A Man May Fish With The Worm That Hath Eat Of A King, And Eat Of The Fish That Hath Fed Of That Worm.

Please discuss how this quote from Act IV, Scene 3 deals with theme of death.

HAMLET Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all 25 creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that's the end. KING CLAUDIUS Alas, alas! 30 HAMLET A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and cat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.


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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This quote deals with the theme of death because the whole thing is talking about what happens to a person's corpse after that person dies.

In the first part, Hamlet talks about how, when we are dead, worms eat us.  He talks about how we fatten all other animals for us to eat, but we're really being fattened up for the worms to eat.

Hamlet is also talking a bit about how this makes all people equal.  Both a king and a beggar will be worm food when they die.  And a person can take a worm that's eaten a king's flesh and go use it for bait to fish with.


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jseligmann | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Hamlet is at once making light of death and exasperating, taunting, and belittling the King.

Outraged Claudius wants to know where Hamlet has stowed Polonius's body. But he doesn't ask Hamlet that, he asks him, "Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius?" That's Hamlet's cue to play his little philosophical word games with the King. In the end (pun intended), Hamlet compares the King to a beggar's poop. Funny and gross, it's an idea sure to anger the already fed up Claudius... just what Hamlet wanted all along... to "catch the conscience of the King." Oh, he has the King's attention for sure!

Finally, Hamlet tells the King to go to hell:


Where is Polonius?


In heaven. Send thither to see. If your messenger find him not there, seek him i' the other place yourself.

Ah, perfect!

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mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The fascination with death seems to be that there is nothing else left but one's body's destruction and decay which equalize everyone.  The being lays powerless as the worms digest.  Mankind has no emperors to please or others who are nobler because he is at the gluttony of the feeding worms and maggots.  The issue of the worm then shows how little man is and how equal he has become with all others because no one knows whose hand will use the worm to fish with.  e may have a worm that filled itself with the remains of nobility or that of an ordinary man.  In death there is no greatness, but equality for all.