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In "Hamlet", what does Hamlet mean when he is contemplating Yorick's skull...

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catdog | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 12, 2009 at 2:14 PM via web

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In "Hamlet", what does Hamlet mean when he is contemplating Yorick's skull and says the following?

"Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come. Make her laugh at that."

Is he referring to women or to death or to something else?

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mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 12, 2009 at 2:22 PM (Answer #1)

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He is referring to women AND death, and how the two mixing is not a very amusing scenario.  As Hamlet is contemplating Yorick's skull, he is amazed that this man, who was "a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy", who played with Hamlet, who kissed Hamlet, is reduced to this grinning skull.  He later awes that even Alexander the great and Caesar were reduced to dust, just like Yorick.  Hamlet is slightly disgusted at the rotted skull, and at the stench of the grave. So, when he states the above quote, he is referring to women, who spend so much time "painting" their faces with make-up "an inch thick", because in the end, they will end up just like Yorick, a rotting and smelly skull.  He tells Yorick to "make her laugh at that", at the awful reality of death.  Not a very funny proposition, indeed.

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jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted January 12, 2009 at 11:32 PM (Answer #2)

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It is a potent moment. I would like to add that it also calls into mind the clown makeup that Yorick would wear as he captured the attention of the court. This would speak to the end of Hamlet's plot and his put-on insanity. Hamlet has, in the same sense, put on the appearance of a harmless madman in order to carry out his investigations and schemes. Here he is looking at his own future, his death. His has had to put on the appearance of a manic while fully feeling the pains of grief. It echoes the early line, " Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not “seems”. This demonstrates the emotional weight of his plan.

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