Richard II (excerpts): Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs

Richard II (excerpts): Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs

Original Text

Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (London: Printed by Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blount, 1623): sig. C2v. STC (2nd ed.) 22273

2Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
3Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.
4Let's choose executors and talk of wills.
5And yet not so, for what can we bequeath
6Save our deposed bodies to the ground?
7Our lands, our lives, and all are Bolingbroke's,
8And nothing can we call our own but Death
10Which serves as paste to cover our bones.
11For heaven's sake, let us sit upon the ground
12And tell sad stories of the death of kings,
13How some have been deposed, some slain in war,
14Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed,
15Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed,
17That rounds the mortal temples of a king
19Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
20Allowing him a breath, a little scene
21To monarchize, be feared, and kill with looks,
22Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
23As if this flesh which walls about our life
24Were brass impregnable. And humored thus,
25Comes at the last, and with a little pin
26Bores through his castle walls, and farewell king.
27Cover your heads, and mock not flesh and blood
28With solemn reverence. Throw away respect,
29Tradition, form, and ceremonious duty,
30For you have mistook me all this while:
31I live with bread like you, feel want,
33How can you say to me, I am a king?


1] As King Richard cedes political control of England to the rebellious Henry Bolingbroke, he despondently becomes cognizant of the mortality of kings. Back to Line
9] small model of the barren earth: the body's flesh, here a "model" of the "barren earth" in the sense of being a small-scale representation (OED n. and adj. 2) of all that decays. Back to Line
16] hollow crown: empty in the middle, connoting insubstantiality. Back to Line
18] there the antic sits ... farewell king: here Death is figured as a court jester who grotesquely inverts convention by granting mortal kings temporary licence to "monarchize"proudly. Back to Line
32] Subjected: made king Death's subject, i.e. compelled to recognize human mortality. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors
Christopher Matusiak
RPO Edition