28 October 2012
A Fool Knows Best
It seems very unlikely that a gravedigger, with no education or sense of knowledge, would have an effect on an intelligent prince. It also seems highly unlikely that a half-dug grave containing skulls, bones, and rotting decay would provide William Shakespeare a perfect opportunity to employ comedy in Hamlet. However, Shakespeare has taken hold of this opportunity to provide a discussion full of jest, remarkable word-play, and clever humor. Using these thematic elements, he forces Hamlet to question “his inability to recognize how a major way of knowing restricts both his love and his philosophy” (Hunt 141). In other words, Hamlet becomes aware that man is truly the very “quintessence of dust” (Shakespeare 103) and no matter if the man be a great king or simple peasant, all return to nothing.
The comedic value of the gravedigger becomes apparent before he and Prince Hamlet even speak. He sings while digging and Shakespeare’s audience is in the same state of surprise as Hamlet. “Has this fellow no feeling of his business?” (Shakespeare 243). The digger seems to have no sense of his work but still eventually gains the respect from Hamlet with his ready tongue and wit. In a humorous dialogue between the two, they discuss what exactly lies in the grave:
HAMLET: What man dost thou dig it for?
GRAVEDIGGER: For no man, sir.
HAMLET: What woman then?
GRAVEDIGGER: For none neither.
HAMLET: Who is to be buried in't?
GRAVEDIGGER: One that was a woman sir, but, rest her soul, she's dead. (Shakespeare 247)
The gravedigger, unlike Hamlet, does not see the skulls and bones of the dead the same persons who they once belonged too. Ophelia is no longer a woman; in fact she is dead. The gravedigger has something Hamlet does not; “his view of experience is truly decorous. He is able to isolate joys and beloved individuals in their own times, not insisting that a past experience be unnaturally superimposed upon the present” (Hunt 143). Hamlet wishes death was non-existent and he finds it depressing whereas the gravedigger can acknowledge it with humor. Hamlet cannot accept the natural process until he actually holds a skull in his hand and examines “what a piece of work [that] is a man” (Shakespeare 101).
Hamlet takes the skull of Yorick and examines it, and at this turning point, begins to oppose the play's initial premise of human imperfection. He cannot yet sing while grave-making like the gravedigger, but now the “custom hath made it in him a property of easiness” (Shakespeare 243). Hamlet’s belief that man is nothing turns to something real. “He can trace the dust of a world-conqueror until he finds it stopping a bung-hole and without considering a jot too curiously” (Reno 110). The fact that Yorick, someone who played a prominent role in young Hamlet’s life, is now a pile of decay in the dirt has a profound effect on Hamlet. He could be looking at two skulls, one Alexander’s, the world-conqueror, and the other Yorick’s, and he would not be able to tell the difference. All return to nothing.
This concept of nothing is very apparent in Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” This short story studies the inevitability of death and how there are always two contrasting views present. One view on life is hurried and impatient; not understanding of others. The second view is the opposite. It is patient and wise; knowing that death is near. The elder waiter is a practitioner of the second viewpoint as he reprimands the younger waiter for his rush. “What is an hour?” asks the older waiter (Hemingway 98). To the elder waiter, time is not important. Time is nothing. Death is the only thing to be certain of.
This brings the discussion back to the graveyard where the digger uses time as his ally. Hamlet asks, “How long is it since [you became a