HAMLETTHE SIGNIFICANCE OF GRAVE YARD SCENE AND IRONY OFDEATH
The grave-digger scene, Act V, Scene 1 is partly comic, containing the comic gravediggers andtheir chop logic and also the gravedigger's conversation with Hamlet.The significance of the graveyard scene is underlined by its length: with its 266 lines it is infact the longest penultimate scene of any of Shakespeare's tragedies.It is in the graveyard scene where the subject of death becomes absolutely central. Not onlyin the famous soliloquy but already at the end of the second scene,"O ... that the Everlasting had not fixed/ His canon 'gainst self-slaughter"Hamlet has pondered on suicide and death; now, in the graveyard (act 5, scene 1), twoClowns are commenting on the issue of Ophelia’s suicide. The gravediggers are acutely awareof potential social injustice.In the churchyard two grave-diggers are preparing a grave. As they dig the grave they arearguing as to the rights and wrongs of granting a Christian burial to Ophelia, for in Christianlaw, Christian rites are to be denied at the funeral of a suicide. The second grave diggeradmits what the other man has said, and says it is the great pity that the great men in theworld have to drown or hang themselves more than their Christian fellows. This shows thatthe grave diggers are acutely aware of the irony of death of the great men in the worldbecause of social injustice. The grave digger after saying this takes the spade to work andcomments upon the meaning of the ‘gentleman’. A gentleman is one who bears arms; andgardeners, and grave makers are all gentlemen for they all bear arms and hold up Adam’sprofession who in the scriptures is said to have dug and hence have borne arms.The grave diggers are introduced to relieve the audience from the tragic tension of the play.The technique is known as dramatic relief. Through these grave-diggers Shakespeare conveyssome generalizations also. There is a common saying that there is one law for the poor andanother for the rich. This is seen true in giving a Christian burial to Ophelia, who is supposedto have committed suicide.