Friday, April 15, 2011

Richard II - Sad Stories of the Death of Kings

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd;
All murder'd: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!

(Richard II, 3.2.1565-1580)

Richard, though politically tone-deaf at times in this play...

 also displays quite a bit of self-awareness. Richard not only has a consciousness of his story as larger than himself, but also identifies, in this speech, the trap of royalty into which he has fallen - believing that he is greater and more powerful than he is.

Richard's meditations on the role of kings in story are always, like the above quote, so evocative of a certain sad, nostalgic mood - sitting on the ground with friends, or as in this later passage, staring into the embers of a dying fire. Who has not done this and felt that sadness, that wish that things could be different and better?

In winter's tedious nights sit by the fire
With good old folks and let them tell thee tales
Of woeful ages long ago betid;
And ere thou bid good night, to quit their griefs,
Tell thou the lamentable tale of me
And send the hearers weeping to their beds:
For why, the senseless brands will sympathize
The heavy accent of thy moving tongue
And in compassion weep the fire out;
And some will mourn in ashes, some coal-black,
For the deposing of a rightful king.


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