Act V. Scene I. - A Churchyard.
Hamlet: "Dost thou think Alexander looked o' this
fashion i' the earth?"
Hamlet and Horatio speak with a cheerful gravedigger.
Hamlet famously realizes that man's accomplishments
are transitory (fleeting) and holding the skull of Yorick,
a childhood jester he remembers from his youth, creates
the famous scene about man's insignificance and inability
to control his fate following death.
At Ophelia's burial, the Priest reveals a widely
held belief that Ophelia committed suicide, angering
Laertes. Hamlet fights Laertes over Ophelia's grave,
angered by Laertes' exaggerated emphasis of his sorrow
and because he believes he loved Ophelia much more than
her brother, Laertes.
Two gravediggers, called "Clowns" in the
text, are digging. The First Clown makes his fairly
low opinion of Ophelia clear by asking "Is she
[Ophelia] to be buried in Christian burial that wilfully
seeks her own salvation?" (Is Ophelia who wilfully
commits suicide, to be buried in a Christian manner?),
The First Clown's (Gravedigger's) question reminds
us that in the gravedigger's opinion, committing suicide
is sinful and less than deserving of a proper "Christian
burial" as made clear by the tone of the First
The Second Clown (gravedigger) assures the First Clown
that yes, Ophelia will get a proper burial, telling
his co-worker to "make her grave straight:"
or do his job properly (Line 4).
The First Clown does not accept this, asking how Ophelia
can receive a Christian burial; unless as he says, "she
drowned herself in her own defence [defense]?"
The Second Clown tells the First Clown that she will
be buried properly and now the First Clown argues that
Ophelia "drowned herself wittingly" or deliberately
The First Clown continues pressing his point by arguing
further that drowning is not suicide when the water
comes to that person drowning them, but is suicide when
one goes to the water and drowns (Lines 15-21).
The two men continuing speaking, the Second Clown making
quite clear the First Clown's belief that the only reason
Ophelia is receiving a Christian burial at all is because
she was a "gentlewoman" (Lines 25-26).
The First Clown now describes himself and his co-worker
as being "ancient gentlemen" (Line 33) like
"gardeners, ditchers and grave-makers;" who
all hold up "Adam's profession" he explains
Furthermore, the First Clown and Second Clown argue
that their role as gravediggers is timeless; since a
"gallows-maker;" builds a frame that "outlives
a thousand tenants" (Line 48).
Hamlet and Horatio now enter at a distance, the First
Clown sending the Second Clown off to fetch him "a
stoup of liquor" or some alcohol to drink (Line
The First Clown now alone, sings parts of a song whilst
digging (Lines 67-70).
Hamlet watching this, is amazed that this man who digs
holes for the dead can be so merry, asking himself,
"Has this fellow no feeling of his business, that
he sings at grave-making?" (Line 72).
Horatio answers that "Custom" has made this
man used to his job or desensitized him to feeling sad
about his work (Line 73).
The First Clown continues singing, throwing up a skull
in his work. This causes Hamlet to wonder at the endless
possibility of whom that skull once represented (Lines
81-92), and Hamlet now realizes that whomever it once
was, the skull is now merely food for worms, the Clown
continuing his singing, hard at work (Lines 92-100).
The Clown now throws up another skull, and Hamlet again
wonders whom that skull might once have belonged to.
Hamlet wonders whether it was a lawyer, noting how
all that lawyer's prestige, "his quillets... his
tenures," and so forth cannot prevent his bones
now being knocked about by "this rude knave"
[The First Clown] with a dirty shovel.
Again, Hamlet returns to the idea of whom the skull
represented, saying that maybe it belonged to "a
great buyer of land," who is now reduced to being
in dirt, Hamlet now realizing that death truly is the
great equalizer of life, ignoring status, reputation,
position and power by reducing all to the same fate
Hamlet now decides to speak with the First Clown and
the two men exchange witticisms. This begins when Hamlet
catches the last part of the Clown's song which says
"O! a pit of clay for to be made / For such a guest
is meet" (Line 128), Hamlet insisting this pit
is for the digger.
