How does Shakespeare present the idea of mortality in Act V, Scene I? How does this relate to Hamlet’s character in the rest of the play?
Act V, Scene 1 presents Hamlet's "Alas, poor Yorick" soliloquy, in which we find our prince yet again pondering death. This time, Shakespeare presents death through the eyes of a few unlikely sources: first, through a pair of gravediggers; and second, indirectly through a jester's skull.
As the gravediggers prepare for Ophelia's funeral, we get a much different view of death from that presented thus far in the play. This pair pokes fun by literally joking; the first proposes a riddle to the second, to which they themselves are the answer. Their jests contrast sharply with their task, especially in light of the fact that they also debate Ophelia's funeral rites because they believe she committed suicide. Suicide has been an idea Hamlet has pondered since Act I; yet for him, it has never been a joking matter. He has seriously considered the act but has always feared for his eternal soul.
When Hamlet reveals himself to the gravediggers, he asks about the skulls they have unearthed. They reveal that one of the skulls belonged to Yorick, who was Hamlet's father's court jester and Hamlet's childhood companion. The reality of the certainty of death settles upon Hamlet. He reflects upon all the great men in history who are now no more than dust and bones. At this point in the play, Hamlet is able to see beyond himself and his present circumstances, which he has not been able to do before now.
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