"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen? Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that."
One part squick, one part Tear Jerker, Alas, Poor Yorick takes place when a character picks up the severed head of a loved one and cradles it close to them. Depending on how gross you want to get, blood is optional, and sometimes just a skull or helmet is sufficient to get the point across.
This trope is very often used to conjure up pity for the holder and perhaps suggest that they're more than a little off their rocker. Expect angst to follow. In animated adaptations of manga in particular, this part is often left out.
Distinct from A Love to Dismember in that the person does not actually have a long term relationship with the part.
Subtrope of Shout Out: To Shakespeare. If the character starts talking to the skull, can be a Surrogate Soliloquy.
The line is often misquoted as "I knew him well" rather than "I knew him, Horatio." (Although it does sum up the rest of the monologue nicely).
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime & Manga
X1999: Used often, especially in the original manga. First we have the young Fuuma picking up his mother Saya's head and licking the blood (which turns out to be Foreshadowing of his eventual Face-Heel Turn) and then Kotori, who's gone slightly nuts, carrying around Tokiko's head, and then Kamui holding Kotori's head after she is killed while in a Heroic BSOD. In the anime adaptation, all three of these instances were removed, presumably because it was too graphic for TV. The end of the ridiculously depressing movie also ended with Kamui holding Fuuma's head, and during a vision he winds up holding Kotori's after she gets torn apart bloodily.
CLAMP probably got the idea from either Jonathan Joestar holding Dio Brando's detached head in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, (though that's not quite an example of this trope because Dio isn't actually dead at the time) or Devilman, where Akira holds Miki's head, since the situation is much closer to that in X: boy holding his beloved's head and all. That was one of the defining moments of the Devilman saga, by the way. CLAMP even did fanart of Satan holding Akira's head at one point, and they did doujinshi for both series before making it big on their own.
Clare carries Teresa's head with her in Claymore after the latter is killed by Priscilla. To top it off, Clare asks to have Teresa's flesh put inside of her so she can avenge Teresa by hunting down her killer.
Though it occurs off screen in Rurouni Kenshin, Aoshi apparently takes the heads of the Oniwabanshu away to bury them after they are killed protecting him. This part was cut from the anime, where their bodies are kept intact.
One of the most heart-rending moments in Battle Angel Alita especially as the guy was still alive (being a cyborg) had always been nervous and never wanting to fight, just wanted to get home to his family and was sobbing and begging forgiveness as he went.
In Victory Gundam, when Uso's mother Mueller gets decapitated in a collision between two battleships, he brings the head (in its helmet) back for burial.
Suzu Kitamura of Peacemaker Kurogane carries around the lacquered skull of his mentor after said mentor dies in the raid on the Ikedaya.
Occurs near the end of the fourth volume of Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix, where Akanemaru is the one whose skull is cradled.
A variant in Pluto. With Epsilon's head bitten off, Wassily uses the robot's detached hands to perform this trope.
Happens in the InuYasha manga, when two little kids hug the severed heads of their parents.
In Pandora Hearts, Retrace LXXVIII, a flashback to the aftermath of the Tragedy of Sablier shows Jack, the sole survivor, holding Oswald/Glen's head close to his chest despite the fact that he was the one to kill him. It speaks volumes about the state of his mindat that time.
Played with in Y: The Last Man, when the protagonists spend the night in a Parisian crypt full of bones and Yorick just has to pick up one of the skulls. Also is Hypocritical Humor (or possibly a Lampshade Hanging on Yorick's part) since earlier when one of the Daughters of the Amazon was about to kill him, she quoted the line and he mocked her for being unoriginal. Additionally, the cover to an earlier issue displays Yorick's pet monkey, Ampersand, dressed in Shakespearean attire while holding a skull — a clear allusion to Hamlet.
For a while Deadpool wound up carrying around the zomibiefied head of himself from another dimension, though being Deadpool it could talk and make wisecracks. Headpool actually proved to be very popular during his appearances.
Boba Fett picks up his (sort of) father Jango's helmet in Star Wars Episode II after he's decapitated. It seems that it wasn't his actual head, since you can see a shadowed ball falling one way, and the helmet rolling the other.
The film Antz has this, because the character whose head was severed was an ant, and while still alive (thanks to nifty biology) he's dying as Z holds him.
