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ACT IV SCENE III Another room in the castle. 
 Enter KING CLAUDIUS, attended. 
KING CLAUDIUS I have sent to seek him, and to find the body. 
 How dangerous is it that this man goes loose! 
 Yet must not we put the strong law on him: 
 He's loved of the distracted multitude,
 Who like not in their judgment, but their eyes; 
 And where tis so, the offender's scourge is weigh'd, 
 But never the offence. To bear all smooth and even, 
 This sudden sending him away must seem 
 Deliberate pause: diseases desperate grown
 By desperate appliance are relieved, 10
 Or not at all. 
 Enter ROSENCRANTZ and others. 
 How now! what hath befall'n? 
ROSENCRANTZ Where the dead body is bestow'd, my lord, 
 We cannot get from him.
KING CLAUDIUS But where is he? 
ROSENCRANTZ Without, my lord; guarded, to know your pleasure. 
KING CLAUDIUS Bring him before us. 
ROSENCRANTZ Ho, Guildenstern! bring in my lord. 
KING CLAUDIUS Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius?
HAMLET At supper. 
KING CLAUDIUS At supper! where? 19
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
 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. 
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. 
KING CLAUDIUS What dost you mean by this? 
HAMLET Nothing but to show you how a king may go a 
 progress through the guts of a beggar. 31
KING CLAUDIUS Where is Polonius? 
HAMLET In heaven; send hither to see: if your messenger 
 find him not there, seek him i' the other place

 yourself. But indeed, if you find him not within 
 this month, you shall nose him as you go up the
 stairs into the lobby. 
KING CLAUDIUS Go seek him there. 
 To some Attendants. 
HAMLET He will stay till ye come. 
 Exeunt Attendants. 
KING CLAUDIUS Hamlet, this deed, for thine especial safety,-- 
 Which we do tender, as we dearly grieve 40
 For that which thou hast done,--must send thee hence 
 With fiery quickness: therefore prepare thyself; 
 The bark is ready, and the wind at help, 
 The associates tend, and every thing is bent 
 For England.
HAMLET For England. 
KING CLAUDIUS So is it, if thou knew'st our purposes. 
HAMLET I see a cherub that sees them. But, come; for
 England! Farewell, dear mother. 
KING CLAUDIUS Thy loving father, Hamlet. 49
HAMLET My mother: father and mother is man and wife; man 
 and wife is one flesh; and so, my mother. Come, for England! 
KING CLAUDIUS Follow him at foot; tempt him with speed aboard;
 Delay it not; I'll have him hence to-night: 
 Away! for every thing is seal'd and done 
 That else leans on the affair: pray you, make haste. 
 And, England, if my love thou hold'st at aught-- 
 As my great power thereof may give thee sense,
 Since yet thy cicatrice looks raw and red 
 After the Danish sword, and thy free awe 60
 Pays homage to us--thou mayst not coldly set 
 Our sovereign process; which imports at full, 
 By letters congruing to that effect,
 The present death of Hamlet. Do it, England; 
 For like the hectic in my blood he rages, 
 And thou must cure me: till I know 'tis done, 
 Howe'er my haps, my joys were ne'er begun. 

Next: Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 4


Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 3
From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.


1. him, Hamlet.

2. goes loose, is allowed his freedom.

3. Yet must ... him, yet it will not do for me to employ the full force of the law against him...

4. of, by; distracted, weak-brained.

5. Who like ... eyes, whose liking depends not upon the use of their judgement, but, etc.

6. the offender's scourge, the provocation the offender has received; that by which he has been lashed into furious deeds.

7-9. To hear ... pause, in order that things may go smoothly, not excite opposition, this sending him away so suddenly must be made to seem the result of deliberate calculation.

14. without, outside: guarded ... pleasure, under a guard till it be known what it is your pleasure should be done.

20, 1. a certain ... him, a certain assemblage of discriminating worms, worms that know what they like, are even now engaged upon him; an allusion to the Diet of Worms.

21, 2. Your worm ... diet, the worm you and I know so well is the only real emperor as regards diet; for your, used in this colloquial sense, see Abb. 220: fat, fatten.

24, 5. but ... table, two dishes served in a different way, but placed before the same company; cp. Westward Ho! i. 2, "an excellent pickled goose, a new service," i.e. dressed in a new way: for variable, cp. iii. 1. 172: the end, what it all comes to.

30. go a progress, an allusion to the royal 'progresses,' journeys of state, so common in England in former days.

33. send thither to see, Delius points out that the king would not be able himself to get to heaven to make the inquiry.

34. the other place, hell.

35. nose, smell; cp. Cor. v. 1. 28, "to nose the offence."

38. He will ... come, you need not be afraid of his running away, he 's fast enough there.

40. tender, hold precious; see note on i. 3. 107.