The Clown refuses, saying that Hamlet is on it (the
grave), not in it and so it cannot be Hamlet's whilst
saying the grave is not his because he lies in it as
Hamlet says, the Clown explaining that the grave is
his but not because he lies in it (Lines 125-144).
Eventually Hamlet learns that the Clown is digging
the grave for a woman, the First Clown saying "rest
her soul, she's dead" (Line 145).
Hamlet is appalled at this rudeness and learns that
the First Clown has been digging graves since "our
last King Hamlet overcame Fortinbras" (Line 156),
some thirty years ago (Line 176). The First Clown, not
realizing he is speaking with Hamlet , King Hamlet's
son, also adds that it was the year "young Hamlet
was born;" a man who is now mad and has been sent
The First Clown discusses his craft with Hamlet (Lines
177-190) before noticing a skull, the First Clown telling
Hamlet that it is of Yorick, the King's (King Hamlet's)
Hamlet wanting to see this, takes Yorick's skull (Line
201), famously exclaiming "Alas! poor Yorick"
(Line 202) before explaining to the Clown that he remembered
him fondly when he was growing up as a child (Lines
In a now very famous scene, Hamlet still holding and
looking at Yorick's skull in his hand, asks Horatio
"Dost thou think Alexander looked o' this fashion
i' the earth?" (Do you think Alexander the Great
looked / looks like this in the dirt where he is buried?),
Horatio replies that he believes even Alexander the
Great looks like Yorick in the dirt (Line 219) and Hamlet
asks Horatio if Alexander the Great smells as bad before
putting down Yorick's skull (Line 220).
Hamlet now famously comments on what a base or basic
state we must return to in death no matter how great
we may each have once been, Hamlet using Alexander as
an example of this:
"To what base uses we may return, Horatio! Why
may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander,
till he find it stopping a bung-hole?" (Line 225).
Hamlet now finally realizes how ultimately fleeting
and insignificant one's existence really is, when he
tells Horatio that "Alexander died, Alexander was
buried, Alexander returneth [returned] into dust; the
dust is earth; of earth we make loam, and why of that
loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop
a beer-barrel?" (Lines 230-234).
Hamlet further explains that "Imperious Caesar
[Julius Caesar], dead and turn'd [turned] to clay, /
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away:" (Line
235), further emphasizing that for all one's greatness
in life, one cannot control one's fate after death nor
avoid being used for the most basic or indeed humiliating
As such in Hamlet comparing man to dirt we see a parallel
with his earlier comments about man being God-like in
nature, the very paragon of animals, the "quintessence
of dust?" (Lines 321-331, Act II, Scene II).
A procession now enters carrying the corpse of Ophelia,
with Priests, Ophelia's brother Laertes, King Claudius,
Queen Gertrude and "Mourners" in tow.
Hamlet and Horatio retire or step out of view of this
procession, Hamlet noting that Laertes is "a very
noble youth:" (Line 246).
The First Priest speaks, insulting Laertes by saying
Ophelia's death was "doubtful," (Line 250)
a clear reference to the Priest suspecting Ophelia committed
suicide and therefore should not be receiving a Christian
The Priest even goes so far as to say what sort of
burial Ophelia should have received for her suicide
(Lines 251-256), making it quite clear that in his opinion,
Ophelia is receiving a better funeral than he thinks
she deserves as a women who in his opinion, committed
suicide (Lines 248-256).
Laertes is angered that his sister is not further receiving
the burial rites he believes she should have but the
Priest stands firm (Lines 257-263).
Queen Gertrude bids Ophelia farewell, saying "Sweets
to the sweet: farewell!", scattering flowers on
Ophelia's coffin (Line 265), saying she had hoped Ophelia
would have become Hamlet's wife (Line 266).
