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Act V, scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet takes place almost entirely in a graveyard. This setting is effective for a number of reasons, including the following:
- It helps emphasize the theme of death, which is so important to this play and which is especially important in the final act.
- It is especially appropriate because it helps foreshadow the deaths that will occur near the very end of this play.
- It helps remind us of the deaths that have already occurred in the play up to this point, including the deaths of Ophelia and Polonius and also of Hamlet’s father.
- It helps emphasize, in particular, the tragedy of Ophelia’s death – an unintended consequence of the fact that Hamlet has slain her father.
- It allows Shakespeare, by introducing the gravediggers, to provide strange and unexpected humor in a play that otherwise might be lacking in that trait.
- It gives Hamlet, and also Shakespeare’s audience, an opportunity to meditate on such matters as mortality and mutability.
- It provides a highly dramatic and unexpected setting for the physical conflict between Hamlet and Laertes.
- It helps emphasize the tragedy of the play, since it constantly reminds us of the death of Ophelia, perhaps the most innocent character in the entire work.
- It reminds us that death is not merely an abstract concept but also a gross physical fact, as in the various references to the stink of corpses.
- It gives Hamlet the perfect setting in which to recollect his happy times with Yorick when Hamlet was a youth – one of the most memorable moments in the play.
- It gives Hamlet, like the gravediggers, a chance to display his peculiar wit, since he is able to joke even about “grave” matters.
- It shows Laertes and Hamlet in a physical confrontation that foreshadows their later swordfight.
- It gives Hamlet the perfect opportunity to profess his affection for Ophelia:
I lov’d Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers
Could not with all their quantity of love
Make up my sum.
- It brings together in one place all the major characters who will later appear together in the swordfight scene. It thus helps foreshadow that crucial final scene.
In addition to the previous answer, the graveyard also becomes a place of resurrection for Hamlet as he finally acceptshis identity, "It is I, Hamlet the Dane!" and in doing so becomes the new and improved Hamlet who will actually take action. The scene is also imperative to the theme that death is the great equalizer. No matter who you are or how great you were in life, we all end up as dust.
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