The Comedy of Hamlet
Shakespearean plays are often known for their outstanding entertainment and classic comic conflict. In his masterwork, Hamlet, Shakespeare uses these aspects to serve his thematic purpose. He has used comedy throughout many of his historic plays, but in this play, comedy is the drawing point that makes it fun and entertaining, yet clear and intuitive. Generally, his tragedies are not seen as comical, but in reality, they are full of humor. However, these comic elements don’t simply serve to relieve tension; they have much significance to the play itself. The characters of Hamlet, Polonius, Osric, and the Gravediggers, prove to be very influential characters, and throughout the play, they are the individuals that support the fact that comedy is an important feature in Hamlet because it provides comic relief from the continuous tragedies of the play. Some critics have said that comedy in Hamlet, serves only to entertain the audience and keep them from boredom. Nevertheless, Shakespeare strategically composes his plays and gives the characters emotion and meaning behind their words. Hamlet, Polonius, Osric, and the Gravediggers, all speak with truth, but the manner in which they speak is what is unique to this play. According to Draudt, what “distinguishes Hamlet from the rest of Shakespeare’s plays, is [that] its variety [in] the scenes are interchangeably diversified with merriment and solemnity, that the pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth (i.e. laughter).” Anne Barton also comments that “Hamlet seems to be the only one of Shakespeare’s protagonists who possesses and demonstrates a sense of humor” (Draudt, 2002). The significant difference in Hamlet compared to other Shakespearean tragedies, is that comedy is used to convey feelings and thoughts of the characters in a masked fashion. It assists in revealing truth, and simultaneously adds humor to the play. The use of comedy makes Hamlet a very unique work of art and demonstrates Shakespeare’s distinct writing talent. “Comedy is, the ground from which, or against which, tragedy develops. Comedy and tragedy function as polar opposites or as two sides of the same coin” (Draudt, 2002). Comedy and tragedy in Hamlet however, play hand in hand and create a role for each other in that once an incident occurs, it is followed by humor and amusement to purposefully add more insight to the situation at hand. Along with tragedy comes comedy, and when there’s comedy, in Shakespeare, the comedy is about a tragedy. So the comedy in this play is vital and helps the reader see what is really going on through a different perspective. In the case of the Gravediggers, they use comic relief to give the audience insight into the religious aspect burial of Ophelia, and their feelings of it. “Is she to be buried in Christian burial that willfully seeks her own salvation? How can that be, unless she drowned herself in her own defense?” (Shakespeare, 1999, 5.1.1-2, 6-7). The clowns ironically question Ophelia’s death and her burial because they know the circumstances of her death and that she should not be buried in this manner. They speak the truth in the matter, and use humor to shine light on the situation. Without this, the audience might not question the morality of the service. Also, the Gravediggers use comedy to “bring about a radical change of perspective in the play, from the metaphysical concerns associated with the protagonist to the macabre physical reality of digging a grave, knocking about skulls and the question of a corpse rotting in the earth” (Draudt, 2002). Within the scene, the First Clown tells Hamlet, “If he be not rotten before he dies, he will last you some eight or nine year” (Shakespeare, 1999, 5.1.173-177). This comment, although playful, and insightful, allows Hamlet to ponder the meaning of death, and how he will act in the near future. The Gravediggers comments seem to enhance the scene to take away from the fact...
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