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The Crown

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Everyone knows that a monarch's crown is never just a fancy, bedazzled hat that looks good with a matching golden wand and throne. It's more than that: it's a visual symbol of power. In this play, the crown comes to mean even more, especially to Richard II, who is eventually forced to give his up.

Are you contented to resign the crown?
Ay, no; no, ay; for I must nothing be;
Therefore no no, for I resign to thee.
Now mark me, how I will undo myself;
I give this heavy weight from off my head
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart;
With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown,
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duty's rites:

In spite of his many faults, the spectacle of watching Richard give up his crown is really moving. Coronations were extremely important public events; the crowning of a king was a ritual that many considered to be holy. And it was a production – kind of like a play… It was important that the public see the new monarch crowned. There is no equivalent ceremony for taking a crown away (any more than there's a ceremony for, say, divorce). A coronation is not supposed to be undone. Bolingbroke's insistence that Richard voluntarily give up his crown in front of witnesses shows his understanding that the putting on and taking off of crowns needs to be public in order to be meaningful. It also does the job of turning his rebellion into a civilized ceremony.

Brain Snack: The crown was a seriously important symbol in Elizabethan England. To show a king giving up his crown onstage was pretty dangerous, since monarchs did not like plays that depicted this kind of thing. The thinking went like this: if the audience sees a king give up his crown onstage, they'll start to imagine how the real-life queen might give up hers. That's why this deposition scene was censored in Shakespeare's day, when Queen Elizabeth was alive.

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