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Shakespeare’s allusion to the Diet of Worms

When the name Worms or Imperial Diet is mentioned in a conversation with someone who grew up using English, he or she will usually mention history lessons at school and the humorous ambiguity of the phrase “Diet of Worms”.

Diet of Worms (Source: Wikimedia.de) 
Diet of Worms (Source: Wikimedia.de)

Shakespeare’s play on words

Shakespeare too played on this ambiguity in his tragedy Hamlet:

In Act 4, Scene 3, Hamlet is asked where Polonius is (Hamlet has murdered him) and answers:

“At supper. … 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.”

This contains an allusion to the “Diet of Worms”, the legislative assembly convened in 1521 by the Emperor Charles V.