Death is an integral part of life and is present in most literature, including Hamlet. William Shakespeare s, Hamlet takes death to the extreme, the reader is always kept thinking about death. This is illustrated through the ghost of former King Hamlet, the premature demise of Ophelia, and the mass death at the end of the play. There are elements of death everywhere throughout the play and the reader is always aware of the element of death.
The ghost of the former King, Hamlet Sr., is a character who stays in the mind of the reader throughout the play. The reader is required to contemplate the ghost s death and his current state in the after-life. This is the first time in Hamlet that the reader is subject to the topic of death. The appearance of the King s ghost is an indication that many deaths may follow throughout the play. The ghost actually gives a message to young Hamlet that he should go out and avenge his father s death. The King remarks, Let not the royal bed of Denmark be / A couch for damned luxury and incest (Shakespeare, I. v.). He is telling him that he should go out and retake the thrown by whatever means necessary. This is a signal to the reader that more death will ensue throughout the play and that their mind will not be taken off the topic of death.
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Along with the appearance of the ghost, the death of young Ophelia also contributes in Hamlet. Laertes found it hard to come to terms with the death of his sister. One is quick to realize that the death of Ophelia will accelerate the amount of deaths in the play. King Claudius sees her death as a perfect opportunity for Hamlet to be killed, as there is now motive for Laertes to kill him. Hamlet is responsible for the deaths of both Polonius and Ophelia, so Laertes desires to seek revenge for the death of his family. Ophelia s death also makes Hamlet contemplate the idea of death and how after death each person decays to bone just like everyone else; regardless of socioeconomic class. As the corpse of Ophelia enters the cemetery, it serves as a beacon of the deaths the may be anticipated in the coming acts. One is able to foresee the possible altercations between Laertes and Hamlet, as Laertes views Hamlet as the cause for his dearly departed sister s premature demise. During the cemetery scene, Laertes exclaims to Hamlet, The devil take they soul (V. i). Laertes believes that Hamlet should be confined to eternal damnation as payment for the Ophelia s death. Ophelia s death foreshadows the mass murder during the final scene of Hamlet and the reader is quick to notice that her death will serve as reason for other deaths throughout the play.
Ophelia s death is one of the causes for the mass death at the end of the play. Hamlet, Laertes, the Queen, and Claudius all die. This is the final scene involving death in Hamlet, but it is also the one with the most lasting impact. It instills an image of death about the entire play in one s mind and that is what is taken away from Hamlet. Hamlet was the only character who is supposed to die in the final scene, however, many others parish alongside him. Laertes is assigned the task of killing Hamlet, but does not do his job effectively. To ensure Hamlet s death, Laertes and Claudius plot to slay Hamlet with an unblunted, poisoned sword and encourage him to drink poisoned wine. Hamlet is supposed to drink from the wine after scoring points on Laertes, but refuses the drink until after the duel. Queen Gertrude offers to drink on her son s behalf and quickly succumbs to the poison. Laertes strikes Hamlet with the poisoned sword, but Hamlet steals the poisoned sword from Laertes and wounds him. To tell that both Laertes and Hamlet had been cut by the sword, Horatio exclaims, They bleed on both sides (V. ii.). The Queen then falls to the ground and exclaims, The drink, the drink! I am poison d (V. ii). Hamlet is enraged with Claudius for killing both his parents and will not die without avenging their deaths. Hamlet slays the evil king with the poisoned sword then pours the poisonous wine done his throat to ensure death. It is bittersweet for Hamlet as he finally does what his dead father wanted, but he did it too late and will not be able to ascend the throne. The reader cannot help but become overwhelmed by the amount of death that is present in the final scene.
In Hamlet, the reader is always kept thinking about death. The ghost, Ophelia s death and the mass murder at the end of the play are just a few examples of the presence of death and the idea of dying in Hamlet. Death may be an integral part of life, but its use in Hamlet is overwhelming. The reader is constantly bombarded with the idea and it sometimes makes it hard to see what the true meaning of the play is. Death is the only topic the reader is able to easily grasp in Hamlet, as that subject is most prevalent throughout the play.