For whom are the gravediggers preparing a grave in Act Five, scene one, of Shakespeare's Hamlet?
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In the graveyard scene in Act Five, scene one, of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the audience is never told specifically for whom the gravediggers are preparing a grave. The First Clown does tell Hamlet the grave is for...
One that was a woman, sir; but, rest her soul,
Because Ophelia's funeral begins as the men are digging, we can assume they are working in another part of the graveyard, for they would not be digging a grave that will be used any moment. The woman in question is not Ophelia.
As an aside, the manner of the digging raises question an important question: how is it that the gravediggers are tossing about bones while digging a grave? Well, historically, when there was a limited amount of space for burials, it was not at all uncommon for long-dead bodies to be exhumed to make room for the newly deceased.
In fourteenth-century France, 'it became common procedure to dig up the more or less dried-out bones in the older graves in order to make room for new ones...'
Often in times of plague or catastrophe, graveyards would overflow. The First Clown notes that there has recently been an outbreak of disease responsible for a number of deaths:
...we have many
small pox corpses nowadays... (159-160)
The gravediggers are busy not just with the newly deceased, but are moving bones to make room for more than one person—perhaps small pox victims. Stage direction tells us that as the First Clown digs, twice he tosses up a skull from the hole where he is working. He notes that bodies can be unearthed generally after eight or nine years. Because he has been at the job for thirty years (he says), we can infer that this is a regular occurrence. One of the skulls is that of Yorick, the king's jester when Hamlet was a child, who has been dead for twenty-three years.