Singing With the Gravedigger

The song alluded to in Act 5, scene 1 is ‘I Lothe That I Did Loue.’  An excerpt from the song suggests it is a formal song, most likely sung by jesters in court.  The fact that it is sung informally by a commoner/gravedigger (“ah”, “oh”) serves as a parallel to how the rich and the poor become equal in the grave.  This particularly grave (pun intended) scene  emphasizes a key theme in Hamlet: the nature and physicality of mortality.  Hamlet’s soliloquy when speaking of his dear friend Yorick as well as his conversation with Horatio, plays well with the gravedigger’s song. The pairing in this particular scene draws out the meaning in what the other (between Hamlet and the song) is saying.  Evidence in the text suggests it is very likely that while Hamlet was performing both his soliloquy and speaking to Horatio, the gravedigger continued to sing his song in the background.  A performance available on youtube demonstrates how this may have been performed at The Globe; listen closely to the gravedigger in the background as he continues to sing.  This juxtaposition would cement to audiences, of varying backgrounds, the truth in Shakespeare’s tragedy by having it both sung informally atop Hamlet’s formal speech. So too, does this layering balance comedy and tragedy at once, further complicating the mystery surrounding whether Hamlet is a tragedy or a comedy.

Evidence supporting the theory that the gravedigger does in fact continue to sing is the undeniable fact that the song presented in act five of Hamlet is an excerpt from ‘I Lothe That I Did Loue.’ otherwise known as ‘I Loathe that I Did Love.’  That approached, there are obvious huge gaps in verses which, presumably, would have been sung while Hamlet was speaking.  Although the subject matter Hamlet elaborates upon does not mirror the absent verses (from the text) both the voided paragraphs as well as the highlighted paragraphs present enlightening characteristics towards the play’s whole.  For time’s sake, I too shall exclude the verses that were not present in Hamlet – however, their relevance should not be slighted.

Hamlet/Gravedigger’s version:
” In youth, when I did love, did love,
 Methought it was very sweet,
 To contract, O, the time, for, ah, my behove,
 O, methought, there was nothing meet.”
‘I Lothe That I Did Loue’ Original:
“I loathe that I did love,
In youth that I thought sweet;
As time requires for my behove,
Me thinks they are not meet.”

Quick View of Similarities:
thought sweet
time for my behove
methought/thinks not meet

Presented above are the first verses of the two songs discussed, back to back, giving way to many mysteries.  Evidently, there is a repetition of love as well as an informal jaunty-like verse used by the gravedigger: “o, the time, for ah, my behove.”  Both deviations from the original song are perhaps to properly fill the Shakespearean meter.  A further mystery of the changes present in Shakespeare’s edit of the song is a questionable changing of “me thinks” to “methought” to which I can give no proper reasoning for.  Another curious change: from “youth” to “loathe” to only later resubmit “youth” in the preceding line. What can be salvaged from this chain of mysteries, and especially from the concordances between the two different songs, is the combination of “youth,” “sweet” and “love.” In my view, these three words are presented in a fashion that dictate the incapability of sweet young love having any accordance with time – being that, young love is doomed to fail. This reflects almost certainly on Hamlet and his dearly departed Ophelia.

In the screenshot above, I have outlined the basic comparison of both the original and the Hamlet version of the song.  The first stop in examining the songs through Voyeur was to sort the word count from highest frequency to lowest.  This, squared off in green, reflected the above (underlined) key words in the corpus: i, did, love, behove, for… The highest frequencies interestingly begin to form a phrase of their own to describe the raw meaning of the submitted verses.  Surprisingly, “love” squared off in blue in Cirrus, ranks high in usage however, “i” typically has no place in songs about love. Not getting ahead of ourselves (“i” will be further examined later) “love” also plays as strong of a role as “youth” and “sweet” whereas “loathe” (squared off in a teeny-tiny little orange box) plays a barely significant role in the songs.   This fact alone is interesting given “loathe” is found in the title.  As a side note, it may be interesting to note that out of 52 words, 33 are unique in placement.  Simply decoded: over half of the words present in the songs submitted back-to-back into Voyeur, are inconsistent with one another.

Putting these findings aside, I pursued the use of “i” within and between the two songs…

I submitted the two songs separately into Links, a tool in Voyeur that provides a visual stimulus of the links between words within a literary corpus, and received almost identical results – an example shown above.  The results, identical to one another, were also similar to the earlier Cirrus and Word Count results: “i” is undoubtedly the focus.  These tools being simple and similar in function, I finally decided to brave… Mandala.

