Hamlet and Yorick

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What does it mean to Hamlet, (or to us, even) when he is holding and musing on Yorick's skull. Does it signify some change in Hamlet's character? What is significance here?

-- Patrick Walker (the_right_hand_of_doom@msn.com), April 08, 2003


After the Great Plague in Europe (1348) the plague disease recurred and recurred all over Europe, on and off for centuries. It was sometimes the cause of theatres being closed in London in Shakespeare's time. It killed about a third of Europe's population initially, and then kept killing more people. There was no cure. People had no idea what caused it: it seemed indiscriminate in the ages, gendres, social positions, piety of people it took. Europe became terrified of it, and preoccupied with more general issues of death, repentence for sin, and salvation, God's will as opposed to man's in directing human events and ends. etc..

At the end of the fifteenth century, in Italy, there was a great preacher called Savonarola who preached, like many others, on these topics. Preaching about death, he encouraged prople to visit cemetaries and to 'take a skull in one's hands and contemplate it often' in order to come to an acceptance of the harsh realities of death: no matter who one is, how rich, how old, what gender, how righteous or important or attractive one thinks one is, 'to this favour' every one will come. Death, decay, dust. Only the soul survives and must be prepared for death, so that it will notbe punished and suffer in the afterlife for the sins committed during life. One could never tell when death would strike, or how; but one had to be certain that it would.

In HAMLET, and in Hamlet, a great many these concerns and issues come together and are presented on a platter to Shakespeare's audience which is so concerned about them. WS, with inspiration, has Hamlet do just what Savonarola advised: he takes a skull in his hands - the skull of Yorick, whom he knew and liked - and contemplates it, and comes to a thorough, physical acceptance of the realities of death. By extension, the audience does too.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), April 08, 2003.

hi there, i find ur reasoning for the skull quite an interesting theory. i, too am studying hamlet in college, and was pondering on his actions of holding the skull...repentence was the first thought that came to mind...after reading your information, i also find it a reasonable explanation. thank u.

-- Striving 2 Excel (findyoursoul@hotmail.com), December 13, 2004.

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