Q. L. West


It is unfortunate that one of the scenes most often cut from contemporary productions of "Hamlet" is the first scene of Act V, the gravediggers' scene. The scene is, after all, static; it is merely a lyrical passage which seems, at first, to delay the movement of the drama, and, at all events, to add nothing to it. The producer wants swift, forward-moving action, and, certainly, he finds little enough of what he wants in the almost perverse, but always fundamental, deliberateness of this play. Consequently, one of the first scenes to be eliminated is almost invariably this one, despite its trenchant, laconic prose, its macabre humor, and its mordant, cynical philosophy of ultimate disillusion.

The scene, in itself, as a separate entity, is probably one of the most famous in Shakespeare. Certainly it contains the most often misquoted line in English literature ("Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio."), as well as one of the funniest ("'Twill not be seen in him there (England); there the men are as mad as he."). Perhaps the contemporary producer is short-sighted in cutting out the gravediggers' scene; perhaps it does contribute, very definitely, to the tragedy, apart from its intrinsic excellence.



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