"How Long A Time Lies In One Little Word"

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Last Updated on July 28, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 178

Context: At the lists of Coventry preparations are complete for the joust between Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray to settle with swords a dispute which King Richard II has not settled with arbitration–Bolingbroke and Mowbray have each accused the other with treason against his liege. Just as the trumpets sound, Richard motions the combatants to return to their seats and to hear his decree that the joust is forbidden, and exile is pronounced as punishment for the offending knights, Bolingbroke for ten years, and Mowbray for life. Richard, noting the saddened countenance of his revered uncle, John of Gaunt, father of Bolingbroke, in a word reduces the sentence for Bolingbroke from ten to six years:

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Uncle, even in the glasses of thine eyes
I see thy grieved heart. Thy sad aspect
Hath from the number of his banished years
Plucked four away. [to BOLINGBROKE.] Six frozen winters spent,
Return with welcome home from banishment.
How long a time lies in one little word.
Four lagging winters and four wanton springs,
End in a word; such is the breath of kings.

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