Who is Yorick?



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One of the most famous names in English drama belongs to a character who never appears on stage and is, in fact, long dead before the play’s action begins. In the graveyard scene of Act V, Hamlet comes across a skull and acknowledges it with the words, ‘‘Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio: / A fellow of infinite jest’’ (V.i.184). In short order, Hamlet tells us that Yorick was once the court fool (it is interesting to note that no one has replaced him in this part). Hamlet harbors a sentimental affection for the deceased jester, who once gave him piggyback rides and delighted the boy with his gibes, gambols, and songs. Yorick’s demise provides an opportunity for Hamlet to again contemplate human mortality. Yet at the same time, it is a reminder that all of life is not glum, that there was a happier time in even the dour Hamlet’s life. Perhaps most important, this reminder of loss and Hamlet’s willingness to face it is emblematic of his acceptance of loss as both part of life and as the end of life.

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