In the Iron Man 1 film, Obadiah Stane (as Iron Monger) does this with Iron Man's separated helmet. Then he crushes it.
Both the Japanese version and The Remake of The Ring feature this, as the protagonist discovers Sadako/Samara's remains at the bottom of the well. Reiko cradles Sadako's skull (still matted with her trademark long hair) to her bosom. Rachel finds Samara's body in perfect condition... but as she cradles it, the 8 year-old girl's body rots away to its real state.
The 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives qualifies, though in that case the head belonged to a robot.
In Alex Cox's Revengers Tragedy, the main character picks up the skull of his murdered lover and talks about her demise. He then uses it as a puppet and repeatedly screeches, "Revenge!" to show that underneath the snarkiness, he's quite Ax-Crazy.
In Doomsday, Sol the cannibal leader does this after he finds the decapitated body of Viper. He reattaches her head and straps her corpse into the passenger seat of his car for his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
Done for a laugh in Hot Shots! when Topper says that he is just like his father and even has his father's eyes... in a small case.
Like above in the manga and anime section, the live action Devil Man movie has the main character carry around his girlfriend's severed head for most of the climax.
In Mystery Men the bowler keeps her father's skull in her bowling ball, and his ghost talks to her.
The infamous Highlander 2 has the scene being played out for an audience using Ramirez's skull. He comes back to life during the performance, much to the annoyance of the actor playing Hamlet.
Played for laughs in Galaxy Quest when Sarris reveals what happened to his former lieutenant (who failed to raise the ship's shields in time).
Subverted in Apocalypse Now. At one point, the severed head of one of Willard's men lands in his lap while he's tied to a cage, causing him to panic and throw it away. His reaction was most likely at least partially due to shock, as he had not been aware of the man's death prior to that moment, combined with his current mental state.
In Another Country, Rupert Everett's character contemplates the empty bed of a character that committed suicide a few scenes earlier, then sighs "Poor Martineau!". In the first few minutes of the movie his character also uses the Band of Brothers quote from Henry V, so the Shakespearean allusion seems very much deliberate.
Happens in Sin City, when Cardinal Roark cradles Kevin's head.
In Quest for Camelot, after the skeleton falls on them, the two headed dragon cradles a dragon skull and the skinny head says, "Alas, poor Yorik! I knew him well!" and the other head says "Oh no! Not Uncle Yorik!".
At the end of Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King, Peachy Carnehain reveals that he has been carrying the severed head(now little more than a skull) of his friend Daniel Dravot since his death.
Inverted and then Double Subverted in Jonathan Coe's coming of age novel The Rotter's Club, there's a segment in which the teenager Ben Trotter shares a personal story with a friend. A few years ago, his sister and her fiancee had been bombed in a restaurant, killing her fiancee but not her.
Ben: ...She doesn't remember feeling any pain. It went completely dark and there must have been screaming everywhere and it would have been a while before she could see anything at all. After that, all she remembers... is looking down... and seeing Malcolm.
Emily: Where was he?
Ben: She was holding his head in her hands.
Emily: *Thinking* Well, that's a romantic image. Two lovers. He's lying in her lap. She's cradling him as he dies...
Ben: Not him... not the whole of him. She was holding his head. Just his head. ...A bomb... can do terrible things to a human body... You've no idea...
Inverted in a mystery novel (forget the title) where the M.E. of a college town develops a mild fondness for a skull after its owner is long dead, because pranksters are always stealing it from the drama department (where it's a "Yorick" prop!) and leaving it where people will mistake it for a murder victim.
The Skull of Truth in the Bruce Coville novel of the same name (part of the Magic Shop series) claims to actually be Yorick.
In one of the stories of Evolution from Stephen Baxter, a prehistoric woman digs out the skull of her dead child and cradles it, later she starts using it as a totem to intimidate and control the other members of her tribe.
Live Action TV
Black Adder features this in the first episode when Edmund kills Richard III not knowing who he is and picks up his head, only to realize who he just beheaded.
Played with in Slings and Arrows (see photo above): narcissistic theatrical director Oliver bequeathes his own skull to his theatre company, with instructions that it be used onstage in all future productions of Hamlet.
