What is the purpose of act 5, scene 1 in Hamlet? What is a plot summary and structural analysis of the scene?

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The purpose of the scene is to illustrate further the theme of death. In particular, it highlights Hamlet 's belief that, in the final analysis, death makes fools of us all. Lawyers or kings, princes or paupers, we will all one day die. It makes no difference how great we...

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The purpose of the scene is to illustrate further the theme of death. In particular, it highlights Hamlet's belief that, in the final analysis, death makes fools of us all. Lawyers or kings, princes or paupers, we will all one day die. It makes no difference how great we think we are as we walk upon this mortal earth; we are all destined to participate in the great democracy of the dead.

It's not just Hamlet who displays such a mordant take on our common fate; the gravediggers share a similar attitude towards death. As they go about their grim task, they engage in witty badinage, treating this darkest of subjects as if it were nothing more than a big joke.

It's only later on in the scene, when Ophelia's burial takes place, that the mood starts to change. Laertes openly blames Hamlet for Ophelia's death, and the two get into an unseemly graveside squabble. Once again, Claudius and Laertes are confirmed in their belief that Hamlet is mad and must be gotten rid off. But not just yet; they must still bide their time.

Whichever way you look at it, though, death is still very much in the air. This remarkable scene has gone through the full gamut of responses to death, indicating not just its centrality to the play, but Shakespeare's creative, all-encompassing approach to this most taboo of subjects.

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The scene also serves as some comic relief from the tension of the end of Act 4 when Claudius and Laertes lay out their diabolical plot against Hamlet and then find out about Ophelia's strange death. The gravediggers are telling jokes and using puns about Ophelia's death, death in general, corpses, and other otherwise morbid topics and in a scene of dark humor still reinforcing the themes that have been previously established in the play.

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In Act V, scene 1, Hamlet confronts the physical consequences of death, having already considered the spiritual consequences elsewhere in the play. Indeed, he already made several references to morbidity, both in reference to Polonius and to the king. He also confronts the consequences of Ophelia's death, embracing her corpse. It is, in many ways, a foreshadowing of what is to come, and there is an eerie sense that Hamlet knows it.

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Here is a summary of Act V Scene 1 that you will find helpful. http://www.enotes.com/hamlet/act-v-scene-1-summary-analysis. Basically, the scene is an exploration of mortality. We all end up the same way, dead in the ground. The morbid jokes and talk of death highlight some of the main themes in the play.
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