Hamlet Act 5 Analysis

Main events of the act 5:

  • Ophelia is buried despite the fact that she might have killed herself;
  • Laertes and Hamlet fight on Ophelia grave;
  • Claudius places a bet that Hamlet will lose to Laertes in a fencing tournament;
  • Hamlet agrees to contest with Laertes and wins first 2 rounds;
  • Queen drinks to Hamlet’s victory, but picks up a poisoned cup and dies;
  • Both Laertes and Hamlet stab each other with a poisoned rapier;
  • Laertes and Hamlet forgive each other before they die;
  • Hamlet stabs Claudius with a poisoned rapier, all three die;
  • Fortinbras buries Hamlet as a soldier.


Scene 1

Scene 2


Act 5 Scene 1

People present in the scene:

  • Two clowns (serve as gravediggers);
  • Hamlet – the prince of Denmark;
  • Horatio – a friend of Hamlet;
  • Gertrude – the Queen of Denmark;
  • Claudius – the King of Denmark;
  • Dead Ophelia body;
  • Laertes – brother of Ophelia;
  • Priest.

Place and time of the scene: A cemetery near the palace.

Main events of the scene:

  • Two clowns discuss whether Ophelia killed herself;
  • The gravedigger digs up a skull from the ground;
  • Hamlet picks up the skull and talks about the impermanence of life;
  • Ophelia is buried, despite the rumors that she committed suicide.

Short Summary

The clowns are digging a grave for Ophelia and talk about possible causes of her death. They mention that those who took their own lives are not allowed to be buried in a Christian graveyard. They doubt the decision of the king to dismiss possible suicide rumors. They agree that it is only of Ophelia wealth and status that she is allowed proper burial ceremony. They can’t help but mention that ordinary people can’t have this kind of flexibility with religious rules.

Hamlet and Horatio enter on stage. They watch the clowns. The second clown leaves to get some water. Hamlet is amazed how the clown can sing so cheerfully while digging the grave. Horatio explains that the clown is so used to doing it, that the emotional part of digging graves is gone for him.

While singing, the clown throws away the skull that was dug out from the ground. Hamlet starts wondering who this skull was when it was alive. The prince wonders how one day a person can be a nobleman, and then turn into a skull feeding the worms. The clown keeps singing and throws away another skull. Hamlet wonders if this skull could have been a lawyer, or a landowner.

Hamlet decides to start a conversation with the clown and asks him whose grave it used to be and who will be buried here. Hamlet finds out that the clown started digging graves from the day Hamlet was born. The clown doesn’t recognize the prince and starts telling him rumors that the prince of Denmark has gone insane and was sent to England.

The clown mentions that everybody is crazy in England anyway. When Hamlet asks how long it takes for the body rot, the gravedigger says that normally eight years, but a tanner can take 9 years because his skin is thicker and the water can’t soak through it.

Hamlet picks up the skull. The clown knows that it is the skull of the king’s jester, Yorick, who has been lying in the ground for 23 years. Hamlet knows him and starts lamenting how much he misses him. The skull smells bad and Hamlet throws it back on the ground.

The king and queen enter with a priest, Ophelia coffin and funeral attendants. Laertes is also here. The priest is unhappy about the funeral, he says that Ophelia’s death raises a lot of questions. Laertes argues with the priest. He thinks his sister will become an angel.

Laertes jumps into Ophelia’s grave and wants to be buried with her. Hamlet shows himself and also jumps into Ophelia’s grave. Two young men start fighting. Hamlet proclaims that he loved Ophelia more than Laertes. Claudius asks Laertes to be patient and wait for the best chance for revenge.


Act 5 Scene 2

People present in the scene:

  • Hamlet – the Prince of Denmark;
  • Horatio – the friend of Hamlet;
  • Osric – a servant in the castle.
  • Gertrude – the Queen of Denmark and mother of Hamlet;
  • Claudius – a new King of Denmark;
  • Laertes – son of deceased Polonius;
  • Fortinbras – prince of Norway.

Place and time of the scene: One of the halls in a royal castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • Hamlet tells the story how he changed the letters and made English king kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, instead of him;
  • Hamlet says he doesn’t want to argue with Laertes;
  • The king offers to set up a fencing contest between Laertes and Hamlet, Hamlet agrees;
  • The queen drinks from the poisoned cup and dies;
  • Laertes and Hamlet stab each other with a poisoned rapier and they both die;
  • Hamlet takes the rapier and kills Claudius;
  • Fortinbras comes to the castle;
  • Hamlet is buried as a soldier.

Short Summary:

Hamlet tells Horatio that while on the ship he found letters requesting English king to kill him. Hamlet had on him a seal that served as a prototype of Danish seal. So while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were asleep he wrote another letter asking to execute his two school friends.

Osric enters and informs that the king placed a bet on a fencing competition between Laertes and Hamlet. Osric chooses a very pompous language to talk about Laertes and deliver his message. He also changes his mind a couple of times just to agree with what Hamlet is saying. Horatio and Hamlet agree that Osric is way too polite.

