Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

King Henry:
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Henry The Fourth, Part 2 Act 3, scene 1, 26–31

Tired, sick, guilty, and beset by rebellion, King Henry IV is feeling the weight of his crown. Why, even the "vile" of his realm, after hours of drudgery, can in their "loathsome beds" get a good night's sleep (lines 15–16), while he—a king!—cannot. The "wet sea-boy" perched high on a mast, amid wind and waves, nods off easily, while quiet nights on a royal couch bring no rest to poor King Henry. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," he concludes, probably wishing that he hadn't seized the throne from the pathetic Richard II and then had him murdered.

Such belated regrets run in the family. Henry's abler son Hal, as King Henry V, pauses on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt to assess the "hard condition,/ Twin-born with greatness" that is kingship. "What infinite heart's ease/ Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy!" he wails (Henry the Fifth, Act 4, scene 1). Since neither he nor his father ever slept on the loathsome beds of vile private men, we wonder how they would know.

Themes: danger, murder and assassination

Speakers: King Henry