The aesthetics of a work of art include every aspect of the relationship between the author’s intentions and the ways in which they realize them. In drama, the text, setting, effects, characterizations, actions, and the performance itself all have aesthetic dimensions, and together contribute to the aesthetics of a given...
The aesthetics of a work of art include every aspect of the relationship between the author’s intentions and the ways in which they realize them. In drama, the text, setting, effects, characterizations, actions, and the performance itself all have aesthetic dimensions, and together contribute to the aesthetics of a given work.
Act 5, scene 1 of Hamlet has become one of the most famous scenes in all of William Shakespeare’s works. Throughout the scene, he was successful in creating a compelling total aesthetic that encompasses highly disparate parts. We cannot know exactly how the play was performed or how the audiences reacted to the performances in Shakespeare’s time. It is clear, however, that he incorporated elements that were likely to connect with different segments of the intended audience. At the same time, the themes that he touches on in this scene are among the most universal: what happens to us after we die? Will others remember us or will we be forgotten?
This scene is particularly effective because of the way that the playwright initially uses humor to establish a tone that is light and dark at the same time. By this late point in the play, the audience knows almost all the characters. To shake things up. Shakespeare introduces some new people whose behavior the audience will not be able to predict. They engage in verbal banter as they engage in a very serious job, digging a grave. The language fits well with this alternating humorous and serious tone, as the playwright incorporates puns. Throughout the whole scene, language is well fitted to the aesthetic effect, as he uses both prose and poetry for different characters and their interactions.
Another element that adds to the aesthetics is dramatic irony. While Hamlet is joking around with the gravediggers, the audience knows—but he does not know—that the grave is for Ophelia. His rude awakening when he hears this tragic news is perfectly expressed by both his words and his actions. After the king, queen, and Ophelia’s brother enter, the tone of the scene shifts abruptly. The peaceful yet somber aura of the graveyard is shattered by the verbal sparring and a physical altercation between the two young men. Laertes disrupts the action and physical demonstrates his terrible grief by leaping into the grave—a scene that surely would have shocked an audience seeing it for the first time.
The abrupt shift away from the theme of death to that of love helps bring this particular scene in line with the aesthetics of the entire play. The audience is reminded of the earlier scenes between Hamlet and Ophelia. They are also made to consider the meaning of his avowed love for her. The disagreements between lover and brother also connect well with the play’s overall theme of family bonds versus romantic and sexual love.
Shakespeare packs a great deal into a short scene. He also incorporates foreshadowing of the tragic deaths to follow: Laertes will die with his sister, and many other characters will also end their lives there in the graveyard.