Gravedigger in Hamlet

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From the appearance of the Ghost at the beginning of the play to the deadly conclusion, the notion of death is constantly visited. Hamlet's encounter with the gravedigger serves as a forum for Shakespeare to elaborate on the nature of death and as a turning point in Hamlet's character. In Hamlet, the gravedigger and changing mood of the encounter serve to move Hamlet and the reader closer to the realization that death is inevitable and universal. The encounter is essential to the plot, in that it provides for Hamlet's return from England and sets the stage for Hamlet's discovery of Ophelia's death. It brings Hamlet from the state in which he was able to easily arrange for the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to one in which he can feel deep sorrow at the loss of Ophelia. It further grants him a better perspective on the nature of death and on his own fate. Its sharp focus on death further serves to prepare the audience for the conclusion of the play. Up to this point, Hamlet has been an active agent in trying to fulfill his destiny as prescribed by his father's ghost. His actions were disorganized and his goal continually foiled. For example, his attempt to control the situation renders him incapable of killing Claudius when he is at prayer, since Hamlet wishes to manipulate the circumstances of Claudius' death so that he is "about some act that has no relish in't" (III, iv, 91-2). The lesson of the graveyard is that death is inevitable, not contrived. Having learned this lesson, Hamlet is a more passive agent of his own fate and the plot resolves itself. The focus on the inevitability of death, which Hamlet reflects upon in the encounter with the gravedigger, enables him to embrace whatever fate will bring. Without this encounter, Hamlet would not have the perspective to tell Horatio "If it be now, 'tis not to come - if it be not to come; it will be now - if it be not now, yet it will come - the readiness is all" (V, ii, 223-5).

The scene of the...
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