Laertes now openly mourns his sister's loss, leaping
into her grave (Lines 268-276). Hamlet, however is unimpressed
with Laertes mourning, believing it to be disrespecting
Ophelia and to be overemphasized in his opinion. Hamlet
also complains that if anyone should bear such displays
of sorrow, it is he, "Hamlet the Dane" who
loved her and he too jumps into Ophelia's grave (Line
Hamlet and Laertes now fight atop Ophelia's grave,
Laertes strangling Hamlet by the throat until Horatio
asks Hamlet to calm himself and "Attendants"
part the fighting men, taking them out of the grave.
Hamlet says he will still happily fight Laertes upon
a "theme" or reason that we soon learn was
Hamlet's love for Ophelia (Line 288).
Hamlet explains that "I lov'd [loved] Ophelia:"
adding that "forty thousand brothers / Could not,
with all their quantity of love, / Make up my sum"
(forty thousand men's love could not match my love for
Ophelia), (Line 292).
The King says Hamlet is mad, Queen Gertrude defending
her son by playing along and agreeing. Hamlet now reinforces
the idea that he is mad by rambling words of madness
which appear to convince King Claudius, Queen Gertrude
again helping her son by telling the King that Hamlet
must be mad (Lines 297-314).
With Hamlet gone, King Claudius tells the insulted
Laertes that he should be patient; soon Laertes will
have his revenge as discussed the night before (Lines
Act V. Scene II. - A Hall in the Castle.
Hamlet: "tell my story."
Hamlet explains to Horatio how he avoided the death
planned for him in England and had courtiers Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern put to death instead. Hamlet reveals
his desire to kill King Claudius. Summoned by Osric
to fence against Laertes, Hamlet arrives at a hall in
the castle and fights him.
Queen Gertrude drinks a poisoned cup meant for Hamlet,
dying. Hamlet wins the first two rounds against Laertes
but is stabbed and poisoned fatally in the third round.
Exchanging swords whilst fighting, Hamlet wounds and
poisons Laertes who explains that he has been doomed
by his own poison-tipped sword.
Using this sword, Hamlet stabs King Claudius, killing
him. Hamlet, now dying, tells Horatio to tell his story
and not to commit suicide. Hamlet recommends Young Fortinbras
as the next King of Denmark.
Young Fortinbras arrives, cleaning up the massacre.
Horatio promises to tell all the story we have just
witnessed, ending the play.
Hamlet enters, telling Horatio of what had happened
to him since he boarded the bark (ship) for England.
He explains that from his cabin on the bark, he woke
himself up, found Rosencrantz' and Guildenstern's cabin
and with "My fears forgetting manners-" (Line
17) groped in the dark and stole "Their grand commission;"
or orders from King Claudius to them (Line 18).
Opening up the orders with the excuse that his opening
the commission was as much for England's safety as Denmark's,
Hamlet found out that he was to have had his head cut
off by axe on arrival in England (Lines 17-25).
Horatio does not at first believe it, so Hamlet gives
him the commission to read for himself (Line 27). Hamlet
explains however, that he turned the tables on Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern by writing a new commission in Claudius'
writing, telling the English King of Claudius' desire
to maintain good relations and to have "the bearers
" of this commission, (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern)
"put to sudden death," (killed immediately),
Hamlet explains that he sealed the commission with
his father's (King Hamlet's) signet which was the model
for the "Danish seal;" King Claudius used,
thus making the commission look authentic (Lines 48-55).
The next day, Hamlet explains, he had his "sea-fight,"
and so left the ship. Horatio is appalled by all of
this, asking if the two courtiers are dead (Line 56).
Hamlet has no regrets for sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
to their deaths, saying "they did make love to
this employment; / They are not near my conscience;"
by which Hamlet means, the two courtiers did follow
King Claudius and so in choosing his side to follow,
must pay the price (Line 57).
Horatio is clearly not impressed by King Claudius'
actions, asking Hamlet "Why, what a king is this!"
or what kind of a king is Claudius (Line 62).
Hamlet now justifies the idea of killing King Claudius,
saying King Claudius "hath [has] kill'd my king
[killed King Hamlet his father] and whor'd [whored,
or made Queen Gertrude a whore] my mother," (Line
64), Hamlet asking is it not right to stop such a man
from committing further evil?
