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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Scenes from the Comedies and Histories: Richard II. in Prison

By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

From ‘King Richard II.’

Scene: Pomfret.The Dungeon of the Castle.Enter King Richard.

KING RICHARD—I have been studying how I may compare

This prison, where I live, unto the world;

And for because the world is populous,

And here is not a creature but myself,

I cannot do it: yet I’ll hammer ’t out.

My brain I’ll prove the female to my soul;

My soul, the father: and these two beget

A generation of still-breeding thoughts,

And these same thoughts people this little world:

In humors like the people of this world,

For no thought is contented. The better sort,

As thoughts of things divine, are intermixed

With scruples, and do set the word itself

Against the word;

As thus,—“Come, little ones;” and then again,—

“It is as hard to come, as for a camel

To thread the postern of a small needle’s eye.”

Thoughts tending to ambition, they do plot

Unlikely wonders: how these vain weak nails

May tear a passage through the flinty ribs

Of this hard world, my ragged prison walls;

And, for they cannot, die in their own pride.

Thoughts tending to content flatter themselves

That they are not the first of fortune’s slaves,

Nor shall not be the last: like silly beggars,

Who, sitting in the stocks, refuge their shame

That many have, and others must sit there;

And in this thought they find a kind of ease,

Bearing their own misfortune on the back

Of such as have before endured the like.

Thus play I, in one person, many people,

And none contented: sometimes am I king;

Then treason makes me wish myself a beggar,

And so I am; then crushing penury

Persuades me I was better when a king.

Then am I kinged again; and by-and-by

Think that I am unkinged by Bolingbroke,

And straight am nothing.—But whate’er I am,

Nor I, nor any man that but man is,

With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased

With being nothing.—Music do I hear?[Music.]

Ha, ha! keep time.—How sour sweet music is,

When time is broke, and no proportion kept!

So is it in the music of men’s lives;

And here have I the daintiness of ear

To check time broke in a disordered string,

But for the concord of my State and time

Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.

I wasted time, and now doth time waste me:

For now hath time made me his numbering clock;

My thoughts are minutes, and with sighs they jar

Their watches on unto mine eyes the outward watch,

Whereto my finger, like a dial’s point,

Is pointing still, in cleansing them from tears.

Now, for the sound that tells what hour it is,

Are clamorous groans, that strike upon my heart,

Which is the bell: so sighs, and tears, and groans,

Show minutes, times, and hours; but my time

Runs posting on in Bolingbroke’s proud joy,

While I stand fooling here, his Jack o’ the clock.

This music mads me: let it sound no more;

For though it hath holpe madmen to their wits,

In me, it seems, it will make wise men mad.

Yet blessing on his heart that gives it me!

For ’tis a sign of love; and love to Richard

Is a strange brooch in this all-hating world.