| Quote #7
O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven;
The play frequently alludes to the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Here, Claudius admits to murdering Old Hamlet, which he compares to the "primal" (first) and "eldest" (oldest) murder in the Book of Genesis. Compare this to 5.1.3 below.
| Quote #8
That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once:
This isn't the play's first allusion to Cain, the infamous biblical figure who committed the first murder by killing his brother, Abel. (See 3.3.3 above.) Here, Hamlet visits the cemetery and complains that the gravedigger handles a skull without delicacy. In other words, the bones of the dead (except, perhaps, those that belong to murderers like Cain) should be handled with more care and respect. This seems to say a lot about our sensitive protagonist. Despite all his morbid musings about death and suicide, Hamlet values life. He also remains preoccupied with remembering and honoring his dead father (who was, as we know, murdered by a brother).
| Quote #9
Ophelia's death is suspected to be a suicide and, although some strings are pulled to ensure that she receives a "Christian burial," she ultimately gets a shoddy service. Here, the Priest claims that doing anything more than the bare minimum for Ophelia "should profane the service of the dead." Understandably, Laertes's response to this is violent and emotionally charged. Clearly, he's devastated by his sister's death, which is made even more traumatic because the stingy burial rites don't seem to do Ophelia's memory justice.
Perhaps more than anything else, this scene reminds us that such services are rituals for the living. That is to say, they're rituals that help the living through the process of bereavement and can help alleviate some of our pain when we lose a loved one. What's so striking about this moment is the way we see how Shakespeare repeatedly returns to the idea that religious ideologies and practices are so central to the process of human grief. (Compare this to our discussion of Hamlet's memory of his father and his confrontation of the Purgatorial Ghost, above). In the play, Shakespeare seems particularly concerned with what happens to the living when we're denied the right to remember and honor lost loves ones in a meaningful way.