When not in use, Geoffrey keeps it on his desk as an After Eight dispenser. This example also fulfills the "slightly crazy" criteria: Geoffrey has a history of fairly serious mental illness, and is currently being haunted by Oliver's ghost. This doesn't stop the whole thing from being incredibly funny.
And then Oliver's ghost has to remind Geoffrey to get the skull to the theatre — just in time to be used in the performance.
Eko cradles his brother Yemi's decomposed remains in the LOST episode "The 23rd Psalm."
While no severed heads are involved, Alton Brown does make a Shout-Out to this in the Good Eats episode on cobbler. The premise is that Alton is being given an invitation to enter a sophisticated culinary institute to fill an opening created by the untimely death of a member named Mr. Yorick.
Alton: "Alas... poor Yorick."
Member: "You knew him?"
Alton: "Not that well."
Norma in Passions treats her father's skull as a Companion Cube and talks to it frequently. As you might expect, she's pretty messed up.
Sarah Lund, an actual Dane, does this in the second season of Forbrydelsen with a child's skull.
In the Tales from the Crypt episode "Top Billing," Jon Lovitz kills his rival for what he thinks is the role of Hamlet in an off production of the play. It turns out he was "up" for the part of Yorick instead. It turns out the "playhouse" is actually an insane asylum where the patients were putting on the play. The lead didn't like to kiss a plastic skull, and someone kept stealing the one that they had. Needless to say, it doesn't end well for Lovitz's character.
"Alas, poor Yorick, I knew me well/but I been killing my brain cell by cell"; line from Foetus song "Throne of Agony", taken from the album Nail.
Parodied by David Bowie: When he performed "Cracked Actor" on tour in 1974, he was dressed as a hybrid of Hollywood star and Hamlet, being "filmed" as he sang to a prop skull. It was bad enough that the song's bawdy to begin with, but the segment climaxed with him French-kissing the skull. (This act was later revived for the 1983 Serious Moonlight Tour, with the twist that his stagehands suddenly strip him of all the relevant props/costume pieces when he starts kissing the skull, leaving him a bit bemused.)
In Styx's concert video, Caught In The Act, Dennis De Young does it during "Mr. Roboto" with the Roboto mask he was wearing earlier.
Trope name comes from Hamlet's lament upon finding the buried skull of Yorick, the court jester.
Done in The Revengers Tragedy, which is a parody of Hamlet. Vindici carries around the skull of his wife, who was poisoned by the villain. He later tricks the villain into kissing the skull, which still carries traces of poison. It's a strange play.
In Henry VI, Part II, Queen Margaret carries the head of her dead lover Suffolk (recently killed by pirates) around ("Here may his head lie on my throbbing breast, / But where's the body that I should embrace?") King Henry is understandably none too thrilled about it.
Salome by Oscar Wilde, with a helping of necrophilia, too. ("I have kissed thee on thy mouth, Jokanaan...") In the opera version, Richard Strauss' music makes it even creepier.
In Bill Cain's Equivocation, right after Gunpowder conspirator Thomas Wintour is executed, his severed head delivers a Wham Line, causing the man who sent him to his death to drop the cranium. Shag catches it and cradles it, looking horrified and speechless as the lights black out and Intermission begins.
In George Whetstone's play, Promos and Cassandra (on which, in part, Shakespeare'sMeasure for Measure is based), Cassandra (the analogue of Shakespeare's Isabella) cradles and kisses the severed head that she thinks is that of her brother, Andrugio (Claudio). Yucketh.
In Planescape Torment Morte, the floating skull, says this if Dakkon, the most somber and unfunny character in the game, dies. An inversion considering who is saying it.
In the original Soul Blade/Edge game, Siegfried's backstory as a bandit has him proudly holding the head of the knight he just beheaded... and finding out it was his own father's. He promptly snaps and goes looking for 'the real killer'.
In the remake of Resident Evil, Lisa Trevor picks up and cradles her mother's skull before committing suicide by jumping into a pit.
Legacy of Kain: "Alas poor Nupraptor, I knew him well...well, not really."
Halo multiplayer gametype has you playing oddball...with somebody's skull. In the third one there's an achievement called "Alas, Poor Yorick". You get by using the skull as a weapon to kill three people.
