Hamlet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What is the importance of the gravedigger scene in the story of Hamlet?  

This scene serves two functions: it provides a moment of comic relief, since the gravediggers love to joke about their line of work, and it provides Hamlet with a moment to confront his own mortality. Hamlet has had to grapple with the idea of death throughout the entire play, but here is the first moment where he actually comes face-to-face with what it means to die. Holding Yorick's skull, he struggles to wrap his head around the fact that even the most vibrant people die and decay in the end—even Alexander the Great was ultimately nothing but bones.

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In act 5, scene 1 of Shakespeare's Hamlet, often referred to as the "gravedigger scene" or the "Alas, poor Yorick" scene, not only does Shakespeare provide the audience with a scene of comic relief, he also gives the audience new information and a look at the events of the play through the eyes of the "common people."

In act 4, scene 7, Claudius and Laertes are plotting Hamlet's death. Gertrude interrupts them to tell them that Ophelia is dead: she has drowned in a brook. What Gertrude says leads the audience to believe that Ophelia's death was an accident. Ophelia was holding onto a branch of a tree when she leaned out over a brook: the branch broke, and Ophelia fell into the brook and drowned.

The very first line of the conversation between the First and Second Gravedigger poses an entirely different question of how Ophelia died.

FIRST GRAVEDIGGER. Is she to be buried in Christian burial that willfully seeks her own salvation?

Shakespeare's audience would have understood exactly what that line...

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