hamlet graveyard scene

The graveyard scene represents how Hamlet’s psychological state has developed throughout the course of the play. He reflects upon various dilemmas which he has previously encountered before undertaking a renewed outlook in relation to life and death. He contemplates the corruption of death which is paralleled to that of which took place in the opening Act, concerning the death of his father. He further reveals his suppressed love for Ophelia which reverts back to his ‘antic dispossession’ enacted in the middle of the play, before re-evaluating his perception of death in the scene.

In this way the scene explores the psychological journey on which Hamlet embarks throughout the play, as well as the eventual definitive shift. Hamlet’s initial psychological state of mind is characterised by significant melancholic depression derived from the social corruption of his father’s death. The extension of this corruption is the immediate rebound marriage of Gertrude and Claudius, much to Hamlet’s disgust. The blunt statement by a clown, “but rest her soul she’s dead” (Act 5 scene 1), astounds Hamlet as he highlights the corrupt nature of such a claim by the exclamation, “How absolute the knave is! Hamlet’s disgust is paralleled to Act 1, in which he was overcome by melancholia and disgust. He describes the pleasures of the world as ‘weary, stale, flat and unprofitable’, while also implementing the invective of ‘incestuous sheets’ (Act 1 Scene 2). This is the birth of the ‘procrastination theory’ held by Coleridge in the early 18th C, although this idea is limited as it fails to account for Hamlet’s deep psychological conflict derived from the surrounding corruption.

The sexual innuendo is an implication of Hamlet’s disapproval, significantly reducing his zest for life and appreciation for worldly pleasures. Social corruption is at the heart of Hamlet’s miserable state of being, summed up by the extended metaphor of ‘an unweeded garden’. This pivotal metaphor accentuates the social upheaval which will blossom from which ‘foul deeds will rise’ (Act 1 scene 2). Connotations of contamination are inferred by the lexical choice of ‘foul’, foreshadowing the future turn of event which will take place.

It is further symbolic of Hamlet’s corrupt state of mind, and similarly the corruption of death which Hamlet comes to establish in the graveyard scene. The death of this woman acts as a foil for the death of Hamlet’s father, alluding to the unresolved corruption in the ‘foul’ state of Denmark, (Act 1 Scene 1). It is evident that Hamlet’s mental instability in the early scenes is reflected in the social corruption of death, realised in the graveyard scene. Hamlet’s psychological state evolves as the play develops, imposing a false facade masking any suspicion of plotting behaviour.

Inspired by the appearance of the ghost, Hamlet swears to avenge his father’s murder, “I Have sworn’t”, responding to the ghost’s request, “’Adieu, adieu, remember me’ (Act 1 Scene 5). Later in the scene, he hints to put on an ‘antic disposition’. In this way he would exhibit a veil of madness as an allowance to plot his revenge without scepticism. In the graveyard scene Hamlet discloses his love for Ophelia, “I love Ophelia; forty thousand brothers/ could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum. This declaration is in direct conflict with his treatment of Ophelia in Act 3 Scene 1. He informs her directly, “I loved you not”, while further insulting her by the invective, “go thy ways to a nunnery”. Hamlet’s blatant deceit towards her troubles both her and those who are curious as to Hamlet’s extremely unusual behaviour. What is unclear is that this is a deliberate ploy to distance Ophelia from himself as he is still not mentally stable, therefore protecting her in an act of love. Hamlet’s contemplative opening line of the scene, “to be or not to be”, is an allusion to life or death.

He is still yet to fully establish whether, it is ‘nobler in the mind to suffer the slings of outrageous fortunes, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles’. The metaphoric nature of his reflection is significant as he still fails to establish a conclusive decision as to whether he must continue his search for justice, despite the need to commit regicide. Such contemplation supports Helen Gardener’s 20th C theory that Hamlet is caught in two minds, dismissing the procrastination theory as underdeveloped, disregarding his difficult psychological status.

This is the core of Hamlet’s moral dilemma which he must shield from others. His declaration of love in the graveyard scene displays a new found confidence and realisation that his position and knowledge of the social corruption must be known, the declaration being an important initial revelation removing his false facade. In the graveyard scene, Hamlet comes to the realisation that death is a definitive concept which is an end in itself. He establishes this conclusion as he looks at the skull of the court Jester.

In effect, he is staring at death face to face, the skull symbolic of the dullness and bluntness of death. He questions what happens to all that an individual has lived for with the Jester as an example,” Where be your gibes now? Your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar? ” These rhetorical questions allude to the jester’s qualities and positive influence which he imposed unto others. Staring as an empty skull, Hamlet realises that all this is lost when a person dies.

He draws classical allusions to ‘Alexander’ and ‘Imperious Caesar’, “Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam”. The listing of events after Alexander’s death highlights Hamlet’s apprehension that no matter how great a life a person lives, they will return to dust. In this way, a crucial shift in Hamlet’s perception of death occurs, disregarding all contemplation and consideration from the past and clearing his conscience.

As a result Hamlet is now able to act without his previously melancholic and contemplative state of mind standing in the way of his greater judgment. It is evident that the graveyard scene explores the changes to Hamlet’s psychological state of mind throughout the play. His contemplation of social corruption and ‘antic disposition’ is abolished while his new perception of death allows him to act with a clear conscience due to the shift in his psychological state of mind.

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