The injustice of social inequality, a theme in Hamlet, is best explored in the gravedigger scene of Act 5. It involves two gravediggers discussing the upcoming burial of Ophelia. She would receive a “Christian burial” despite committing suicide. The gravediggers believe that Ophelia escaped the standard penalty thanks to her high social status.
The rules of society are based on wealth and power. It is one of the prominent themes that reinforces the relevance of Hamlet in modern society. In the play, inequality manifests in the difference between the classes. Members of the lower classes act around superiors in such a way that the audience sees their status. Powerful characters understand it as well. King Claudius comments that “the wicked prize itself/Buys out the law” in Act 3. Thus, he reveals the injustice that arises from inequality. Having killed the previous king, Claudius is seemingly beyond punishment for his crime due to his power. He gets away with murder, being the former ruler’s brother. Then he escapes the law as a new king, having married Queen Gertrude.
In addition to the conflict of Hamlet vs. Claudius, this theme relates to the fundamental conflict of human vs. society in Hamlet. The prince appears annoyed with the social hierarchy and often flouts its conventions. In Act 1, the socially-inferior Horatio addresses him as “my Lord.” In response, Hamlet calls him a “fellow-student.” Later, in Act 4, his proclamation shocks his childhood friends:
The body is with the king, but the king is not with
the body. The king is a thing–
Of nothing: bring me to him. Hide fox, and all after.
All these moments lead to the gravedigger scene, in Act 5, Scene 1. There, two clowns dressed as gravediggers prepare for the burial of Ophelia. As one of them points out:
Will you ha’ the truth on’t? If this had not been
a gentlewoman, she should have been buried out o’
The scene continues with the arrival of Hamlet and Horatio. They observe how carelessly the remains of formerly influential people are treated. Although Hamlet sees the artificial nature of inequality, he cannot fix it. It may be the play’s central tragedy.