The Meaning and Role of Death in Hamlet
In Shakespeare’s play, ‘Hamlet,’ death identifies himself as an uninvited guest who never cares to leave the opening scene with the ghost to the bloodshed in the final scene. However, the appearance of the tortured spirit of Old King Hamlet and the deaths of all the notable characters in the play are more evident demonstrations of death in its simplest form. But there must be some deeper meaning, connection and purpose, since death is so obvious in the physical and mental form from the moment it leaves. These deeper perspectives and the investigation of death are carried out mainly with Hamlet’s mind that the audience follows through the work.
The possible and reflexive nature of Hamlet makes him meditate on the physically of death and its closest complications. In Act 1, Hamlets is torn and tormented by the pain and misery of his father’s death and his mother’s ‘incestuous marriage’ with Claudius, who sees the world only for its evil and destruction; So much so, Hamlet contemplates the idea of suicide, but refrains from doing so due to the possibility of eternal suffering in survival: “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt/ Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d/ His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!”(1.2.128-133). Hamlet again goes through further into contemplation of the afterlife and suicide, in his famous “To be or not To be” soliloquy. He states that the afterlife is “The undiscovered country from whose bourn/ No traveler returns, puzzles the will/ And makes us rather bear those ills we have” (3.1.81-82) and it is this unchangeable fact: this question that has affected humanity from the beginning, that keeps people imprisoned in a betrayed, miserable and rotten world. Hamlet gives his idea about it by saying “conscience does make cowards of us all”(3.1.83-84). In other words, the fear of what will ultimately, but surely will come, is what makes people cowards. And perhaps, in a broader context, Hamlet points out what he considers his main motivation and reasoning for following religion.
Later in the play, Hamlet seems to have a somewhat creepy but serious obsession about physical deaths, the consequences he has for the deceased. When inn front of Yorick’s skull, he witnesses the physical transition between life and death. What could once be the living head of a king or a farmer is now reduced by rot in an empty skull: “That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once”(5.1.63). Likewise, Hamlet realizes and becomes fascinated with the idea that death is the neutral, unchangeable, and permanent equalizer of men: “Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service—two dishes, but to one table. That’s the end.”(4.3.27). He is basically saying that whatever you do in life, it won’t mean anything at the end. Even those as powerful as Julius Ceaser or Alexander the Great, will be completely useless in the end. In addition, Hamlet is fascinated by the natural cycle of death.that dead bodies will disintegrate in the soil, and it is within the soil that humans plant their crops, and so on: “A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.”(4.3.29).
However, it is with Hamlet’s final inner purpose, that he brings the face of death into a new light, and finds peace within himself. He indicates that “the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be”(5.2.236-239). Hamlet already knew that death is inevitable, but he will accept it and see the uselessness of living with fear and despair in trying to avoid it. It refers to the ‘fall of the sparrow,’ which is a bible verse from the Bible in Matthew 10.29, which refers to God overseeing and determining the life and death of each being, including the question. In other words, he concludes that everything is controlled by destiny and that if he dies now or later is irrelevant, because ultimately, whatever happens will happen and it is no use trying to avoid it. Hamlet, however, is not doubtful in his speech, but speaks of death in a tone that is not full of fear or desire. He comes to terms with death as part of the natural circle of life, because without death there can be no life. There are other references to death made by other characters in the play, but they do not have as much impact as Hamlet’s word. Shakespeare’s work does not provide answers to the most important questions about death, but it provides an interesting discussion and a different perspective on death and its consequences.
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