed to the physical remains of a
friend, he finally understands the certainty of death. The exchange with the
Gravedigger highlights the fact that people, including royalty, perish.
Overall, this scene puts death in perspective.               

In
the grave digger scene of the well-known Shakespearian play, Hamlet, the theme
of death is alleviated when the men in this scene jest about a tragic event.
The Gravedigger and the Other are included in Hamlet to represent the society
and their lack of seriousness. They transform a dark topic into a light topic
of discussion thanks to their jokes and lack of formality. Thus, creating a comical
relief in the play. Act 5 scene i, also functions as a stepping stone from
development to conclusion as it features Hamlet’s realization of the equalizing
effects of death. This is when Hamlet’s obsession of human decomposition
becomes a fear. The grave digger scene also creates a channel amidst life and
death. Once the prince handles his childhood friend’s skull it ensues
uneasiness amongst Hamlet. The first scene of the last act has multiple
functions, but above all it highlights the contrast between life and death in
the Shakespeare’s, Hamlet.

x

Hi!
I'm Carol!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out
x

Hi!
I'm Nicholas!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out