The use of comedy in Shakespeare's Hamlet serves many purposes for the audience, while also serving a distinct purpose in the play. Hamlet is a tragedy about a son who avenges his father's murder, but his madness and indecision take its toll on everyone. Shakespeare uses humor in this play as a device to temporarily distract the audience away from the almost relentless tragedy and dark plot turns that permeate the rest of the story. The humorous scenes in the play always come directly before or after a scene of great violence. The few comedic scenes tossed into an otherwise tragic play serve to keep the audience interested in what's happening, and also lend a tone of dark, morbid humor to a serious story. Through the incompetent-leader/wise-follower complex cliché of the gravedigger and his assistant, the naivety of Osric, and the incessant ramblings of Polonius, and ultimately Hamlet with the use of his subtle, sick, and persistent humor cropping out at every turn, these characters play important roles in deciding outcomes or setting the stage for upcoming events while providing the audience with comic relief from the continuous tragedies of the play.
Though cliché, the gravedigger scene provides the reader with an effective pair of characters contrasting in personality and sense, but nonetheless important. The scene follows directly after the discussion of Ophelia's death and the development of the plot of Laertes and Claudius to murder Hamlet. This scene of great tragedy and conspiracy comes right before the conversation between the gravediggers over the digging of Ophelia's grave. Hamlet is outwitted in this scene by the gravedigger. The gravedigger tries to mess with Hamlet's head with a clever use of his words. In line 123 the gravedigger shows how he outsmarts Hamlet, "One that was a woman, sir, but rest her soul, she's dead." Polonius and Osric continue to exchange riddles and word-play when Hamlet asks whose grave it is that the gravedigger is digging....
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