Shakespeare on Pageantry, Pomp and the Fleeting Nature of Power

What is pomp, rule, reign but earth and dust“… what is pomp, rule, reign, but earth and dust?
And, live we how we can, yet die we must.”

(King Henry VI part 3., act 5, sc. 2)

Comments. No explanation is needed for these words uttered by Warwick the king-maker as he lies on the ground, wounded during the battle of Barnet (1471). The illustration of the Grand Dowager Empress of China lends itself to a few parallel notes. The term “first lady” assigned to the wife of a US president was first used by Mrs. Lucy Hayes, wife of the 19th president Rutheford Hayes (1877-1881). Earlier on, however, Mrs. James Monroe (wife of the president famous for the quickly abandoned Monroe doctrine), used to receive guests sitting on a throne-looking piece of furniture, wearing a coronet in her hair. Whereas Mary Todd Lincoln gave sometimes the impression that she thought she was Marie Antoinette. Gore Vidal observes that, “It is curious that a Johnny-come-fairly-lately Republic like the United States should so much want to envelop in majesty those for the most part seedy political hacks quadriennally “chosen” by the people to rule over them. As the world royalties take to their bicycles, or to their heels, the world’s presidents affect the most splendid state. It would seem to be a rule of history that, as the actual power of a state declines, the pageantry increases. The last days of Byzantium were marked by a court protocol so elaborate and time consuming that the arrival of the Turks must have been a relief to everyone.”
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In the play. Warwick, mortally wounded and defeated by the forces of Edward IV, reflects on the relative worthlessness of coveted goals

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