"What Have Kings, That Privates Have Not Too"

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Last Updated on May 19, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 185

Context: The English forces are encamped at Agincourt in preparation for battle against the much stronger forces of France in a contest in which King Henry V of England will attain the crown of France, which he considers to be rightfully his. The king, in disguise, walks unrecognized among his troops, and, talking freely with them, learns the mind of his men. Alone again, Henry meditates upon his fate as king–he, though a man as all are men, must bear the weight of the responsibility for all his subjects, and his reward is but the emptiness of ceremony:

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HENRY
. . .
We must bear all. O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath
Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing. What infinite heart's-ease
Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy.
And what have kings, that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?
And what art thou, thou idol ceremony?
What kind of god art thou, that suffer'st more
Of mortal griefs, than do thy worshippers?
What are thy rents, what are thy comings-in?
O ceremony, show me but thy worth.
. . .

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