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Summary Act V


Additional characters: 1st Clown--gravedigger who dares to banter with Prince Hamlet; 2nd Clown--another gravedigger; 1st Priest--he who performs Ophelia's funeral rites the sparseness of which Horatio vehemently objects to

Two clowns are digging a grave when the 1st Clown objects to the work that they are doing, arguing that the body for which that they are digging the grave for had drowned itself when alive. Consequently, he argues, as befitting Christian law, consecration should be denied the drowned body. The 2nd Clown is doubtful at first, but then he too finds the objection valid, conceding that people of rank and status (Ophelia is referred to as a gentlewoman) can get away with things that normal folks could only dream of doing. They console themselves with a bit of sophistry that elevates their lowly status to a level equal to history’s first gentleman and gravedigger: Adam. And to top it off, they decide to refresh themselves with drink which the 2nd Clown is only too happy to go and fetch.

The 1st Clown continues to dig, singing all the while. The singing attracts Hamlet and Horatio, who are nearby. Hamlet is astounded that the clown could be so irreverent while performing such a grave and solemn task. Horatio posits that custom must have made it so. Intrigued, Hamlet engages the clown, plying one question after another, most of which the clown avoids answering by grotesquely twisting the meaning of the questions. An exception is the identity of skull that the clown has dug up. It is Yorick’s skull. Hamlet recalls Yorick, his father’s jester with whom Hamlet as a child had laughed and cavorted. The thought that Yorick’s fate is everyman’s fate, including Alexander’s (The Great) and Julius Caesar’s, fascinates Hamlet. He is thus absorbed when a funeral procession approaches. Among the procession is Laertes who objects to the sparseness of the funeral rites. The priest urges Laertes to be content, arguing that the deceased would’ve been denied all funeral rites had the king not interceded and had the church had its way. Aggrieved, Laertes jumps into the grave and mourns for Ophelia. Suddenly, Hamlet emerges and he too, mourning for Ophelia, jumps into the grave. There Laertes and Hamlet grapple until they are pried apart by others.


Additional characters: Osric--a courtier who is held in contempt by both Hamlet and Horatio

Hamlet tells Horatio that he was uneasy and couldn’t go to sleep on the eve of the pirate attack. It was Providence, Hamlet says, that compelled him to sneak up on the slumbering Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to unseal and read the king’s written commission. The commission read that England, in service to Denmark and her king, was to chop off the king’s nephew’s head. It was Providence again, Hamlet says, how he had the wherewithal to pull off the forging of a new commission in which he, in the name of the king, compelled England to chop off the heads of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Having related this, Hamlet asks Horatio if he isn’t now justified to kill Claudius in cold blood if he so wished to which Horatio cautions the prince that he hasn’t much time before Claudius discovers the sabotage and its ramifications. At this point, they are interrupted by Osric, a courtier, who they recognize as a breed of lackeys which seems to be sprouting and thriving. He has come to speak on behalf of Laertes who wishes to engage Hamlet on a friendly bout of swordplay. The king has wagered that Hamlet will triumph. Will Lord Hamlet participate, or no? Hamlet decides to participate despite feeling ill at ease.

At the swordplay venue, Hamlet apologizes to Horatio. The apology is sincere as Hamlet had always admired Horatio (and had even been a little jealous of him) on account of which Hamlet had continuously practiced at swordplay, an art at which Laertes is reputed a master. Laertes accepts Hamlet’s apology but with reservations. Hamlet is satisfied with the reply and they begin. Hamlet scores a hit, inspiring Claudius to offer him a drink. Hamlet refuses the drink (for now) which drink Gertrude takes up in honor of her son. The swordplay continues and again Hamlet scores a hit. Incensed, Laertes unsportingly wounds Hamlet, and this leads to a brawl-like struggle during which Hamlet takes possession of Laertes’ sword and wounds him in turn. Inexplicably, the queen collapses. The king attributes it to the blood spilled when Laertes wounded Hamlet and vice-versa. But the queen blames it on the drink. I've been poisoned, she says, before dying. There is a general stir to identify the villian when Laertes tells Hamlet that the wounds that they had afflicted on one another are fatal, that the sword that Hamlet is holding is envenomed. Laertes begs Hamlet for forgiveness and reveals that the man behind it all is the king. In a heartbeat, Hamlet pounces on Claudius and stabs him. For good measure, Claudius is made to drink the poisoned wine.

With his death imminent, Hamlet imparts his last will and testament to Horatio: Remember me. Meanwhile, Fortinbras and ambassadors from England arrive and behold the horiffic scene. Horatio promises them a just account. Fortinbras orders that Hamlet’s body be carried away with all honors.

William Shakespeare