“Alas Poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio”

Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 1
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(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Book Collection 10 Number L 5 117.)

Hamlet’s fifth and final act begins in a graveyard. The gravediggers digging Ophelia’s grave comment on a skull they find. Hamlet holds the skull and recognizes the face that once covered it was Yorick, the court jester of Hamlet’s youth. The image of the skull raised in Hamlet’s hand is one of the most common images associated with Shakespeare’s tragedies. Hamlet reflects on the death that has preceded this moment and the deaths that he knows are soon to occur later in the act. The scene also approaches Danse Macabre with Hamlet wondering if Alexander the Great’s skull was similar to the lowly Yorick’s in death.