Act V – Scene.i
Two gravediggers discuss their work for the day and wonder whether the grave
they prepare for a drowned woman should be in this hallowed ground. Because she has committed suicide she is not worthy of salvation.
Hamlet and Horatio enter and ask one of the gravediggers who is being
buried. There then follows an exchange of witty retorts and Hamlet is unable to get a straight answer from the gravedigger. In this part of the burial ground there are bones and skulls scattered
Hamlet picks up a skull and asks a gravedigger to whom it might belong. He replies by saying it is Yorick’s, the King’s jester. Hamlet says ‘Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well’. He was a man of infinite jest.
Hamlet returns to the subject of worms and that men are all worm meat, and
the fact that there is equality in death.
A group of mourners arrives, led by the King, Queen and Laertes, and
although they are on hallowed ground, the funeral will not be in full Christian rite. Laertes argues with the priest over Ophelia’s burial, as the priest refuses to perform a Mass.
Hamlet watches the Queen spread flowers over the coffin, saying ‘I hoped
thou shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife’.
Hamlet now realizes that it is Ophelia who lies dead in the casket and he attacks Laertes. The two struggle and argue over who loved Ophelia the best, and eventually servants separate them.
Claudius promises Laertes immediate satisfaction for this insult and charges
Horatio to look after Hamlet.
The scene opens with the two gravediggers who engage in
a comic exchange. This dialogue makes the audience aware that Ophelia has killed herself, despite Gertrude’s report to the contrary. During their exchange, Cain is mentioned, again reminding the audience
that Claudius is also a murderer of a brother.
Again Shakespeare makes the point about the burial of suicide victims, this
being a cardinal sin, and how they should not be interred in sacred ground. However, this area of the burial field can be said to be less hallowed than the rest because it is evident that the graves here are
used time and time again, hence the scattered bones.
During the fight between Laertes and Hamlet, a challenge is issued, which is
out of character for Hamlet, thus setting the stage for the last scene of the play.