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The scene begins with two gravediggers making jibes and jests while working to make a grave for Ophelia, the sister of Laeters. When the two grave diggers are about their business, Hamlet, the prince, comes in with his friend Horatio. Hamlet wonders about the owners of the skulls they were excavating in order to create a fresh grave for the diseased. This keeps him guessing who the skulls belonged to until the gravedigger reveals to him that one of the skulls belonged to his fathers jester, Yorick. Apparently this takes Hamlet aback to the days Yorick was alive and the skull before him thus coming to a realization about death. During the burial ceremony of Ophelia, there is a fight between Laeters and Hamlet, indicating that despite the fact that Ophelia and Laester were a brother and a sister, there was a probability that they had a relationship of incest. It is at this scene that the audience is made aware of the feelings of Hamlet towards Ophelia.
Note that it is who had caused the death of Ophelia when he caused the death of Polonius. The grave digger scene is from Hamlet, play by William Shakespeare. It shows the preparation of a grave of a lady who was religious and who dies by drowning in a brook and although she could have saved herself in from death in the brook she did not do anything that would show it and therefore was considered to have committed suicide. It is important since it brings out the characteristics of Hamlet and explains his behaviors as much as it brings out the true feelings of Hamlet towards Ophelia. Additionally, the grave digger, who represents the common man in the society and in hamlet, is used to indicate the lifestyle of the people but most importantly the manner in which the people responded towards the prince. This paper is thus an evaluation of the significance of the gravedigger scene in the play.
There are different ways in which Shakespeare used clowns in his play and this is one of the best places that his art is seen at work. Note that clowns during the times of William Shakespeare did not have the meaning of today, they were not meant to be funny or wear costumes, and they represented what was common to all in the society. The gravedigger is thus one of the clowns who were used in this play and who represented the common man. He showed a lot of wit, sarcasm and above all indifference of the situations surrounding his life and routine. To him, death was no stranger. The analysis below indicates the significance of this scene to the entire play.
The scene of the gravedigger is one that introduces very interesting teachings from Shakespeare. Some of the things that we learn from the story also contradict what is the reality. For instance, the gravedigger argues that one who builds the best more than the mason or the carpenter is none other than a gravedigger. This can be refuted by the reader because in as much as most graves will not be disturbed and may last until doomsday according to the gravedigger, he is responsible for breaking this rule himself. In the process of making a fresh grave for Ophelia, he unearths the skulls of several people including the skull of Yokin, the king's jester (McEvoy 157).
Not only does the gravedigger scene help the audience to understand the character of Hamlet, the prince but it also shows how popular he was with the people. Ophelia seems to have been his beloved and although her family could be among the courtiers of the kingdom, it is hard to imagine a prince falling for someone of her status. This indicates that Hamlet was not a snob and was much a man of the people than a royal. The manner in which he engages in a conversation with the gravedigger suggests that Hamlet was used to mixing with commoners, as the gravedigger represents the commoners. It should be noted that some of the courtiers including Horatio, the friend of the prince were so much aloof when it came to commoners. This can be supported by the fact that all the time that Hamlet spoke to the gravedigger, Horatio never uttered a word.
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It is my feeling that he would rather not have been there and was only there because the prince was. Additionally, there is the point in the conversation that the gravedigger remembers the exact date of birth of the young Hamlet, the prince, indicating that the prince was so much adored that the people literally knew everything about him. The gravedigger tells Hamlet that only a fool would not know that. It is however important to note that the gravedigger did not recognize Hamlet all the while they were talking suggesting that the prince did not like drawing attention to himself and was therefore dressed and behaved like a commoner. It should be known that during the time of Shakespeare, there were royal clothing and therefore a prince would easily have been recognized (Draudt 85-107).
The gravedigger has a very important role in the scene because he represents the common man. The way he reasons concerning the church burial for Ophelia shows the conflict that the church and the legal system conflicted. Note that Ophelia was buried in a churchyard cemetery but there was no religious ceremony during the funeral. It should be noted that the church prohibited any religious rituals for the deceased who were suspected of suicide or their deaths were questionable.
Another important thing about the grave digger scene is that it shows the results of rumors and the effects it has on the society. The friend of the gravedigger comes and informs the gravedigger about the decision of the coroner. On his hand, the gravedigger explains to the friend what constitutes suicide and how Ophelia should be buried. Note that it is not truly known whether Ophelia took her life but according to the gravedigger, it is she who went to the water and not the water to her and this should confirm that she gave her life willy-nilly.the church makes its decision not to give Ophelia a decent burial as this is bent to have an effect on the church as a whole. Note that the priest and other members of the court do not share the same sentiments with those who claimed that Ophelia committed suicide but fear for the manner in which the community would react to the church offering her a decent burial. This shows that the rumor has a great influence on the society and is therefore a thing to be wary of.
Hamlet realizes the whole significance of death when he visits the church yard cemetery at the time the gravedigger is preparing the grave for Ophelia. The skull of Yokin proves to him that death is not only a matter of spirituality but also have a physical effect. His conclusion that even the high and mighty suffers the same fate as the beggars is interesting and much more informative of his view of life and leadership. He points out that perhaps Julius Caesar himself has already completely decomposed to form dust and even suggests that the dust may have been used at some point to plaster walls in buildings. Albeit the scene shows two similar individuals living in two different worlds, the prince has never come face to face with death while the grave digger is used to death. In fact, death has become part of his life. He sings while digging the grave and handling the remains of those whose graves he is excavating as if it was very usual thing to do. Note that the grave digger represents the common man and therefore the reactions he has about death reflect the reactions of the large populace (Shakespeare 78).
As seen in the play, Hamlet, the prince was in sorrow mood when he was walking with Horatio and probably this is why he decided to take the walk. When he came to the site of the graveyard and saw the skull of Yokin, he was reminded of the days when he was happy with Yokin as a father figure. This is used in the play to indicate that Hamlet was not always in dark moods but that had been changed by different phenomenon in his life.
The grave digger scene is not the most important scene in the play but it takes a big chunk on the entire play to make straight most of the occurrences that have taken place in the play including the death of Ophelia, the true feelings of Hamlet towards Ophelia, the stand of the church and religious practice in Hamlet and most importantly the lifestyle of the people of hamlet. When the gravedigger says to Hamlet that the grave he is digging is his, although it is said sarcastically and in jest, it has a great significance to the daily activities of the people of Hamlet. Apparently the death rate in hamlet is so high that the grave digger implies that each person digs his own grave. Additionally, we have the gravedigger pointing out that since the lady will not have a straight burial, he could as well make a straight grave for her.