Yeah, it’s intimidating.

I hoped for the best when selecting the option to remove all magnets and “surprise me!”  There is no room for internet memes and vernacular (word of the day: that one’s for you Act 5 group,) however in this case my reaction was no less than an internet blog appropriate: “LOL.”  I proceeded to “remove all magnets” sans-surprise.  Lo-and-behold, Mandala became my favourite and potentially most useful tool (move over Word Frequency Chart) as I slowly developed what you see before you.  Allow me to explain:

The aim: “i” – squared off in orange and bubbled in pink.  I added “magnets” for each key term (the biggest bubbles mapped around the circle) and “i” attracted the most ‘mini-bubbles’ – staggeringly so.  The fact that it produced a total of 23 matches in both songs and 17 unique matches is not even the most impressive part.  All of the sectioned magnets with multiple colours are the matches “i” produced with the other key word magnets.  Translation: “i” found a match within the songs with every key word with the exception of “death” (I put in the full version of both songs for Mandala when the singular verses produced uninspiring results.)  After this find, I added the opposing magnets “you,” “thou” and “thee.”  “Thee” produced nothing, so I removed the magnet, while “thou” produced one match and “you” produced 7… not even half of the attractions “i” produced.  Both added to the total matches of “i.”  What this all potentially means is that the personal affect of “i” is a very intentional use of the song for Shakespeare in writing Hamlet, and especially in writing this scene.

I decided to dig deeper… Could this perhaps be a very personal scene or act for Hamlet and perhaps Shakespeare, the man? Can the overpowering use of “i” over “you” in the context of these two songs have a similar impact on act five and the entirety of the play?

Well now, isn’t that interesting…

Moving on.

There are a couple more verses also taken from ‘I Lothe That I Did Loue,’ as the gravedigger continues to sing:
“But age, with his stealing steps,
 Hath claw’d me in his clutch,
 And hath shipped me into the land,
 As if I had never been such.”
(HUGE gap in song)
“A pick-axe, and a spade, a spade, (symbol of cosmic tree: life and death)
 For and a shrouding sheet:
 O, a pit of clay for to be made
 For such a guest is meet.”
           [Throws up another skull.]
“O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet.”
*The full song for the original is available here for comparison.
Here too, is an example of repetition: “O, a pit of clay for to be made/For such a guest is meet.”  These lines, to me, reflect the opening verse “me thinks they are not meet.”  Coming full circle, at least within the scope of Hamlet, from ‘not meeting’ to “meet”.  What perhaps allows this and also gives reasoning to why Shakespeare may have cut off the original song at this point is the suggestion of passing time.  In the first line “but age, with his stealing steps” suggests that the youthfulness of the love first discussed has dissipated and age has overcome the initial problem of youth breaking sweet love.  Unfortunately, what seems to replace “youth” as love’s antagonist is it’s cure: age.  What appears to be implied is age grabbing the lovers and sending them to their grave (“a pit of clay for to be made/For such a guest is meet.”)  The emphasis on the last pair of lines in the gravedigger’s song is undoubtedly a foreshadowing of Ophelia’s funeral and the irony of Hamlet’s ignorance of his lover’s death as he laments over “poor Yorick.”  The evidence of the song’s relevance to the play’s whole is provided in the screenshots below.  Using Voyeur I separated the play into 5 segments and submitted both youth and age into the word trends chart.  Clearly visible is the sharp incline of the usage of “age” nearing the play’s end and the sharp decline of the use of “youth.”  As reader’s of Hamlet all know, the love between Ophelia and Hamlet is exaggerated nearer to the beginning of the play, and death envelopes the end.

As a final thought towards these verses and their singer, the inserted stage direction to throw up another skull perhaps alludes to the circle of death.  The gravedigger had earlier mentioned in his riddle that he builds the most permanent houses as his are for the dead and last until judgement day.  However, while he sings he is clearly unearthing bodies to make way for new ones: rendering his houses impermanent.  For Hamlet’s part, he too circulates dead bodies but within his heart.  As he laments the death of beloved uncovered Yorick, he soon will be grieving heavily over the death of the body of Ophelia – soon to be replacing Yorick in the same grave.  All of these events, irony intact, insulate Hamlet’s soliloquy in act five.

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