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HAMLET THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GRAVE YARD SCENE AND IRONY OF DEATH

The grave-digger scene, Act V, Scene 1 is partly comic, containing the comic gravediggers and their chop logic and also the gravedigger's conversation with Hamlet. The significance of the graveyard scene is underlined by its length: with its 266 lines it is in fact the longest penultimate scene of any of Shakespeare's tragedies. It is in the graveyard scene where the subject of death becomes absolutely central. Not only in the famous soliloquy but already at the end of the second scene, "O ... that the Everlasting had not fixed/ His canon 'gainst self-slaughter" Hamlet has pondered on suicide and death; now, in the graveyard (act 5, scene 1), two Clowns are commenting on the issue of Ophelias suicide. The gravediggers are acutely aware of potential social injustice. In the churchyard two grave-diggers are preparing a grave. As they dig the grave they are arguing as to the rights and wrongs of granting a Christian burial to Ophelia, for in Christian law, Christian rites are to be denied at the funeral of a suicide. The second grave digger admits what the other man has said, and says it is the great pity that the great men in the world have to drown or hang themselves more than their Christian fellows. This shows that the grave diggers are acutely aware of the irony of death of the great men in the world because of social injustice. The grave digger after saying this takes the spade to work and comments upon the meaning of the gentleman. A gentleman is one who bears arms; and gardeners, and grave makers are all gentlemen for they all bear arms and hold up Adams profession who in the scriptures is said to have dug and hence have borne arms.

The grave diggers are introduced to relieve the audience from the tragic tension of the play. The technique is known as dramatic relief. Through these grave-diggers Shakespeare conveys some generalizations also. There is a common saying that there is one law for the poor and another for the rich. This is seen true in giving a Christian burial to Ophelia, who is supposed to have committed suicide.

Also the diggers jovial conversation while digging a grave without the sense of solemnity shows that familiarity of a task robs the job of its gruesome aspects. On another level, it shows how they have, in a sense, come to the terms with death. Here we see a different Hamlet who seems to have recovered from his insanity and talks in a quiet and philosophical manner about the instability of human power. Today a man can assume power, but the very next day he may become a slave. Shakespeare uses ironical remarks through the lips of Hamlet that no one can escape from the laws of Nature. Even if a politician, who waits for a chance to cheat God, has to meet with the same end. Shakespeare always use the word politician in the sense of dishonest intriguer. Irony of death is explicit through Hamlets philosophic and speculative nature when he contemplates over the end of man. Whether he is of high birth or low birth, whether he is a king or a beggar; all have to meet the same end--- to die and be eaten by worms. He feels sad over mans futile efforts to bring about the growth of his body at great cost only to be eaten up by worms and played with by grave-diggers. Death is the ultimate reality which annihilates the petty appearances that unthinking man puts on to satisfy unworthy desires to his sense of self-importance in the world. Hamlet moralizes upon the general truth that, however hard man tries to gather wealth and power, when he dies he has to leave everything in this mortal world and become one with the dust. So ironically mans worldly efforts are futile and meaningless before death. That is the mystery of human limitations. The tone in which Hamlet speaks leads us to feel that at last Hamlet has come to accept the condition of being man and reality of death. Hamlet is musing on the reality of life and death. A man who used to keep the people around him happy has to meet the same end---death. Now after death there is nobody to share his wit and humour. He has become one with dust. A woman may hide her reality with paints but after death nothing matters. Hamlets musing on death are poignantly ironical in that he does not yet know that it is Ophelias grave which is being dug. It is significant to Hamlet that even great and powerful people like Alexander the Great and imperial Caesar ended their lives in the same manner as the common man. Hamlet seems to come to terms with the limitations of man. Written and Composed by: Prof. A.R. Somroo M.A. English, M.A. Education Cell: +923339971417