My Kingdom for a Horse

Origin of My Kingdom for a Horse

This famous phrase originally occurred in Act-V, Scene-IV of William Shakespeare’s play, Richard III. Here, King Richard III yells out loudly this famous phrase, “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” In the middle of a battle, his horse is killed, while the king wanders to find it in the battlefield for hours, killing everything coming his way with fatalistic rage.

Meaning of My Kingdom for a Horse

The phrase is repeated ironically, when someone needs some insignificant item. Shakespeare shows that the value and importance of things may change suddenly; and simple and unimportant things, like a horse in the battle, could become more important than a whole kingdom. The sense in this line is ironic, as someone wants something insignificant to complete an important task. The king here means that if he does not find his horse, he may lose his kingdom, because in that case he would be either killed or face defeat.

Usage of My Kingdom for a Horse

Although this phrase was set in a different age, several famous quotes like this coined by Shakespeare are relevant to this day as well. Thus, we see many people continue to quote this phrase today, relating it to their lives when their life or business is compromised by trivial issues. Its usage is common in politics, the business community, and especially in everyday life, as sometimes the presence or absence of little things could make a real difference. A small shopkeeper, if he finds his motorbike or small vehicle not working, could state, “My business for a bike.” Therefore, this phrase is liable to be modified to suit the occasion.

Literary Source of My Kingdom for a Horse

William Shakespeare has used this phrase in Act-V, Scene-IV of his play, Richard III, where it is uttered by King Richard, Duke of Gloucester:

King Richard
“A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Catesby
Withdraw, my lord; I’ll help you to a horse.

King Richard
Slave! I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die.
I think there be six Richmonds in the field;
Dive have I Slain today instead of him.
A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!

(Richard III, Act-V, Scene-IV, Lines 7-13)

In this scene, Richard goes to the battleground in a crazy and desperate mood. Mad with bloodlust, the king says he has killed five Richmonds and one is left. But after losing his horse, he is desperate, because he fears losing the battle.

Literary Analysis of My Kingdom for a Horse

Arrogant and pathetic, a hunchbacked villainous king, Richard III is going to meet his fate at the hands of the future king, Henry VII. King’s Richard’s most memorable line actually sounds halfway valiant, as he refuses to leave the battle, though his horse has fallen. However, this line has become an irrelevant remark to some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, including satirists and playwrights. Cad John Marston has parodied King Richard’s outcry as “A boat, a boat, a boat, a full hundred marks for a boat!”

Literary Devices

  • Hyperbole: This phrase is hyperbolic, because no horse can cause the loss of a kingdom.
  • Dramatic Irony: The phrase is used ironically, suggesting that the horse is more important than entire kingdom.
  • Tone: The tone is that of dejection and disappointment.

1 comment for “My Kingdom for a Horse

  1. Matthew
    March 7, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    “Dive have I Slain today instead of him.”

    I’m pretty sure that ‘dive’ ought to be ‘five’

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