Analysis Of The First Gravedigger In Shakespeare's Hamlet

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The fifth act of Hamlet opens with the image of a grimy figure, half-buried in soil. He sings a song and a parabolic shadow swings across the stage as his back arches to and fro. Known in the script as First Gravedigger or First Clown, he is an oddity in an already peculiar scene. Digging a grave for the recently-passed Ophelia, the gravedigger discusses with an assistant whether the deceased deserves a Christian burial after her apparent suicide. Hamlet enters, and the two engage in a battle of wits, resulting in our protagonist’s discovery of his beloved jester’s skull. Despite his brief appearance, the First Gravedigger is distinctly individual, and his discourses with his assistant and Hamlet address themes intrinsic to the play’s development. However, he is remarkable simply because he surprises us. Why is the appearance of a cemetery so startling in a play whose sole concern is death? It is only in the final act that Shakespeare provides the audience with a concrete reminder of the lofty concepts over which Hamlet has been philosophising. I find the gravedigger’s comment if he be not rotten before he die - as we have many pocky courses nowadays, that will scarce hold the laying in - he will last you some eight year or nine year: a tanner will last you nine year to cut deeper than any of Hamlet’s prior musings on the corruption of flesh. Hamlet’s call ‘O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,/Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew’ pales in comparison: the

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