After a long period of indecision about what to do with the knowledge that his uncle has murdered his father, Hamlet returns to Denmark. He has survived a plot to have him murdered, has been rescued by pirates and is now home, ready to deal with the problem.
In the meantime, his lover, Ophelia, has committed suicide. Hamlet and his friend, Horatio, are walking through the cemetery where two men are digging her grave. Hamlet and Horatio stop to chat with them and Hamlet shows an interest in the skulls that they have uncovered.
One of the gravediggers points to one of the skulls and says that it’s been in the earth for twenty-three years, Hamlet asks who it was and they tell him it was the king’s jester, Yorick. Hamlet picks it up.
“Alas, poor Yorick.”
He turns to Horatio and tells him that he knew Yorick well as a child. He tells him that he remembers how funny he was, how he rode piggyback on Yorick’s back a thousand times. He finds it a sobering thought that all those jokes, that singing, the flashes of merriment that set the king’s guests on fire at the dinner table – all that has come to this, a grinning skull, covered with muck.