Summary: How Menial Characters Highlight Other Main Characters in the Hamlet Play

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Throughout his play Hamlet, Shakespeare allows the audience to examine how menial characters highlight other main characters in the play, emphasizing on the bad aspects of their personality. He indirectly reveals their flaws through a comparison between the gravedigger and such characters that are deemed to be important; Claudius, Ophelia, and Hamlet. Claudius is constantly depicted as one who does evil deeds for his own satisfaction. So focused on materialistic things, he decides to kill his kin, old Hamlet then later on desires to also get rid of Hamlet. This makes the gravediggers much more important because it highlights the importance of how purposeless materialistic things truly are. The gravediggers aid us in understanding that once we pass, none of our materialistic possessions matter. Ophelia, on the other side of the spectrum, decides to commit suicide long after feeling hopeless as a result of unrequieted love coming from Hamlet and the death of his father Polonius. By committing suicide, the gravedigger accenuates that suicide is not the answer for solving our temporary worries but because she dervives from a noble family, she recieved the proper burial funeral despite this being against the code of conducts in christianity. This reveals the flaw of society in general. Lastly, Hamlet, through his actions showcase that he's superior to others around him, especially by the means he speaks to them. Regardless of that, when he encounters the gravedigger, he’s the only person to verbally spar with Hamlet, indicating that intellect isn’t defined by royalty or social status in general. Inserting the gravedigger into the play assists in helping the audience understand the flaw in each character’s disposition.

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Old Hamlet is first introduced as the king of Denmark. He unfortunately loses his life through the poisoning of his ear by his kin, Claudius. Being that they’re brothers, one would expect him to owe loyalty to Hamlet. However, because of extreme greed, he decides to take his throne. Once again, the presence of the gravediggers emphasizes on the fact that his malicious deeds will result in nothing at the end. “Oh. my offense is rank. It smells to heaven. It hath the primal eldest curse on upon’‍t, a brother’s murder”. In Act three, Claudius is found to be by himself uttering these lines in his soliloquy confessing that he was responsible for the death of old Hamlet. Rather than stating so directly, he makes an analogy to the Bible in reference to Cain and Abel, emphasizing on the severity of his sin. He knows that his actions to commit this murder is “rank”. However, his self awareness doesn’t prevent him from continuously performing evil deeds. “Although Claudius is a self-confessed villain, he feels guilty about his crimes. He tries to pray for forgiveness but cannot make a full and sincere repentance. He plots with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to rid himself of Hamlet's disturbing presence at court, and when that plot fails he uses Laertes in another murderous plan to kill Hamlet with a poisoned sword”.

In other words, Claudius is very much aware of his wrong doings. Regardless of the fact, he’s deeply bound to the idea of owning everything to himself that he continues to do evil without the thought of how others might be affected in the process. The gravedigger allows the audience to understand that all that Claudius is doing is in vain considering that the worldly possessions will not come with us to heaven, earth, or purgatory. It doesn’t take him till the end of the play to finally understand what it means for all he has to mean nothing after all. When Marcellus, one of the guards at Elsinore references something being “rotten in the state of Denmark”, he alludes to Claudius and how much advantage he’s taking of his unearned throne. He claims that Claudius is currently what’s rotten in the state of Denmark being that he’s constantly showing signs of selfishness. Once again, the gravedigger indirectly let the audience understand that items are not of importance through verbal expression of his intellect when conversing with others around him. The audience is able to understand that what truly matters is the intellect through a description of what happens to humankind in the end time.

Ophelia, one of only two women in the play take their own life because everything becomes unbearable for her. The audience is able to understand that her father and her love life sums up the entirety of her life. As the play kept unraveling, the audience discerned her lose her father, Polonius and the love of her life Hamlet being that the love she had for him was unrequited. As a result, Ophelia committed suicide by drowning. Although one might see this in a sorrowful life, the gravedigger makes macabre jokes out of it, stressing the point that Ophelia is privileged hence why committing suicide still earned her the right to recieve proper burial. He states, “  If the man go to this to drown himself, it is, will he nill he, he goes; mark you that. But if the water comes to hi, he drowns not himself. Argal, he is not guilty of his of his own death” . Here, one can already guess that because she comes from a noble family, the gravedigger is intentionally justifying her death in order to make it much more suitable for burial rites. “ It has been remarked by certain old writers, that the character of Ophelia was almost too exquisitely touching to be dwelt upon --- a rose of may! A flower too soon faded!”. When reading the play, the initial thought of Ophelia is often times associated with such belief. We tend to believe that she’s innocent because afterall, everything that she could potentially depend on was nonexistent. However, the gravedigger make us understand that the act of committing suicide in itself is a sin as it goes against their religious beliefs. However, she is only saved just because of her nobility. Had that been a commoner, the person would not receive burial rites at all. “ And the more pity that great folk should have count’nance in this world to drown or hang themselves more than their even-christian”. This in itself reveals that had she not been fortunate enough to be born into nobility, she would've been left to rot without proper compensation. The gravedigger allows the spectators to comprehend what it truly means to be privileged to the extent of going above religious conducts set in stone for all men to follow. This in itself reveals the flaw of the society at hand within the play. It indirectly states that people who derive from nobility get special treatment just because physically, they’re more fortunate than others. Coming from a commoner, the gravedigger has experienced and expected such results due to how much he normalizes it. This also proves that a commoner is much willing to be aware and accept what truly surrounds us. A privileged person might have an idea of what’s going on in terms of society putting who is physically noble above others but will never accept this as a truth. This also aids in the idea that nothing matters to people than worldly possessions. However, the audience through the gravedigger’s mannerisms and actions understands that being knowledgeable about the length, width and depth of life and death is rather imperative than materialistic things.

Hamlet, the protagonist of the play is portrayed to be superior to most of the characters and thus also comes off as intellectually superior as well. However, we see through the conversation between the gravedigger and him that they’re both intellectually superior despite coming from two different social statuses. The two of them converse about whose grave the gravedigger is fixing at the time. At this point is where the audience truly witness who the gravedigger is being that he’s completely able to verbally spar with Hamlet. In an attempt to figure out who’s being buried, Hamlet asks, “ who is to be buried in’t?” and the clown responds “ one that was a woman, sir; but, rest her soul, she’s dead”. “ How absolute the knave is! We must speak by the card, or equivocation will undo us”. The gravedigger sarcastically answers these questions being thrown at him, same way Hamlet has been doing to others throughout the play. When that is being done to him, he retaliates using derogatory terms to show his superiority,             

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