There's also hidden skulls in the game that unlock achievements and do different things from making the game more difficult, or just more amusing (like the Grunt Birthday Skull).
Castlevania features a headless skeleton called the Yorick who kicks his head around like a soccer ball. Gets mad and runs around Benny Hill style if you destroy his skull.
Slappy Cromwell: Sorry. Alas, poor Murray. He's a disgusting corpse which ain't got no body.
Murray: And I mean to eat you all! MUHUHAHAHAHAHA!
Rusty Pete does this with Captain Slag's head in the Ratchet & Clank. It starts getting a little weird Pete not only starts talking to the head, but makes the head talk back.
In an unused version of Team Fortress 2 promotional video for the Medic, the Heavy ends up holding an enemy Spy's head Yorick-style when said Spy is decapitated while attempting to attack him and the Medic.
In L.A. Noire, Cole Phelps quotes the first sentence verbatim to a shrunken head (a movie prop, used as evidence) in an attempt to be funny. It is not well-received.
Marathon Infinity has a level called "Poor Yorick". This is more of a Shout Out: To Shakespeare (of which there are many in the trilogy) than a straight example of this trope, however, as it is otherwise unreferenced. However, the net play mode "Kill the Man with the Ball" could be considered a straight example of this trope: the "ball" is a human skull and is cradled in exactly the manner common to most depictions of the scene from Hamlet.
Parodied in a bizarre scene from Devil May Cry 4, where Agnus is doing a monologue to a human skull for no apparent reason.
He's trying to theatrically one-up Dante.
Samus recovering Adam's helmet from Metroid: Other M. At least until it's violently interrupted by the ship's self-destruct sequence.
The Nostalgia Critic does this, complete with paraphrased soliloquy, to the DVD of the Tom & Jerry cartoons during his review of the Tom & Jerry Movie. He then ends the moving performance with a quiet "...shitfuckers."
In Animaniacs, one short features the brothers re-enacting the famous scene (complete with Mr. Skullhead), with Dot providing a modern-day English interpretation.
In Metalocalypse, Nathan Explosion contemplates going into comedy while holding up the skull of Buddy Hackett, purchased at an auction.
In the fourth season of The Venture Bros., Henchman 21 talks to Henchman 24's (possibly haunted) skull and keeps it in his room. The Monarch even lampshades this, and tells 21 to "knock all this 'Alas poor Yorick' crap off."
In Beast Wars, Dinobot performs a similar scene while holding Tarantulas' legs, when the Predacons were all assumed to be destroyed, complete with "This is the leg [sic] that stalked so many victims". Of course, Dinobot being Dinobot, this is nowhere near the only Hamlet based turn of phrase.
Referenced in Quest for Camelot. The group stumbles onto a giant dragon skeleton, and Devon (or Cornwall, I forget which is which) moans that he thinks the skeleton is Uncle Yorick. The other picks up an unrelated (human-sized) skull off the ground, and says "Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well."
In the Terminator 3D show at Universal, Arnold at some point picks up the skull of the Mook type terminator.
John: Friend of yours?
Arnold: He was my college roommate.
Variations of this often pop up in BIONICLE, but are typically done with the deceased's Mask of Power rather than the actual head.
Older Than Print: When St. Catherine of Siena saw a young man named Niccolo di Toldi being taken to execution, she went to keep him company to the end. When he had been beheaded, she received and embraced his severed head.
Rather ironically, when St. Catherine herself died, her own remains were divided and her head, now inserted in a bronze bust, was carried in a procession through Sienna (with her mother Luppa among the pilgrims and followers behind it). Then it was stolen several times, until it was finally located in the local Basilica of St. Domenico.
When Thomas More had been condemned for treason and beheaded, his daughter Margaret climbed up onto the "Traitors' Gate" of London Bridge, where the heads were displayed, retrieved it (reportedly by bribing the man whose job it was to toss it in the river), and kept it in her room as a holy relic for the rest of her life, and it was eventually buried with her husband after her own death.
In a similar vein, when Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded, his wife Elizabeth Throckmorton was said to have carried his embalmed head around with her for the rest of her life. When she died her son inherited it, and it was buried with him at his death.
In February 2007, a 17 year old Minnesota woman found her dog's severed head in a box on her doorstep, apparently left there by her ex-boyfriend.