How long hast thou been a gravemaker?

Now we say gravedigger. This scene is often referred to as the gravedigger scene – the characters Gravedigger 1 and 2.
But a gravedigger was once called a gravemaker. Every instance of the profession here is a gravemaker. It feels, too, as though in transforming from gravemaker to gravedigger, the job has lost a bit of status. One who makes is more respected than one who digs. There is a sense of craft in a maker – a digger is almost a machine.

Even though the action is essentially the same – a grave is made by digging after all – gravemaking seems a much more solemn activity than gravedigging. There may be a sense of the sacred in a gravemaker – a sanctification of the earth, a tending to the space. Even in the jokes these gravemakers bandy back and forth there is a sense of a grave as a house, a home for someone, built to last.

When did we move from gravemakers to gravediggers? And why?

The age is grown so picked that the toe of the peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier, he galls his kibe.

The note on Genius says that galls his kibe is scraping his heel blister. It’s a very visceral way to say this. Where I’m from, we call this giving someone a flat tire. But irritating someone’s heel blister is so much more wretched. Also – is “kibe” truly the word for heel blister? Was this such an epidemic that there was a specific word for it? Were the shoes so bad? The heels so chafing? Was a kibe a permanent fixture of a foot?
Things to be grateful for in the modern age. #1023

By the lord, Horatio, these three years I have taken note of it.

This is a rather curious specificity time-wise. What in the world has happened in the last three years? Or in Shakespeare’s London?
The major events in the past in this play happened in a matter of months, not years. Is there some movement toward democratization afoot? Three years ago, someone began printing text for the masses that removed the major barriers of learning? Is that it? Is it that Hamlet’s been at school for three years? I mean – if he is at a four year university that might make sense time wise.
It is a very curious time frame.

How absolute the knave is!

My friend told me about her brother-in-law who seems to not understand jokes at all, even the simplest, most obvious ones. She finds herself making even more jokes than she might have otherwise, because his behavior is so baffling.

I would absolutely do the same. When I encounter someone as literal as my friend’s brother-in-law, I become a compulsive joke maker – somehow convinced it is my delivery not his absolute-ness. It’s a recipe for feeling very foolish when, in fact, the failure is on the part of the guy who didn’t get the joke.

Who is to be buried in’t?

What if, at our birth, we were also given our grave? Like – you welcome a child by preparing its place in the earth. You can go and visit your grave throughout your life, know where you will finally stop, where you will end up. Not when, of course. But where. I wonder how that would impact one’s life – to be that acutely aware of your death. Perhaps it’s like that for people who had family graveyards or mausoleums or for church officials who knew they’d be buried in the churchyard. It’s not quite like knowing the exact spot. But it might be pretty close – to just see the end and the beginning simultaneously.

What woman, then?

Hamlet thinks he’s got this game figured out.
Oh. It’s not a man…I see you’re splitting hairs about whomever this grave is for.
Ah ha! Must be a woman then. Of course.
I love that the gravedigger will not let him win. No one else in this play can match Hamlet with his language games. But this gravedigger can.

What man dost thou dig it for?

The success of this joke depends on the assumption of the Default Man. When Hamlet says “man” he means human because the sense, for time immemorial, has been that men are the standard humans and women are the deviation. So everyone always starts with man first – as in, is it a normal person or a woman?

I would actually love to see this scene played with a female gravedigger and a male Hamlet who might, condescendingly, ask his next question, as a concession to the lady gravedigger. Or even better – what if the gravedigger were non-binary and Hamlet’s questions are not just part of a vaudeville routine but also an attempt to engage with the gender of the person before him.

‘Tis for the dead, not for the quick.

There is such poetry in the evolution of language. Now, quick means, almost exclusively, rapid. We understand it when paired with the dead, as death’s opposite but we almost never describe the living as the quick anymore. But that is how the word began. To be quick once meant to be alive. That’s it. But because life is brief and flies so quickly – the word began to also mean fast.

And life is so quick that quick no longer means life, it is now pure speed. Quickly, a life, a quickness, evolves into something else entirely.