‘To what base uses we may return, Horatio!’ : Hamlet , comedy and class struggle

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


This article analyzes the relationship between comedy and tragedy through a rereading of the gravedigger scene in Hamlet, which is full of comic quality, yet is inserted before the ‘climax’ of the play, by, first, discussing the relationship between comedy and materialism, and, second, examining the mutuality between comedy and tragedy. It discusses how comedy links with the material, class struggle, and death and castration, arguing that the comic quality of the gravedigger is inseparable from his materialism, suggesting that if tragedy is about the spiritual, comedy would be about the interruption of the spiritual by the material, and these two qualities coincide in the grinning skull. If comedy signifies the material life from within, the tragic hero may be the person who resists this heterogeneous motion of life, which explains why Hamlet abhors Yorick’s skull. This article rethinks the interrelation between comedy and tragedy: while most scholars treat them as separate genres, they are interrelated, and the thin line that distinguishes them is class differences, which is significant, as it illustrates the material power of comedy to usurp the bourgeois society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-165
Number of pages11
JournalComedy Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Hamlet
  • Shakespeare
  • comedy
  • tragedy
  • materialism
  • psychoanalysis


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