Why is there debate surrounding the nature of Ophelia’s funeral in Act 5 of Hamlet?
Ophelia is reputed to have drowned herself, so according to the church of the time and the country, she should not have a christian burial because suicide is a mortal sin. Of course the grave diggers remark on this as she ought not to be buried in hallowed ground.
But of course because she is wealthy and of noble birth, it appears that the coroner has ruled that she ought to have a christian burial after all. So the grave diggers suggest that people of privilege also have the privilege to drown themselves more than the common folks.
There is a debate over Ophelia’s burial because it reveals a lot about the Renaissance attitude toward a critical issue such as suicide. Her burial “With such maimed rites,” (5.1.224) indicates that she received some burial rites. We know later that the “churlish priest” denies her a requiem mass because her death was doubtful. Receiving some burial rites means that Ophelia’s death is considered is a non compos mentis, or “not of sound mind” suicide. In the Renaissance era, mad suicides were not denied burial rites as felo de se suicide, or “felon of himself.” A “felon of himself” suicide was denied traditional Christian burial rites and burial of the dead body in the middle of the road during the night. The second thing is that her “mad” suicide renders her innocent of the sin of diabolic despair which was believed at the time caused by Satan, and which made a person commit self-murder. The religious condemnation of suicide can be traced back to St. Augustine’s The City of God.
The main thing here is that Shakespeare dealt with the suicide theme artistically. He built on suicide unforgettable dramatic scenes in this play. We must remember that Hamlet himself contemplates suicide in the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy. From this play, we come to know more about the Renaissance era people’s religious beliefs. Hamlet tells us about the suicide is prohibited by the “Everlasting,” and Ophelia’s burial completes our understanding of how the Renaissance people viewed suicide when committed by a mad person. This is not to say that the play is a historical document. The play is a dramatic masterpiece that reflects “real” people’s suffering and their endeavors to find an escape of that suffering though suicide.
this depate revealed a lot of things about the political system in Denmark as being of noble birth is a brivillage and being of common social level puts you in law status.So the two simple gravediggers are just a literary tool to reveall the corrupt danish system.(another example can be seen in the way hamlet's murdering polonius is treated ).so there are many examples that shakespeare was trying to reveal certain connotation through actuall scenes in the play.