Hamlet agrees to a contest. Horatio is worried that Hamlet will lose, but Hamlet says he’s been practicing a lot lately. However, Hamlet has a bad feeling about it.

Everybody comes to the hall for the tournament, Osric brings ammunition. Others bring tables with food. At the beginning Hamlet says good words towards Laertes, he says that he is sorry. Hamlet says that it wasn't him but his madness that offended Laertes previously.

The king placed his bets on Laertes. After Hamlet stabs Laertes for the first time, the king offers him a drink (from the cup that is poisoned). Hamlet refuses. Then Hamlet stabs Laertes for the second time. The queen wants to celebrate Hamlet’s good results and drinks from the poisoned cup.

The contest becomes very intense, Laertes hits Hamlet and in the midst of the fight they exchange rapiers and Hamlet stabs Laertes with a poisoned rapier. The queen drops dead. Laertes tells Hamlet about his plan and that he has less than 30 minutes left to live.

Hamlet uses the same rapier to stab the king. Claudius also drops dead. Laertes asks for forgiveness while forgiving Hamlet, and dies as well. Hamlet senses his upcoming death and asks Horatio to tell the truth about what happened.

At first, Horatio is so shocked that he wants to drink the poisoned wine and die himself. But Hamlet tells him that he has to live to clear his name.

At this time Fortinbras is coming back from Poland where he won the battle. He has news from England that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were killed. Horatio says that even if the king were alive he wouldn’t thank them for this news.

Fortinbras gives orders to clean up the room from bodies and bury Hamlet as a soldier who would have been a great king of his country.


Act 5: Analysis and Interpretation

Act five almost entirely focuses on the two characters, which, just like mirrors, bring more clarity and light on Hamlet’s situation. The first is Laertes – after the death of his father he finds himself in a similar to Hamlet situation.

Laertes is a “decent young man”, he followed his father’s advice and lived a life that corresponded to the good standards of those times. But he doesn’t bypass an opportunity to make a deal with the enemy when Claudius gives him a chance to avenge his father’s death.

And here the concept of revenge must be explored further. Revenge was considered “good standard” in 15th- 17th century. It was a way to right a wrong and restore justice. One could not be called a good man if he didn’t avenge the death of his relatives. In this light murder wasn’t considered a crime, but a duty.

At the same time, revenge is the driver behind this play. All the events start to develop with the ghost calling for revenge and all of the suddenly Hamlet turns into a somber and grown-up man, while he used to be a young prince before.

The second character that mirrors and compliments to understanding Hamlet’s situation is Fortinbras. Despite the fact that he occupies a very tiny place in this play, the meaning of this character cannot be underestimated. Fortinbras is a price that is portrayed in act one as a hot-tempered creature. Then the audience finds out that he is going to the war with Poland over a very trivial issue – and this makes him seem even more ambition-driven and unreasonable.

Yet Fortinbras is a prince who will finally occupy the throne of Denmark. The throne that should have belonged to Hamlet. Fortinbras is a man of action, a decisive political leader and commander. Fortinbras realizes his ambitions after the death of his father in the areas that Hamlet didn't manage to achieve.

All the personal traits of Fortinbras are exactly opposite of those of Laertes – and one can say that Hamlet figure is placed somewhere in between them. At the same time, Laertes and Fortinbras are typical avengers and representatives of their roles. On their background, Hamlet stands out as a unique personality, because Hamlet’s particularity is his world of thoughts. Shakespeare wrote a tragedy about a unique man with a noble mission.

What is the role of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in this play? It could have easily been anybody from the court to spy on Hamlet or take him to England. But anybody isn’t good enough for Shakespeare. He wanted to intensify the atmosphere of betrayal and that’s why brought those who used to be Hamlet’s friends to perform all the dirty work.

Act five is the final act of the play and that’s why it is full of meanings and hidden senses. Through the words of the clowns Shakespeare delivers many philosophical words. For example, there is a reference to the injustice and inequity between different classes. As the First clown says: “and the more pity that great folk should have countenance in this world to drown or hang themselves, more than their even Christian”. It was clearly unfair that Ophelia got a proper burial. But then, was it fair for her to suffer the kind of tragedy she had to go through?

The second example is when Hamlet asks the clown how long it takes for the body to rotten in the grave, the clown says: “… if he be not rotten before he die--as we have many pocky corses now-a-days”. Here Shakespeare makes another reference that the evil is not Claudius that killed his brother. We all have a hint of evil in us and it’s only a matter of perspective and situation.

Then there’s also a bit of humor in the act where almost everybody dies: the perception of the clown that England is the land of the mad people anyway must have resonated with the audience well.

Act five finishes with Hamlet being buried as a soldier. The audience of Shakespeare knew and appreciated the importance of military honors. Hamlet lived and died like a hero. He was the core of the action in this play and will remain a key character cited and referenced in the world literature heritage.