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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edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet extends a metaphor to remind Claudius that it is every man's ultimate fate to die and that death is thus the great equalizer. Hamlet understands that Claudius's need for power has led him to kill his brother and seize his throne and wife, and so by reminding Claudius that in the end, he will be no different than a "lean beggar," Hamlet cleverly delivers a home truth.

This metaphor is Hamlet's way of obliquely reminding Claudius that what he does in his earthly life is what matters most since what we are after we die is inconsequential; we all become fuel for the organisms that succeed us. Titles such as "emperor" and "king" are no more and no less than "beggar," "maggot," "worm," and "fish." Because Claudius has made the choice to commit regicide and fratricide, his life, in Hamlet's estimation, is irredeemable, and death will receive him indifferently. 

jseligmann eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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!

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.


mkcapen1 | Student

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.

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