A Beggar in King’s Clothing


     In Act 4 of Hamlet, the young prince confronts Claudius about the legitimacy of his ascent to the throne by saying that there is not much difference between a king and a beggar. He states that all men are united in that they are eaten by worms and that worms can be used by any common man to catch other food. In this way he is saying that at the end of the day, Claudius’s title won’t protect him from the dirty way he became king or Hamlet’s righteous revenge. On page 98 line 30, Hamlet says “Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.” An important thing to notice is how Hamlet goes about saying this to a King, no less his stepfather. There is definitely a witty, disrespecting tone being given off in the phrase, showing that Hamlet does not fear Claudius. His tone shows his disgust with Claudius and his incestuous relationship with Gertrude. Shakespeare chooses to use the phrase “a progress” which is significant because it means a royal journey. This adds more depth to the quote because it is another jab at Claudius by Hamlet. No journey through someone’s bowls seems pleasant or even clean. This is a way for Hamlet to tell Claudius that the way he has become a King is filthy, that he has taken the dirty route. However, there is one more significant and damning meaning to this quote. Hamlet tells Claudius that he is no better than a beggar by creating a scenario in which he is digested by a beggar. Hamlet is telling Claudius that by murdering his father and marrying his mother, he has committed an act of the lowliest of man. It also tells Claudius that his position will not protect him. That any righteous revenge Hamlet may take will be justified. The significance of this conversation and how threatening the tone of it all causes Claudius to plot to murder Hamlet.

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2 comments

  1. I really like how you interpret this scene. I realize that Hamlet has increased the level of humiliation to Claudius gradually as the the story develops. In Act 1 Scene 2, we can see that Hamlet only refuse to respond to Claudius and treat him nothing like a King. In Act 3 Scene 2, the humiliation becomes more intense and Hamlet wants to embarrass Claudius in front of everyone when he asked the players to act like how he has killed his father. Now, in Act 4 Scene 3, the relationship between the two has become even worse since Hamlet has killed Polonius. Hamlet expects that Claudius will kill him some time anyway so he becomes even more fearless to express his disgust and hatred towards him.

  2. I agree with your interpretation about how Hamlet was saying that the king was no better than a beggar. A man is not better than another man just because he is born into a higher social class. I had a similar interpretation of the quote you selected which was that Hamlet was pointing out that the king was equal to or even worse than a beggar or a poor person. Hamlet was not only comparing the king to a beggar, but went so far as to describe the king as a disgusting object within the gut of a beggar. A poor person would take desperate measures to survive and stoop so low as to beg or steal. Hamlet could be comparing the king in the way that the king took equally low and dirty measures to secure the crown and the queen. He acted equally as desperate as a beggar. Hamlet might have looked more kindly on a beggar. The king did not need the crown and the queen for survival as a beggar needs money and food. I agree with you on the matter that this conversation is what led to the king wanting Hamlet dead. Through reading your interpretation, I also realized that if anyone who was of a lower social class than Hamlet spoke these words to the king, the king probably would have killed them immediately. The king believed that Hamlet was mad, but still read into what Hamlet was saying. He resolved to have Hamlet killed in England not because he was offended, but because he saw Hamlet as a threat.

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