Thus play I in one person many people,
And none contented: sometimes am I king;
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,
And so I am: then crushing penury
Persuades me I was better when a king;
Then am I king’d again: and by and by
Think that I am unking’d by Bolingbroke,
And straight am nothing: but whate’er I be,
Nor I nor any man that but man is
With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased
With being nothing.
My friend Jack introduced me to this wonderful speech from Shakespeare’s Richard II. I didn’t know the speech, the play or the historical context…
As I understand it…
Richard II was king of England 1377-1399… in conflict with his nobles throughout his reign… finally deposed by Henry Bolingbroke who became Henry IV.
This speech comes at the end of the play. Richard is in prison in Pomfret Castle, soon to die. Alone in his prison cell he’s musing on his life…
‘Thus play I in one person many people and none contented…’ Richard thinks on different roles his taken on, from powerful king to penniless beggar. None makes him content.
So what makes me content? Which of life’s roles… father, teacher, house-owner…? Recalling St Paul: ‘I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learnt the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.’ (Philippians 4:12)
‘…Man is with nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased with being nothing…’ Richard says that to be human is to be reconciled to being insignificant, mortal, powerless… nothing.
So can I – should I – be OK with being nothing? Easter’s approaching. St Paul wrote about Jesus who ‘…made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross!’ (Philippians 2:7-8)
Musing… contentment… being nothing.