Context: After the death of King Edward IV, the Prince of Wales, later to be Edward V, is summoned to London. There he talks with his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Edward asks about his other uncles. Richard, whose evil is so deceptive that he can lie about others and be speaking the truth about himself, tells the young Prince that he "can no more distinguish of a man / Than of his outward show, which. . . / Seldom or never jumpeth with the heart." The prince, however, continues to ask the wrong questions, wrong because they seek the truth. Richard, advancing his own course toward the throne, advises Edward to stay in the Tower until the coronation. Edward says that truth is eternal. A variant of Shakespeare's words is to be found in a play of his contemporary Thomas Middleton (1580-1627), The Phoenix, Act I, sc. i: "A little too wise, they say, do ne'er live long." The dramatic irony of the speech lies in our knowledge that Edward will be murdered in the Tower.
But say, my lord, it were not registered,
Methinks the truth should live from age to age,
As 'twere retailed to all posterity,
Even to the general all-ending day.
So wise, so young, they say do never live long.