Hamlet makes it clear that life inevitably ends with death (and the Christian belief that there is an after-life: see Themes and significant ideas: Heaven, hell and judgement):

Yorik's grave

  • By line 41 of Act I scene i we hear about ‘the king that's dead'
  • Much of Act I scene ii is taken up with business following from that death
  • Gertrude points out to Hamlet that: ‘'tis common — all that live must die, / Passing through nature to eternity'
  • The play ends with four bodies on the stage
  • Act V scene i is set in a graveyard where we actually see the bones of decayed corpses thrown out of a grave onto the stage

It is impossible to ignore the fact of death in Hamlet:

  • Bodily corruption is inescapable, as Hamlet tells Claudius in Act IV scene iii: ‘We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots'
  • This reflects the inner corruption at the court of Denmark. (See Imagery and symbolism: Corruption and disease).

For Hamlet himself there is a growing awareness of his mortality and coming death as the play progresses. Even though he sees the potential of mankind —

‘How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable!! In action how like an angel!'

as he tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Act II scene ii — he knows that we are a ‘quintessence of dust'.

His words would recall for the Shakespearean audience the words:

‘earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust'

from the service for the Burial of the Dead in the [3Book of Common Prayer3].

For more information see Big ideas: Death and resurrection, Earth, clay, dust

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