What account of King Hamlet’s death had been given at the time of his death? How did King Hamlet really die?  

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Act 1, Scene 5, the Ghost gives a full account of his murder and the false explanation that was given to the public:

'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,

A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark

Is by a forged process of my death

Rankly abused.

The true facts, according to the Ghost, are:

Sleeping within my orchard,

My custom always of the afternoon,

Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,

With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,

And in the porches of my ears did pour

The leprous distilment, whose effect

Holds such an enmity with blood of man

That swift as quicksilver it courses through

The natural gates and alleys of the body,

And with a sudden vigor it doth posset

And curd, like eager droppings iinto milk,

The thin and wholesome blood. So did it mine,

And a most instant tetter barked about,

Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust,

All my smooth body.

"Hebenon" is the juice of some poisonous plant.

"Tetter barked" means being covered with scablike pustules.

The Ghost's account of his death at the hands of Claudius is all that Hamlet or the audience receives. Hamlet believes it implicitly at the time, then has doubts which he resolves by staging the play-within-a-play, which causes Claudius to betray his guilt. At that point Hamlet tells his friend Horatio, "I'll take the ghost's word for a thousand pound" (3.2.274-5)

shumailajkhan's profile pic

shumailajkhan | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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The people of Denmark are told that King Hamlet died when a serpent stung him while he was asleep in his orchard. In reality, as the ghost tells Hamlet, his brother Claudius poured poisoned venom into his ear, again while he slept, and murdered him. Although this is revealed to Hamlet by the ghost and the audience or Hamlet, has no other way of judging the authenticity of the story, the dark and ominous mood of the play would indicate that such a conspiratorial and evil murder is possible.

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