Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander, till he find it stopping a bung-hole?

See – here’s what’s funny. Every note I’ve ever read about this line has defined bunghole as part of a beer barrel – and the dust of Alexander as part of the bung, which is the stopper or a cork. And that is the received wisdom.
However, I cannot help hearing bung-hole in a more scatological sense. I thought I was making it up – but, it is, in fact, common slang. Beavis and Butthead make extensive use of it.

And there is evidence that bunghole was used scatologically as early as 1653. Which explains why scholars may be hesitant to make that connection here…if no one else was using bung-hole scatologically in the early 1600s – than could that be what Shakespeare is doing here with our most beloved intellectual, philosopher prince? No way. Hamlet, the scholar, would never mean something as base as bung-hole in the poop sense.

But.. He is LITERALLY talking about base-ness here. He is talking about someone who has reached the highest heights being reduced to the lowest laws. Sure – yes – it could be the stopper made of clay. But I’m not sure that’s QUITE as base as being ingested and becoming the bung stopping up the colon of someone. Hamlet has already taken us on a journey of a king through the guts of a beggar…it is actually more logical and in line with the earlier images of the play to reference the body than a random piece of beermaking gear.

And yet – of course – he takes us through this with the beer barrel explicitly in the next line. So, yes, of course, he also means the bung-hole of the beer barrel but…it is not impossible that that is an attempt to soften the scatology of the previous line.

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