What is the black humour in Act IV, Scene 3 of Hamlet?  

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Act IV, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's most famous play, Hamlet, the black humor of Hamlet's comments about the dead Polonius stem from his treatment of the serious issue of death in a farcical manner, ridiculing Polonius, whom Hamlet has found repugnant in his sycophantic and hypocritical ways. In a broader sense, Hamlet conveys with his dark humor the paradox of life, an existence so revered by many, yet one that ends so insignificantly.

This black humor of Hamlet's begins when King Claudius asks the prince where Polonius is, and Hamlet replies that he is "at supper," not meaning that the man is eating a meal, but that he himself is "supper" for the worms.

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 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. (4.3.22-27)

In these lines, Hamlet describes Polonius's end as well as that of the king and the beggar, who after death are equalized in their insignificant "end" as they all become part of the food chain.


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