In Shakespeare's Hamlet, what is the effect of the clowns' conversation in Act 5?

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tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The Gravediggers in Act V help to show what type of burial is being prepared for sweet Ophelia--a worthy Christian one. However, they two men know that that she was drowned and it was more than likely a suicide. They know that usually, suicides are not given "Christian" burials because it is a sin to kill, hence, a sin to kill oneself. They try to reason to themselves why it is possible that she is given permission to have a Christian burial. One suggests that maybe she was just standing on the shore and the water attacked her! This brings up a comical image for educated people, but also shows their lack of education. Even though they might not be as educated as Hamlet is, they know about social classes and pretty much figure out that since she was a noblewoman, she was granted a Christian burial even though the "rules" say otherwise for suicides. This scene sets up Hamlet's later entrance where he discusses death as the equalizer of all people. No matter who a person was in life, everyone meets the same end in the grave.


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