Act V, Scene 1: “A Churchyard”
Summary: Hamlet chastises some clown gravediggers for disrespecting the dead, and as an example, Hamlet gives a eulogy for Yorick, a jester he once knew. Then the royals come to bury Ophelia, and Hamlet first learns she’s dead. He tries to outdo Laertes in his grief, which just makes Laertes even more mad at him. Hamlet is confused why Laertes should be mad at him at all, and the King has a watch put on Hamlet and tells Laertes to be patient.
Reaction: A good scene, but a little strange. I like strange, though. I’m not sure why clowns would be digging graves, but I think that’s more of a character description than a job title. I couldn’t help picturing them in face makeup with red noses and crazy hair. I’m surprised the Yorick speech gets used so much–it looks cool, Hamlet holding up a skull and all, but it’s a eulogy to a jester who I’m pretty sure Hamlet actually barely knew or cared about besides thinking him funny. It probably has a deeper meaning for Hamlet, though, like he’s acknowledging the finality of death and the seriousness of what he’s done/plans to do. And this would just be a great scene to see performed–with Laertes jumping in the grave and then Hamlet jumping in the grave, and then the two of them fighting in the grave.
Prediction: Poisonings, death, soon.
Why This Book Is a Classic: A speech starting, “Alas, poor Yorick” goes down in history, even though it doesn’t have too much importance to the actual plot.
Why a Modern Audience Might Like It: Giggles from lines like this: “Cudgel thy brains no more about it, for your dull ass will not mend his pace with beating.” (“Stop trying to figure it out. You’re too stupid.”)