Maria-Hamlet, Carla-Gravedigger 1, Jason-Gravedigger2/Horatio
1. This is the first time we have seen Hamlet since he has been out of Elsinore. How have his experiences aboard the ship for England changed him?
Hamlet seems more relaxed, reflective. His “mad” act is over. When he was on the ship he uncovers a plot against his life, in the form of a Royal Command from Claudius. He devises a new Royal Command that is death on arrival in England for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead – thanks to his father’s signet that looks like the Danish seal and happened to be in his “purse”. We were hoping for one pirate story. He’s hanging out with Horatio after all. Why did they decide to walk in the graveyard? No mention is ever made of Hamlet’s father’s ghost.
2. How does his conversation with the gravediggers demonstrate these changes?
First, Hamlet has quite a warm-up for Horatio, expounding on all the possibilities of character with each unearthed skull: a politician, a courtier, or perhaps a lawyer:”Where be his cases, his tenures, and his tricks?” He then banters freely with the clown/gravedigger about whose grave is being dug. The clown says it’s his own. Hamlet says,”‘Tis for the dead, not for the quick,” meaning living. “‘Tis a quick lie sir…” says the clown, meaning life is short. Hamlet is back to his more normal self: witty, curious and open.
3. How would you describe the gravediggers’ attitude toward their job?
The gravediggers’ attitude was crafted in a way that would reflect the attitude of death. Like death these two men have no prejudice, completely disregarding the social value of each corpse; may they be man or woman, noble or peasant. They are neutral in their criticism of social law, simply voicing how law is subject to the whims of nobility, standing on no particular ground because they have no social stake in it. As they said themselves, they are the architects for death, not only will their designs last till doomsday, but also the truth in which they speak as well.
4. Why is it helpful for Hamlet to be exposed to their conversation?
It is helpful for Hamlet to be exposed to this conversation because Hamlet was able to see the situation of life and death from a different perspective. Throughout the play so far, Hamlet has been contemplating on revenge, justice, and injustice; but never has he taken a moment of self-reflexivity, everyone but Hamlet has seen how he acts. It is only when Hamlet encounters the gravediggers does he finally see the duality of his nature. The skull of York revives a personal engagement with the nature of remorse. Along with Horatio to compliment the scene, we see the dichotomy of insanity verses the median, as Horatio is not only Hamlet’s best friend, but also the representation of a harmonious life. It is the juxtaposition of life and death, where each figure shares the same lack of prejudice, but on completely opposing spectrums. It is now dependent on Hamlet’s mind and reason to determine how he will progress.