Catch the Conscience

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Bob has recently done something horrible, but he feels no remorse for the deed. Maybe he hasn't realized that he can actually do wrong, maybe he hasn't realized that his actions hurt someone, or maybe he is just really good at justifying his actions. Anyway, what matters is that some other group of people, let's say Alice, Charlie, David and Ellen, want Bob to feel remorse for his crime. To do this, they put on some sort of a performance specifically designed to remind Bob of his crime.

Bob's reaction to this may vary. Ideally, this will open his eyes to his cruelty and lead to an epiphany. However, it is equally likely that he will see the performance as an action against him and try to get revenge. Or, he may simply remain oblivious to how the show relates to him.

Examples of Catch the Conscience include:


  • Happens several times in The King and the Clown, with the chief advisor using these plays as an excuse to enrage the king and make him suspicious of his corrupt ministers and concubines.


  • Hamlet gets parodied in Wyrd Sisters. The witches think this is why Tomjon and his strolling players are putting on a play about the old king's death. It isn't; they've been hired to do a propaganda piece that says Verence was a tyrant whose death was an accident. The witches then alter the play to do this themselves. Rather than feeling guilty, the Duke finally loses all connection to reality, but this still leads to a confession of sorts, so it's a result.
  • Older Than Feudalism: in The Bible, following David's adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, the prophet Nathan tells him the story of a rich man who took the beloved lamb of his poor neighbor to serve to his dinner guest. David is outraged and demands to know who the man is who could have done such a thing. Nathan tells him.

Live Action TV


  • The Trope Namer is Hamlet, whose title character puts on a play about a murder, called either The Murder of Gonzago or The Mouse-Trap, to remind Claudius of his guilt:

The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.

  • In The King and I, Tuptim, at the end of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas," declares: "I too am glad for death of King. Of any King who pursues slave who is unhappy and tries to join her lover!" She almost gets carried away before a musical signal reminds her to deliver the bittersweet epilogue of the story. The King does not ignore this insult to his authority.
  • In One Touch of Venus, Savory puts on the Murder Ballad "Dr. Crippen" with an accompanying pantomime, reminding Rodney just before it starts that the police suspect foul play in the mysterious disappearance of Rodney's fiancée.

Western Animation

  • In The Simpsons, the school stages a play to make Mr. Burns donate to them. It doesn't work.
    • In another episode, a parody of Hamlet no less, Hamlet (Bart) uses this method to get Claudius (Moe) to admit to killing Hamlet's father. He admits to many random things, just not the murder.
  1. He is Kodos, but he isn't the villain of the episode.