Alas, poor Yorick
A pestilence on him for a mad rogue! 'a pour'd a flagon
of Rhenish on my head once. This same skull, sir, was, sir,
Yorick's skull, the King's jester.
This? [Takes the skull]
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite
jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath bore me on his back a
thousand times, and now how abhorr'd in my imagination it is!
My gorge rises at it.
As two clowns dig Opelia's grave [see CUDGEL THY BRAINS],
they unearth the skull of Yorick, court jester to the former king.
This king's son, Prince Hamlet, just happens to be strolling
through the graveyard with his friend Horatio, and he joins the
first clown in a round of morbid jokes. Hamlet's spirits, however,
are dampened by the smelly skull, whose grim visage belies the
prince's vivid memories of the frolicsome rogue. In his
characteristically associative fashion, Hamlet takes the sickening
contrast between the Yorick he imagines and his disgusting remains
as a leaping-point into sweeping philosophical conclusions about
the common fate—decay—of both kings and court jesters.
"Alas, poor Yorick" has always been one of the most fondly
remembered lines from Hamlet
(or misremembered lines—Hamlet does not say "Alas, poor
Yorick, I knew him well"). As early as 1760, in his novel
Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne introduced the parson
Yorick, one of whose ancestors emigrated from Denmark to England to
become the English king's court jester. In fact, the narrator
claims, "Hamlet's Yorick, in our Shakespear, many of whose
plays, you know, are founded upon authenticated facts,—was
certainly the very man."