by: William Shakespeare

Act V, scene i

A notable minor motif that is developed in this scene is Hamlet’s obsession with the physicality of death. Though many of his thoughts about death concern the spiritual consequences of dying—for instance, torment in the afterlife—he is nearly as fascinated by the physical decomposition of the body. This is nowhere more evident than in his preoccupation with Yorick’s skull, when he envisions physical features such as lips and skin that have decomposed from the bone. Recall that Hamlet previously commented to Claudius that Polonius’s body was at supper, because it was being eaten by worms (IV.iii). He is also fascinated by the equalizing effect of death and decomposition: great men and beggars both end as dust. In this scene, he imagines dust from the decomposed corpse of Julius Caesar being used to patch a wall; earlier, in Act IV, he noted, “A man may fish with the worm that have eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm,” a metaphor by which he illustrates “how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar” (IV.iii.26–31).

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