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The brevity of life

The brevity of life

Posted: Thursday, August 6, 2009 8:01 pm
By: By Don Harold Lawrence

In Act Five of his play, “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” (c. 1600), William Shakespeare gives the reader the graveyard scene that takes place in the cemetery of the churchyard at Elsinore.
While two gravediggers are digging a grave for Ophelia, Hamlet watches them unearth various skulls. Because the graveyard was old and coffins were not used, they had to move the bones from previous burials to make room for a new corpse. As Hamlet looks at these skulls, he wonders about who these people were and what they might have done during their lifetime, and he realizes that all persons will die, be buried and turn to dust after their bodies decompose.
The gravedigger identifies one of the skulls as that of Yorick, who was Hamlet’s father’s court jester when Hamlet was a child. He remembered the paternal love Yorick showed toward him, and he was appalled at the sight of Yorick’s skull.
As Hamlet realizes that he has lost his father, mother and now his beloved Ophelia, and that he, too, will die, he is so overwhelmed by grief that he leaps into Ophelia’s grave.
This graveyard scene forced Hamlet to think about the brevity of life and the reality of death, and Shakespeare underscored this important truth again in his play, “Macbeth”: “Out, out brief candle!  Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more” (Act Five). The song, “Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later Than You Think” reminds us that “The years go by, as quickly as a wink.”
After writing these weekly “Sunrise” articles for the past 20 years, I “pass the torch” to my capable colleague and successor, David Coy, who will now be writing these articles. I want to express my appreciation to the many readers who, across the years, have been supportive of my efforts to communicate helpful information to those who walk through the “valley of the shadows” and to assure them that, in the words of Robert Shackelford, “Following the darkest night, the sun will rise with the dawning of a new day. Even during the most severe storms, we may take courage from the fact that the sun will eventually break forth once again to bathe our lives in its soothing warmth and light.” 
Don Harold Lawrence is coordinator of SUNRISE, which is sponsored by Shackelford Corporation. He may be contacted by mail at 145 Abernathy Drive, Adamsville, TN 38310-3001 or by telephone or fax at (731) 632-4483. His Web address is
Published in The Messenger 8.6.09

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