In Hamlet, what themes/lessons do the grave diggers teach?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The grave diggers who appear in Act V scene 1 seem to support a theme that appears throughout this tragedy, but in particular in the final act. Critics have noted that Act V begins in a graveyard with bodies and skulls being sorted out and ends with more bodies, as the various characters all suffer their various fates. The grave diggers, as they discuss the fate of the lady whose grave they are digging, refer to the special privilege that she gains because of her rank. However, as the skulls they casually throw away and their discussion with Hamlet shows, in spite of the "special privileges" Ophelia may gain because of her rank regarding her funeral, death is the ultimate leveller, and this is a theme that is picked up by Hamlet as he contemplates Yorick's skull just before the appearance of the king and queen:

Imperious Caesar, dead and turn'd to clay, 

Might stop a hole to keep the wind away: 

O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe, 

Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!

The somewhat black humour of the grave diggers as they share their jokes and talk about death support this theme: whatever the rank or importance of a person in life, even as somebody as important as "Imperious Caesar," death comes to all humans and makes them all as dust.

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