41. must ... hence, will render it necessary for you to leave Denmark. The king pretends that it is no wish of his, but a necessary consequence of the deed, as though Hamlet would be seized by the very multitude who he had just before said loved him too much to allow any harm to be done to him.

42. with fiery quickness, "with hot haste" (Cl. Pr. Edd.).

43. the wind at help, the wind favourable; for at, in place of the prefix a-, as in asleep, afoot, etc., see Abb. 143.

44. The associates tend, the companions I have chosen for your voyage are in readiness for you: bent, directed, in trim.

45. For England! in order that he may not be suspected of having made any plans of his own to baffle the king's design, Hamlet pretends to be surprised at the information.

46. So it is ... purposes, it is well, as you would allow if you knew, etc.

53. at foot, at his heels, closely; tempt ... aboard, persuade him to go on board as quickly as you can.

54. I'll have him hence, I am determined that he shall sail.

55, 6. for every ... affair, for everything else that depends upon the management of this business is thoroughly complete.

57. if my love ... aught, if you in the least value my love.

58. As my .. sense, and the greatness of my power may well teach you to do so.

59, 60. Since yet ... sword, since the chastisement you received at our hands is still fresh in your memory; cicatrice, scar.

60. free awe, "awe still felt, though no longer enforced by the presence of Danish armies" (Cl. Pr. Edd.).

61. homage, i.e. the homage of being ready to carry out our injunctions.

61, 2. thou mayst ... process, you may not treat with indifference our royal mandate; for process, cp. A. C. i. 1. 28, "Where's Fulvia's process?" The Cl. Pr. Edd. point out that set "would not have been thus used had it not been familiar in the phrases 'set at nought,' 'set at a pin's fee,' etc."

62-4. which imports ... Hamlet, the full tenour of which as explained by letters sent with it, and enforcing it with adjurations of the same purport, is that Hamlet should at once be put to death; conjuring is the reading of the folios, the quartos giving congruing, the objection to which is its tautology.

65. For like ... rages, for the effect which his existence has upon me is like that of a hectic fever on the blood, i.e. causing it to burn violently; hectic, properly an adjective = continual, habitual, and especially applied of old to fevers; now used only in the sense of consumptive...

66. And thou ... me, and to you I must look for a cure for this disease of mine.

67. However ... begun, whatever may happen to me, I can never feel that the happiness I long for has begun.


How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. < >.
How to cite the scene review questions:
Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet: Scene Questions for Review. Shakespeare Online. 27 Dec. 2013. < >.

Scene Questions for Review

microsoft images 1. Claudius is well aware of how the people of Denmark feel about Hamlet. Why is Hamlet beloved? What qualities does he have that would appeal to the public?

2. In Q2 line 46 reads, "For England." In the Folio it reads, "For England?" Which would you include?

3. In line 47 Claudius hints at his sinister intentions and Hamlet replies, "I see a cherub that sees them." Does this contribute to the idea of Divine Providence elaborated on elsewhere in the play? For more on the topic of providence, please click here.

4. Why is Claudius' last speech in this scene a soliloquy? How does it compare to his last soliloquy in 3.3?

5. Why does Claudius think England will help him carry out his plan?

6. Nearly half of all the lines spoken by Hamlet to Claudius occur in this short scene, which frequently is omitted in stage productions due to the length of the play. What do you think of the dramatic significance of this scene?


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Polonius at supper ... Hamlet is trying to be perceived as insane so it is not terribly important to deconstruct his passage on Polonius being eaten, but it is confusing and in need of a paraphrase:
Not where he eats but where he is eaten - a certain convocation (gathering as in Parliament) of worms are eating at him (the kind of worm that would breed in the body of a politician like Polonius). The worm dines the best of us all (as an emperor).
Hamlet's comment has to be a play on Martin Luther's appearance at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Worms is the city in which the Catholic Church held a meeting -- called a diet -- resulting in the Church's decision to excommunicate Luther, who also happened to be Professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg. How could Shakespeare resist?


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Hugo on Hamlet ... "Hamlet, that awful being complete in incompleteness; all, in order to be nothing! He is prince and demagogue, sagacious and extravagant, profound and frivolous, man and neuter. He has little faith in the sceptre, rails at the throne, has a student for his comrade, converses with any one passing by, argues with the first comer, understands the people, despises the mob, hates violence, distrusts success, questions obscurity, and is on speaking terms with mystery. He communicates to others maladies that he has not himself; his feigned madness inoculates his mistress with real madness. He is familiar with spectres and with actors. He jests, with the axe of Orestes in his hand. He talks literature, recites verses, composes a theatrical criticism, plays with bones in a church-yard, dumfounds his mother, avenges his father, and closes the dread drama of life and death with a gigantic point of interrogation. He terrifies, and then disconcerts. Never has anything more over-whelming been dreamed." (Victor Hugo. Wiliam Shakespeare. Trans. Melville B. Anderson.)


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