The skull of Yorick, the former jester of Hamlet’s late father, represents the inevitability of death and the existential meaninglessness of life in light of this fact. When Hamlet and Horatio come upon a pair of gravediggers working merrily in spite of their morbid task in the first scene of Act 5, Hamlet finds himself drawn to a skull one of the gravediggers has found and blithely tossed aside. As Hamlet examines the skull, he laments how death comes for everyone, stripping people of their dreams and personalities, annihilating all they were while they lived. When Hamlet asks the gravedigger who the skull belonged to, the gravedigger replies that it once belonged to Yorick. Hamlet remembers Yorick well, and laments to his friend Horatio that the same man who used to tell him jokes and give him piggy-back rides through the castle is now rotting in the ground. Horatio’s skull, then, is a symbol of Hamlet’s ever-deepening existentialism and indeed nihilism in the wake of his father’s death. When Hamlet encounters Yorick’s skull, it represents a point of no return in his inner intellectual and spiritual journey throughout the play. Hamlet is filled with a kind of nihilism as he realizes that all humans return to dust, no matter how they live their lives on Earth—whether a man is good or evil, joyful or plaintive, common or noble, he will wind up in the ground. Yorick’s skull and the revelation it inspires lead Hamlet to at last resolve firmly to kill Claudius in the following scene. However, Hamlet’s plans for securing vengeance will go awry and he himself is killed, an ironic confirmation of the inescapability of death.
Yorick’s Skull Quotes in Hamlet
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio—a fellow of infinite jest… Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?