This quote is often misquoted as “heavy is the head that wears a crown,” but it does convey much of the same sentiment. The phrase has become quite popular, appearing in other plays, in films, and TV shows. Often, it is simplified to the above version rather than using the words “uneasy” and “lies.”
Explore Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown
Important Vocabulary to Know
- Uneasy – uncertain or restless. The king or queen is is immediately dealt a great deal of worries when they come into power. It’s hard to find peace and contentment. There is fear around every corner and everyone has a concern they think the monarch should address.
- Lies – Shakespeare uses the word “lie” here to suggest that it’s not only hard to function on a day to day basis as a monarch, it’s hard to find rest. Someone who is not in power doesn’t have to worry about this. They are spared the burden of responsibility.
- Crown – Shakespeare uses the word “crown” to speak about the physical crown a monarch wears but more so the weight of responsibilities they deal with. It is a burden that they carry with them throughout every moment of their lives.
Where Does Shakespeare Use “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown?”
Here is the quote in context:
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deafing clamor in the slippery clouds
That with the hurly death itself awakes?
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.
Here, King Henry is complaining about his difficulty getting to sleep. He knows that war is approaching and he has a great deal to worry about. No matter how calm his direct environment is, he can’t quiet his mind enough to drift off to sleep. The monologue begins with these lines:
How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Here, Henry is thinking about the men and women he rules over. They are far poorer and with much less power than he, but they are asleep, the one thing he wants at this moment. The King is in a different situation. He has so much to worry about that “gentle sleep” can’t touch him. These lines explore the King’s specific situation, his insomnia, by explaining what’s keeping him awake—his responsibilities.
Why Does Shakespeare Use “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown?”
Shakespeare chose to use this quote to express the King’s discontent at that moment with his role. He’s suffering under the burden of his office. He has to worry about the men and women around him, France, the state of the people in his own country, and any immediate or distant threats to his rule. While there are advisors who can help, in the end, it all comes down to the King and what he does.
The statement is meant to remind readers that while being King or Queen comes with a great deal of power, money, and fame, it also comes with terrible responsibilities that make general happiness harder to come by.
Shakespeare uses “uneasy” as a way to suggest the King is restless in everyday life as well as when he’s trying to sleep. When he “lies” his head down on his pillow, it’s as uneasy as when he’s dealing with his myriad of issues.
This phrase, which is inspired by a quote used by William Shakespeare, suggests that someone with power is going to rest less successfully than someone without. With power comes a responsibility that may impede one’s general happiness.
The phrase “to wear the crown” suggests that someone is King or queen. Or that generally, they are in a position of power. This means they get to make the decisions but that they also have the responsibility to deal with.
The quote is used in the play King Henry IV, Part II. The title character speaks it as he contemplates his reign and, specifically, an impending war.
- Read: Henry IV, Part II by William Shakespeare
- Watch: Henry IV, Part II
- Explore: William Shakespeare’s Best Plays