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___________________________Hamlet by Shakespeare


STUDYWORLD STUDYNOTES

Hamlet

Analysis of Act Five

Scene 1, the beginning of the most serious act in the play, begins as a comedy. Two gravediggers have a very funny exchange of words over the circumstances of Ophelia's death. The Gravedigger's manner of speaking is typical of Shakespearean clowns, who use words that at first seem inappropriate or simply to have been mistaken for other words but which nonetheless suggest some unexpectedly appropriate meanings.

Hamlet, for the only time in the play, meets his match verbally in the Gravedigger, whose puns and double-talk are as confusing to Hamlet as Hamlet's have been to everybody else.

While talking with Horatio, they see a funeral procession. The two conceal themselves and look on at the passage of Ophelia's funeral train, led by Laertes, pompously bewailing his dead sister. Unable to endure such a false and pretentious display, Hamlet leaps out of hiding and lunges toward Laertes. Both men seem restrained, but not until after the challenge to duel was made - and accepted.

To diminish suspicion that he was in any way involved with the plot, King Claudius bet heavily on the practiced swordsman Hamlet. Then, according to plan, poison was dripped onto Laertes' rapier and into the convenient cup.

But things soon begin to miscarry. First the unsuspecting Gertrude raises and drinks from the poison-laced cup in a toast to her son. In the contest that follows, Laertes wounds Hamlet, and Hamlet in turn fatally pierces Laertes. Then, as the queen falls to the ground crying, "The drink, the drink! I am poison'd!" Hamlet demands that the treachery be revealed.

At this, dying Laertes speaks up and exposes the plot - the poisoned wine and the venom-tipped foil, whose effects Hamlet would soon feel. Laertes further divulges that "the King's to blame": Claudius had authored the entire miserable scene. Hesitating no longer, Hamlet rushes forward, stabs Claudius, and curses the "incestuous, murderous, damn'd Dane." Then Laertes and Hamlet turn and implore each other's forgiveness, that they might both die in peace.

Within minutes, Fortinbras arrived, and, with Hamlet's dying approval, appropriates the throne of Denmark - a throne so tragically twice vacated in the previous few months.

One could read Hamlet simply, simplistically even, as a revenge tragedy. Hamlet's father, the king of Denmark, is killed by his brother, Claudius, who, overriding the rights of succession, appropriates both the crown and the wife of Hamlet's father. The ghost of the father reveals everything to his son, and all the elements of the revenge tragedy are in place: Hamlet has an obligation to avenge the murder, the usurpation, and the adultery. This he does by killing Claudius at the end of the play.

However it is clear that the theme of vengeance is merely a vehicle used by Shakespeare in order to articulate a whole series of themes central to humanity: relationships between father and son, mother and son, and Hamlet and his friends, love relationships, power wielding, madness, feigned madness, dissembling youth and age, action and inaction, corrupt power and power corrupting the most significant existential questions; the existence of a god; 'to be or not to be'; 'if it be now...'.
the meaning and possibilities of stagecraft.

All these themes, as well as others, are found in Hamlet. However, it is important to remember that Hamlet himself is at the center of everything, and it is on him that all the great themes are focused.

There is no other character in literature so rich, so complex, so enigmatic, and at once so opaque and transparent.


  • Biography of Willaim Shakespeare

  • About the Play

  • Quick/Fast Review

  • Character List

  • Summary of Act 1

  • Review of Act 1

  • Summary of Act 2

  • Review of Act 2

  • Summary of Act 3

  • Review of Act 3

  • Summary of Act 4

  • Review of Act 4

  • Summary of Act 5

  • Review of Act 5

  • Studyworld Essay Search on Hamlet


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