1 year ago
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
The Magpie prompt this week immediately brought up memories of the greatest graveyard scene ever created in what was possibly the greatest play ever created: the graveyard sequence in “Hamlet.”
You’re probably familiar with the action of the scene, but let’s run through it again.
A couple of gravediggers are doing their thing in Act 5, digging away, and at the same time making jokes. Shakespeare has been criticized by some scholars for mixing humor – or what passed for humor four hundred and some years ago – with tragedy. After all, that’s Ophelia’s grave they’re digging.
But as Quentin Tarantino has assured us, mixing humor with tragedy is often powerfully effective.
Sample of grave-digger humor:
First G-D, to Second G-D: “Who would build the best house? A carpenter, a mason or a shipwright?”
Second G-D (sort of bored): “I don’t know.”
First G-D: “Well, don’t wear out your brains on it. The answer? A grave-digger! The houses he builds last till doomsday!”
Now, come on; that’s not bad – for the sixteenth century. :-)
Anyway, Hamlet and his close friend Horatio come upon the scene. There’s a skull that the G-D has tossed aside. It’s Yorick’s skull.
Hamlet: “I knew him, Horatio!”
The picture of Hamlet with the skull has become one of the best known images of the play. It is clear that the Prince has been greatly affected by what he has seen and learned. In fact, it’s not too much to say that when he learns of Ophelia’s death it’s as though he becomes at least somewhat deranged.
When her funeral procession arrives, Hamlet, for no reason whatever, attacks her brother Laertes, who had always been his good friend.
Laertes: “Lay her in the earth. And from her fair and unpolluted flesh may violets spring!”
Hamlet, leaping forward: “What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis? I loved Ophelia! Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum!”
There has always been a question as to whether Hamlet became really a bit insane or was just acting that way. Let’s examine closely what he shouts at this moment of high tension.
Hamlet: “What would you do for her, Laertes? Would you drink vinegar, eat a crocodile? Well, I would!”
The King: “Oh, he is mad, Laertes!”
Eat a crocodile? This is just part of his raving. Hamlet has definitely become unhinged, at least for the moment.
It’s a powerful scene, worth recalling when regarding this week’s Magpie prompt.