Horatio reminds Hamlet that soon King Claudius will
know what happened to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,
but Hamlet replies that the "interim" or moment,
though short, "is mine;" (Line 73).
Osric now enters, greeting Hamlet who quickly asks
Horatio if he knows this "water-fly?" (insignificant
person / nobody), Horatio saying "No, my good lord"
Osric now announces that he speaks "from his majesty"
or King Claudius, Osric mentioning that it is hot, Hamlet
saying it is cold in an effort to further convince the
King that he is mad, Hamlet moving to make Osric put
on his hat since it is obviously cold (Lines 97-108).
Osric announces the arrival of Laertes at King Claudius'
court, noting that Laertes is "an absolute gentleman,
full of most excellent differences," (Line 112)
using a great many more words than are truly necessary
to say this and echoing the late Polonius' own long-winded
or periphrastic, wordy sentences (Lines 112-117).
Hamlet mocks Osric by verbosely (using alot of words)
replying that he too respects Laertes (Lines 118-127)
and eventually after attempting to tire and exhaust
Osric with overly verbose (wordy) comments, Hamlet learns
that he has been challenged to duel Laertes in a friendly
fencing match to be watched by King Claudius, Queen
Gertrude and company.
We learn that King Claudius has betted "six Barbary
horses;" on Hamlet losing by no more than three
hits out of twelve passes and that Laertes has matched
this by betting "six French rapiers" (six
French swords) that he will win by more than three hits
Osric explains the rules of the match; there are to
be a dozen passes between Laertes and Hamlet (Line 174)
and Hamlet after initially hesitating, (Line 177) decides
he will accept the challenge and "will win [the
match] for him [King Claudius]" if he can, adding
that if he loses, he will only gain the shame of a few
blunt hits from the blunted sword not realizing or knowing
that Laertes' swords will not be blunt at all (Line
Osric leaves to tell King Claudius Hamlet has accepted
Laertes' challenge, Hamlet and Horatio discussing how
odd Osric is (Lines 190-202).
A Lord now enters, telling Hamlet that King Claudius
now awaits Hamlet in the hall and that he wishes to
know how much more time Hamlet will need before fighting
Laertes (Lines 203-207).
Hamlet answers that he will "follow the king's
pleasure:" or do as the King wishes, answering
that he is ready to fight (Lines 208-212).
The Lord tells Hamlet that the King and Queen will
arrive soon and that Queen Gertrude wishes Hamlet to
"use some gentle entertainment" or entertain
Laertes politely before the fight. Hamlet agrees, remarking
that Queen Gertrude advises him well (Lines 214-218).
With the Lord leaving, Horatio tells Hamlet that he
will "lose this wager, [bet]" or fight (Line
219) but Hamlet is certain he will not, telling Horatio
that since he went to France, he has been continuously
practicing his fencing skills. Hamlet now reveals that
his heart is ill but immediately dismisses this thought
as "foolery;" or nonsense (Lines 223-224).
Horatio tells Hamlet that if his mind dislikes or is
not certain about this fight, Hamlet should postpone
the duel, Horatio offering to "say you are not
fit" or sick if necessary (Line 230) but Hamlet
is determined to fight (Lines 232-238).
King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, Laertes, Lords, Osric
and Attendants with foils (blunt swords used in fencing)
enter, taking their seats to watch the duel.
King Claudius begins the fight by placing Laertes'
hand on Hamlet's and Hamlet now asks Laertes for his
"pardon," or forgiveness for his earlier fight
with Laertes atop Ophelia's grave (Line 240).
Hamlet explains that he is "punish'd / With sore
distraction" (Line 244) , saying the reason for
his behaviour was "His madness" (Line 251)
and that if this madness led him to upset Laertes in
any way it is "poor Hamlet's enemy" (Line
Laertes replies that he is satisfied that Hamlet meant
him no wrong but will "stand aloof," (Line
261) or not accept Hamlet's apology until he is satisfied
that "elder masters," (Line 262) or men of
known honor can assure Laertes that his own honor has
not been damaged in anyway. Laertes adds that "till
that time," (Line 264) however, he will receive
Hamlet's love as love and not "wrong it" or
abuse Hamlet's gesture of goodwill (Lines 259-266).
