William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II, contains a soliloquy in which King Henry grieves over his difficulty sleeping. Shakespeare illustrates the King’s musings through exquisite diction, imagery, and syntax. These literary elements effectively demonstrate the King’s state of mind. King Henry’s demeanor as he gives this soliloquy is one of great distress and unhappiness. In this soliloquy, the King has a conversation with sleep in which he complains that sleep ” . . . no more wilt weigh [his] eyelids down . . . ” (l, 5) that is, he cannot sleep. He also protests that sleep will “liest . . . in the smoky cribs, upon uneasy pallets . . . ” (ll, 7-8).
Here he notes that sleep comes to the poorest of his subjects and to the filthiest of houses. Next he wonders why sleep will “liest . . . with the vile in loathsome beds . . . ” (ll, 12-13) and not come lie on ” . . . the kingly couch . . . ” (l, 13).
The final contrast presented in the soliloquy is that of a sea-boy, who despite the ” . . . rude imperious surge . . . ” (l, 17) of the ocean gets sleep. Meanwhile, the King, on the ” . . . calmest and most stillest night . . . ” (l, 25) lies restlessly in bed. In the couplet of this sonnet, King Henry resigns himself to his sleeplessness in stating that “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” This alludes to the great matters which often keep a ruler from sleep. As most Shakespearean verse, this soliloquy is replete with poignant diction, enchanting imagery, and refined syntax. The diction in this sonnet symbolizes the turbulence and turmoil affecting the King. His insomnia greatly distresses the King. He wants sleep so he may ” . . . steep [his] senses in forgetfulness . . . ” (l, 5) and leave behind the worries of the monarchy. In line twelve, King Henry mentions “O thou dull god . . . ” whereby he alludes to Morpheus the Greek god of sleep, to whom he is speaking throughout the speech. In fact, this particular soliloquy is an extended apostrophe wherein the King converses with the personified concept of ‘sleep.’ Within this speech Shakespeare uses imagery to excite the senses of sound and smell.
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Despite the sound of ” . . . buzzing night-flies . . . ” (l, 8) and the feel of ” . . . loathsome beds . . . ” (l, 13) the poorest peasant finds sleep. However, the King with the ” . . . sound of sweetest melody . . .” (l, 11) heard in ” . . . perfum’d chambers . . .” (l, 9) remains uneasy. The sentence structure of this soliloquy is characteristic of the personage in that the lines are lengthy and elaborate. This serves to demonstrate the intelligence and poise of the King. As is typical of all sonnets, this soliloquy ends with a rhyming couplet. This soliloquy from Henry IV, Part II portrays Shakespeare’s great ability as a poet. It effectively shows his use of various literary elements in order to illustrate his meaning.