The original source of this phrase is not known, but William Shakespeare used it in his play, King Henry IV, with little modification, “Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!/Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” In Act III, Scene I, King Henry IV says these line to express t how tough his duty of kingship is, and how difficult it is to take such a serious responsibility, which constantly worries him.
It implies someone with great responsibilities just like a king, who worries constantly. This phrase also means a person in the charge or leadership role has to take many responsibilities, and it is very tough job. These leaders could influence the people for doing right things, and they in turn could make them do wrong things. He expresses that crown is so uncomfortable and heavy that it does not let him sleep. Of course, he does not wear it in bed, but the pressure of leadership keeps him awake all the night.
We can easily find the wider use of this phrase in every field of life, including the literary world, politics, and businesses especially leaders and heads of the organizations use it on daily basis. Since leaders are meant to serve others, they have a huge responsibility on their heads. People also use it in their everyday life. For instance a father, playing a role of a leader in his family might be saying to his children that he has huge responsibilities of their education and clothing.
King Henry IV speaks this phrase in lines 26 to 31 in Act-III, Scene-I of William Shakespeare’s play “Henry IV.” He says,
“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.”
(Act-III, Scene-I, Lines 26-31)
Tired, guilty, sick and overwhelmed with rebellion, King Henry IV feels burden of his crown and speaks these lines. The main idea this phrase conveys is that of the threats to his life of murder or assassination.
This line has a poetic and dramatic impact that the responsibilities of a king create troubles for him, largely due to responsibilities and threats. Throughout this play, we learn that Shakespeare portrayed the king as a very weak leader, who feared that the history could repeat itself. He felt pressure to rule his kingdom. Many people speculate that he felt that way because he did not have the right to the divine kingship in the times when kings used believe that God installed power on them. Henry IV, on the other hand, being usurper, did not have this belief due to the manner through which he came into power. This doubt and uncertainty of the king relate to his characteristics of being a weak leader. Therefore, such a phrase suits him to speak.
- Metaphor: The crown in this phrase is a metaphor for weighty and heavy responsibilities of king and the burden that he takes due to his power.