Hamlet accepts Laertes words "freely;" asking
that they both be given their foils (blunt swords).
Hamlet says that he will be Laertes' foil allowing Laertes
skill to shine like a star in the darkest of nights
but Laertes tells Hamlet "You mock me, sir [you
are mocking me], Hamlet denying this (Lines 266-272).
King Claudius instructs Osric to give Hamlet and Laertes
their foils, asking both if they remember the rules
of this match, Hamlet reminding King Claudius that he
has betted on "the weaker side" (Hamlet's)
but King Claudius assures Hamlet that he thinks he is
betting on the right man... Laertes not liking his foil,
complains asking for another foil, Hamlet asking if
all the foils have the same length (Lines 273-280).
As the two men prepare to duel or fight, King Claudius
arranges some stoups of wine to be placed on a nearby
table. He says that if Hamlet gets the first or second
hit, "ordnance" or canons will fire to celebrate
this (Line 284); furthermore King Claudius will drink
to "Hamlet's better breath;" (Line 285)
and will place a pearl which he calls an "onion"
within a glass to be taken by the winner.
King Claudius now drinks to Hamlet after a succession
of trumpets, cannons and kettles or kettle drums as
they are also known, before the match begins (Lines
Hamlet quickly scores the first hit, saying "One",
Laertes disagreeing but Osric judging that Hamlet did
hit Laertes fairly (Lines 293-296).
King Hamlet asks for a drink and tells Hamlet that
"this pearl is thine [yours];" (Line 296)
before telling him "Here's to thy [your] health"
(Line 297), King Claudius wanting Hamlet to drink from
the cup, earning his pearl (and being poisoned). Trumpets
and canons now sound...
Instead of drinking the wine however, Hamlet says he
will play first, asking for the cup to be set aside
for awhile so that he can drink from it later (Line
Hamlet and Laertes again fight, Hamlet scoring another
hit on Laertes and asking him what he has to say about
it. Laertes replies that the hit was only a "touch,
a touch," King Claudius proudly saying "Our
son [Hamlet] shall win" (Line 301).
Queen Gertrude is not certain Hamlet will win, noting
that "He's [Hamlet] fat, and scant [short] of breath"
but offers support, telling her son to take her napkin
to rub his brow of sweat (Line 302).
King Claudius, now noticing that his wife Gertrude
has picked up the poisoned glass, tells his beloved
wife, "Gertrude, do not drink" (Line 304)
but Queen Gertrude defiantly replies "I will, my
lord;" asking King Claudius to pardon her for it
in her unwittingly final act.
King Claudius in an aside, worries that "It is
the poison'd [poisoned] cup!" Gertrude drinks from,
and adds "it is too late" realizing that Queen
Gertrude has drunk from it (Line 306).
Hamlet now refuses the cup offered by Queen Gertrude,
Queen Gertrude telling Hamlet that she will wipe his
Laertes tells King Claudius that he is confident he
will hit Hamlet with his poisoned sword but King Claudius
no longer believes Laertes can do it, saying "I
do not think't [I doubt it]" (Line 310). Laertes
in an aside, reveals some guilt by saying he almost
thinks striking Hamlet when he is not playing is against
his conscience (Line 311).
Hamlet and Laertes continue fighting, Laertes finally
wounding Hamlet followed by the two men exchanging swords
with Hamlet now wounding Laertes with Laertes' own poisoned
sword, dooming both men now to death...
King Claudius orders the two men parted but Queen Gertrude
falls, Osric shouting "Look to the queen there,
ho!" (Line 317).
Horatio notices Hamlet bleeding, Osric noticing that
Laertes too is bleeding and when Osric asks Laertes
how this can be (foils are supposed to be blunt not
sharp), Laertes replies "I am justly kill'd with
mine own treachery" (I have been rightly killed
by my own treachery), (Line 321).
