An Analytical Essay on the Humor in Hamlet
Length: 756 words (2.2 double-spaced pages)
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Humor was added to Hamlet by two major scenes, along with Hamlet's use of his antic-disposition. These two were: the scene between Hamlet and Polonius in the library, and the scene with the grave diggers (the clowns).
The scene between Hamlet and Polonius took place in Act II Scene 2. In Hamlet's first encounter with Polonius, he immediately insulted the old man by calling him a "fishmonger". He then quickly changed his opinion and complemented Polonius by calling him an honest man. Hamlet said, "to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand". As we know Polonius definitely was not such a man. Hamlet was portrayed as a clever lad, who was playing a psychological game with an old fool. He asked Polonius whether or not he had a daughter, pretending he did not know that Ophelia was Polonius's daughter. When Hamlet was asked about what he was reading, he replied by saying, "words, words, words". Throughout this scene, Hamlet revealed himself to Polonius as a mentally unstable man. He was playing a fool himself, while ingeniously using this to make Polonius look like an even bigger fool. He cleverly insulted Polonius' appearances indirectly, by referring to the book he was reading. According to that book old men had grey beards, their faces were wrinkled, they had a plentiful lack of wit, and so on. He was describing Polonius exactly. Perhaps the most humorous part took place when Hamlet, while saying, "for yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward", he advanced towards Polonius, causing him to walk backwards. Those words and the actions on the stage revealed Hamlet to be a daring young man. When Polonius finally left, Hamlet dropped his pretense and yelled, "These tedious old fools!". In Act III Scene 2, Hamlet used a recorder, the musical instrument, as a telescope when Polonius entered the scene. He asked Polonius, "Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?". Hamlet always pretended to be the madman in front of Polonius, while he actually made him look like an old fool.
The scene with the grave diggers (the clowns), took place in Act V Scene I. The clowns were discussing Ophelia's death and were making fun of the case of Sir James Hales, who also drowned himself.
That case brought up the old argument of whether Sir James went to the water, or whether the water came to him. The clowns ridiculed each other by saying such words as, "Confess thyself", as in "confess thyself and be hanged", and, "Cudgel thy brains no more about it.". The clowns sang while they were digging the graves and they even tossed up skulls. Hamlet, while talking to one of the skulls, commented humorously on the life of lawyers. He was also fascinated with the idea of death. When he finally began to speak to one of the clowns, a match of wits began. When he asked, "Whose grave's this?", the clown replied, "Mine sir". Hamlet then used the pun on the word lie, as in lying down, and as in lying and cheating. He said to the clown, "I think it be thine indeed for thou liest in't". Typical of Shakespeare, he portrayed the clown's intelligence equaling that of Hamlet's.
Hamlet's use of his "antic-disposition" to add humour was evident throughout the play. In Act IV Scene 2, Hamlet was delighted with the situation he was in, at that time. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were looking for Polonius' dead body. Hamlet treated this as a game of hide-and-seek. He said, "Of nothing: bring me to him. Hide fox, and all after". In Act IV Scene 3, Hamlet must answer to the king about the hidden body of Polonius. He replied, "Not where he eats, but where he is eaten:". He was referring to the worms that decomposed dead organic matter. To the other characters, Hamlet was seen as a madman because of his abnormal reactions to the situations that arose. And his abnormal reactions were very humorous.
Hamlet's pretense with old Polonius, his battle of wits with the clowns, and his antic-disposition added humour to this tragedy. Hamlet made Polonius look like an old fool. The grave diggers' scene provided a macabre form of humour. Hamlet's humorous antic-disposition was carefully woven into the story. These humorous scenes and incidents offered a relief to the many tragedies that occurred in this play.