For Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act Five, scene one, summarize the action of this scene.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act Five, scene one, Hamlet has returned from England where Claudius attempted to have him executed. Hamlet and Horatio speak to the grave diggers ("clowns") in the cemetery who are hardened to death, Hamlet believes, because they are exposed to it all the time. (This echoes a line in Shakespeare's Macbeth, where Macbeth also believes that exposure to death and murder make it easier for one to become hardened to it.)

One gravedigger goes to get the workers a drink, and Hamlet and Horatio make it a game, assigning lives to the various skulls that lie about. The gravedigger (not aware of who he speaks to) notes that Hamlet has been sent to England because he is mad, though one would hardly be able to tell the difference since everyone in England is crazy. (This would have incited a rousing laugh from the Elizabethan audience watching the play. This scene is also the only comic relief in the play.)


Why, because a was mad. A' shall recover his wits

there; or, if a do not, 'tis no great matter there…

'Twill not he seen in him there. There the men are

as mad as he. (150)

The worker goes on to say that he has been working for Hamlet's family since Old Hamlet defeated Old Fortinbras, even from the day that Hamlet was born. He then gives Hamlet the skull of Yorick, who was the court jester when Hamlet was a child. Hamlet recalls wonderful childhood moments when he would spend time with Yorick, even riding on his back. Here is a glimpse of happier times in Hamlet's life.


[Takes the skull.]

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him,

Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times. (176-178)

As Hamlet and Horatio watch, a procession moves into the graveyard for a burial: included are the King, the Queen, Laertes and a priest, and other lords. The priest is telling Laertes that since there is some question of how "she died," Ophelia will not be buried in holy ground ("maimed rites"). Laertes is furious. The Queen laments that she had hoped to see Hamlet marry Ophelia, throwing flowers on her bridal bed, not at her funeral.


Sweets to the sweet! Farewell.

I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife; (240)

I thought thy bride-bed to have deck'd, sweet maid,

And not have strew'd thy grave.

Laertes jumps into the grave to hug Ophelia one last time, but Hamlet appears and he, too, jumps in the grave. Hamlet declares that he loved her so much more than Laertes ever could.


I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers (270)

Could not, with all their quantity of love,

Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?

The men begin to fight, Laertes believing Hamlet is responsible not only for his father's death, but also for the insanity and subsequent death of Ophelia.

The men are separated, and Hamlet is led away by Horatio. The King and Queen explain to Laertes that this is a sign of Hamlet's madness. To the side, Claudius reminds Laertes to be patient: he will have his revenge if he will only stick to the details of the plot that are hatching against Hamlet.

This is the first instance since Old Hamlet's death that Hamlet is dealt a heavy blow in losing Ophelia. We can see that though he doubted her because of her seeming alliance with her father and the King to get information from Hamlet, that despite his harsh words and behavior towards her, he still loved her.