Queen Gertrude, who is now dying despite King Claudius'
best efforts to ignore this, warns Hamlet not to drink
from the cup, telling all that she has been poisoned,
before dying (Lines 324-325). When Queen Gertrude earlier
passed out before her poison accusation (Lines 324-325),
King Claudius told Hamlet that it was because Queen
Gertrude could not bear the sight of Hamlet's and Laertes'
blood (Line 323).
Hamlet, crying villainy, orders the doors to the courtyard
to be locked preventing the murderer from escaping,
Laertes now falling.
Before dying however, Laertes tells Hamlet that "thou
art slain;" (you will die), (Line 327), adding
that he has " not half an hour of life;" left,
and that "The treacherous instrument is in thy
hand, / Unbated and envenom'd" (the treacherous
instrument that killed you, this sword, is in your hand,
still dipped or envenomed with poison), (Line 330).
Laertes also tells Hamlet that his mother (Queen Gertrude)
has been poisoned and that "the king's to blame"
Noticing that the sword is still poison tipped or is
"envenom'd", Hamlet shouts, "venom, to
thy [your] work" stabbing King Claudius with the
poisoned sword (Lines 336).
All present shout "Treason! treason! (it is treason
to kill a king), (Line 338), Hamlet telling King Claudius
who he describes as an "incestuous, murderous,
damned Dane," to "Follow my mother" or
die, which King Hamlet promptly does (Line 340).
Laertes, still alive, notes that King Claudius has
been "justly serv'd;" or punished, asking
Hamlet that they both should now forgive one another,
saying "Mine and my father's [Polonius'] death
come not upon thee [you], / Nor thine [yours] on me!"
before Laertes dies (Line 344).
Hamlet speaks his hope that Laertes will be forgiven
and made free of his guilt by heaven, saying that he
will soon follow Laertes to death. Telling Horatio "I
am dead, Horatio", Hamlet now bids his mother farewell
by saying "Wretched queen, adieu! (Wretched Queen,
goodbye!), (Line 348).
Hamlet now asks his dear friend to tell his story accurately
following his now certain demise but Horatio wants to
join Hamlet in death. Only Hamlet's threat that he will
have "a wounded name," or bad reputation if
Horatio does not live to clear it, convinces Horatio
not to join Hamlet in death (Lines 354-362).
To the sounds of distant marching and a shot, Osric
announces the arrival of Young Fortinbras who have just
arrived from his success in Poland and who has just
fired a shot in honor of the recently arrived "ambassadors
of England" (Lines 364-366).
Hamlet now tells Horatio that he is finally dying,
and hearing Fortinbras' forces approaching, tells Horatio
that as surviving Prince, he chooses Young Fortinbras
as the new King of Denmark (Lines 368-372).
Seeing his friend die, Horatio remarks that "Now
cracks a noble heart" (Line 372), bidding his friend
good-bye with the words "Good-night, sweet prince,
/ And flights of angels sing thee [you] to thy [your]
rest!" (Line 374).
Young Fortinbras and the English Ambassadors now enter,
the First Ambassador gazing upon the "dismal;"
sight of so much blood shed and regretting that he cannot
report to King Claudius that "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
are dead" since so too is King Claudius (Line 385).
Young Fortinbras is not so disgusted by this bloodshed,
no doubt being used to such sights, and Horatio now
wraps up the play's action by telling all that he will
soon tell "the yet unknowing world" (Line
393) the story "Of carnal [sexual, lustful], bloody,
and unnatural acts, / Of accidental judgments, casual
slaughters; / Of deaths put on by cunning and forc'd
[forced] cause," or the story of Hamlet which Young
Fortinbras in particular is keen to hear (Lines 387-399).
Young Fortinbras now orders "four captains"
to bury Hamlet with full honors, "soldiers' music
and the rites of war" since in Young Fortinbras'
opinion, Hamlet acted most "royally:", Young
Fortinbras also ordering the removal of all the other
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark ends with a death
march bearing off the dead bodies after which a "peal
of ordnance is shot off."