Term of Award

Spring 2022

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Literature

Committee Chair

Mary Villeponteaux

Committee Member 1

Richard Flynn

Committee Member 2

Julia Griffin


The funeral service is an ancient custom that is deeply cultural, and Shakespeare uses it prominently in Hamlet. The play's ending with Fortinbras commanding a military-like tribute for Hamlet is somewhat surprising because Hamlet was never a soldier, and he has breached the etiquette of funeral rites in the cases of Polonius, by withholding the remains immediately after the death, and Ophelia by making a spectacle with Laertes in her grave. Additionally, he has arranged for the execution before the observance of confessional rites in the case of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet's dead march is an example of how a funeral ceremony can determine a lasting legacy. It follows the formula of other Renaissance tragedies including many of Shakespeare's own; a funeral service in a tragedy is a form of tribute. The capacity of the funeral service to be a political event as well as a heraldic event is exemplified in the ostentatious funeral of Sir Phillip Sydney which helped enhance his legacy as an English historical figure. Fortinbras similarly enhances Hamlet's legacy by recognizing him not as a soldier but as a king, not what he has been, but what he was meant to be. Hamlet's embarrassing behavior in Ophelia’s grave transforms him, and it is not held against him. His body will be revered in the tradition of European kings, embalmed and interred, much differently than the treatment given to the bodies of Polonius and Ophelia. Through Fortinbras’ order, Hamlet becomes a king for a moment at the end of the play making him a king in our minds for the rest of time. The funeral is the vehicle through which Hamlet, the Prince is acknowledged as Hamlet the King.

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