The quotation can be found in a wide variety of other literary works and even in television shows and movies. It is easy to remember and evokes a very clear picture of Richard III, a surpassingly evil character, weakened and near the end of his life.
Explore A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!
“A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” Meaning
“A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” Is spoken by Richard III as he desperately searches for a horse during the final battle of Richard III. He’s willing to give up his whole kingdom if someone would just give him a horse.
This is a great example of hyperbole but one that, at the moment, is meant literally. He would, on the battlefield, surrounded by enemies and knowing that Richmond is coming to kill him, give up anything, including his crown, in order to survive.
Important Vocabulary to Know
- Kingdom: a country or state ruled over by a king or queen. In this case, Richard III, the speaker, is referring to England. It’s his “kingdom” when he speaks the quote, but moments later, he’s dead and Richmond is going to become Henry VI.
Where Does Shakespeare Use “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse?”
This quote appears in Richard III, Act V Scene 4. It occurs at the end of the play and is spoken by Richard himself. He’s lost his horse on the battlefield and is frustrated with how his fate is unfolding.
Richard has been attempting to defeat his opponent, Richmond, who has deployed decoys onto the battlefield dressed like him. Richard is feeling the pressure of Richmond closing in on him and is getting desperate. The quote is used twice within a few lines, truly showing the failing king’s declining status.
Here are the lines in context:
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!
Withdraw, my lord. I’ll help you to a horse.
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;
Five have I slain today instead of him.
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!
The scene ends after this second repetition of “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” In Scene 5, Richard and Richmond fight without dialogue, and Richard is slain. His body is removed. The final lines are spoken by Richmond and Stanley. The last lines are a monologue spoken by Richard about the kingdom’s future. One excerpt from this monologue reads:
O, now let Richmond and Elizabeth,
The true succeeders of each royal house,
By God’s fair ordinance conjoin together
The play concludes with the line: “That she may long live here, God say amen.” Richmond becomes the first Tudor king, Henry VII.
Why Does Shakespeare Use “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse?”
Shakespeare uses “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” in order to show King Richard’s desperation in his final battle against Richmond. They are Richard’s last words spoken in the play before he dies at Richmond’s hands. His horse is a vital part of one’s equipment when fighting on the battlefield. When he loses his horse, he knows that he will die without it. He’s driven to the desperate assertion that he’d give anything, including the kingdom he’s worked and schemed for over the years, to survive the subsequent encounter with Richmond.
Richard knows that without his horse, he’s going to die. His life is more valuable at this moment than anything else. It’s a great example of one’s needs and wants to come to perspective at the end of one’s life. At the end of his life, it comes down to this one common thing—a horse that costs him everything. It’s a fitting and dramatic end for a character commonly described by evil and described by himself as a “villain.”
Richard III speaks these lines in Shakespeare’s play, Richard III. They are his final words, spoken before King Henry VI kills him on the battlefield.
Richard uses this line to suggest that he’s willing to trade the thing he values most, his power/his kingdom, for his own survival. He realizes at the end of his life that his survival is the most important thing to him.
Richard says that he would trade his kingdom for a horse during the final battle. He’d rather survive dishonorably than face defeat and his fate. He’s incredibly desperate at this moment, and this line, repeated twice, is the last thing he says before he’s killed.
This scene occurs in Richard II. Richard notes that the horse is an “ingrate and a traitor” for behaving proudly under a new king. These lines can be found in Act V, Scene 5 of Richard II.
- Read: Richard III by William Shakespeare
- Read: Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets
- Read: Shakespeare’s Best Plays