Hamlet And The Gravedigger Essay, Research Paper
When Hamlet comes upon the gravedigger, he immediately senses death in a new way. After the sudden death of his father and his own killing of Polonius, his presence in the graveyard has an entirely new meaning. Little does he know, the grave he stands in front of is for another friend of his, and there is only more death to come. He picks up a skull and gives the example of a lawyer. He explains in this first speech that after death, all the knowledge man has acquired is useless. Any power that this lawyer could have gained in life is meaningless when he is simply another undistinguishable skeleton. Hamlet uses many questions in this passage, and he may be alluding to the questioning and almost berating tone that lawyers often used. He also repeats and uses words in more than one way, (recovery, vouch, fine), possibly implying that the skeletons around him are as unrecognizable and common as the words he uses. The words he says have more than one meaning, just as the skeletons around him have more than one identity (a lawyer, a jester, a maid, etc.).
Hamlet converses with the gravedigger, and after realizing that the gravedigger takes all Hamlet s words literally, remarks How absolute the knave is! (ln140). Like death, the gravedigger is literal and absolute, and cannot be joked with. Next there are many references to the earth and burial. The word ground is used and then Hamlet asks the gravedigger how long it takes a buried man to rot. He is talking about the physical act of decay, while the gravedigger s response refers to a sort of spirituality or karma. The gravedigger replies that the time of decay depends on how rotten the man is when placed into the earth. Rotten men would decay faster and therefore not be remembered as long as good men who take a long time to be forgotten.
Hamlet then reaches for the skull of an old court jester who used to amuse him as a child. Again, the speech Hamlet gives concerning the skull reflects the attitude and characteristics of the dead person. Hamlet jokes with the skull by calling it chapfallen, which could mean sad or without the lower jaw. Here he banters with the dead skull, asking him for one more amusing merriment. He also acknowledges the irony of the grinning jester s skull, forever frozen in laughter. Hamlet s rhythm is quite different from that of the gravedigger. The gravedigger speaks more in prose, while Hamlet speaks in iambic pentameter. Because of Hamlet s often questioning tone, the inflection at the end of the sentences goes up, making this scene not as morbid as it could have possibly been.
Hamlet realizes his own mortality in this section, foreshadowing his death to come. Slowly the people around Hamlet are dying, and he has not only taken a life, but he has lost people close to him. However, his astonishment at the finality of death is not completely warranted. He was visited by the ghost of his father, proving that death is not absolute and implying that somehow man retains some sort of humanity or soul after death. This passage illustrates that Hamlet is going through a period of uncertainty and discovery, and analyzing the necessity of his actions. His almost acceptance of mortality towards the end of the passage implies that he will make a definite decision concerning his course of action.