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Poem: The Hollow Crown

English Poem: The Hollow Crown by William Shakespeare.


The Hollow Crown 


First, listen to a reading of the complete poem. Then, read silently and try to answer the questions briefly, based on your understanding. You may refer to the glossary given at the end of the monologue to help you.


Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs,

Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes

Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.

Let’s choose executors and talk of wills.

And yet not so – for what can we bequeath

Save our deposed bodies to the ground?

Our lands, our lives, and all, are Bolingbroke’s,

And nothing can we call our own but death;

And that small model of the barren earth

Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.

For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground

And tell sad stories of the death of kings:

How some have been depos’d, some slain in war,

Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed,

Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping kill’d,

All murdered – 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!

Cover your heads, and mock not flesh and blood

With solemn reverence; throw away respect,

Tradition, form, and ceremonious duty;

For you have but mistook me all this while.

I live with bread like you, feel want,

Taste grief, need friends – subjected thus,

How can you say to me, I am a king?


About the Author

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616), an English poet and playwright is widely regarded as the greatest writer in English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He was born and brought up in Stratfordupon-Avon, Warwickshire. He wrote about 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses. He was often called England’s National Poet and nicknamed the Bard of Avon. The first publishing of Shakespeare’s works is the ‘The First Folio’. Playwright Ben Johnson wrote a preface to this book including the quote ‘(Shakespeare) is not of an age, but for all time.’ His plays have been translated into every major living language and are constantly studied and performed throughout the world.

Warm Up

a. Work with a partner and take this short quiz to find out how well informed you are about history.

·           Name a few wars and battles you have read about.

·           What is the difference between a war and a battle?

·           Why do rulers wage wars and battles?

·           Is the outcome of a war always fair?

·           Do you think rulers understand the true meaning of life – in defeat or in victory?

·            Can you name a few kings and leaders who have fallen from glory to disgrace? 

b. The historical background: 

The poem is an extract from William Shakespeare’s play King Richard the Second. The play is based on true events that occurred towards the end of the 14th century. 

Richard II was crowned the King of England in the year 1367. He continued to be the British Monarch until 1399, when he was deposed by his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, who crowned himself King Henry the Fourth in the same year. Shakespeare’s play is a dramatic rendition of the last two years of King Richard II’s life. In this brief span of time, he was ousted from his royal position and sent to prison, where he died in captivity.

The following extract is set in the Coast of Wales. King Richard and some of his followers awaited the arrival of the Welsh army [after facing defeat at the hands of his cousin, Bolingbroke], of about 10000 warriors. But to their shock and surprise, they received the message that the army was not coming to their rescue. His followers tried to boost their King’s courage against the news, only in vain. When Richard came face to face with the reality of his terrible fate, he spoke the following verse, famously known as the “Hollow Crown” speech in theatrical circles. In it, King Richard is reminded of the power of Death that overshadows everything else, including the power of rulers, and renders them as powerless as any commoner at a moment’s notice.

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