The Proud King


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King Jovinian is quite unaware that his kingly status is an arbitrary social construction, and his hubris even inspires him to hope for physical immortality. Deprived of his royal garments during a hunt, however, the king discovers to his horror that no one knows or cares who he is, and later learns at the court that another man rules contentedly in his place. Not only do the king’s former servitors rebuff his approaches, but his own wife fails to recognize him. At last cast out of the castle in rags, the king visits a woodland anchorite, and wrests forth the sudden anguished prayer: “O Lord God, give me back myself again!” The monk now recognizes his former master, and lends him his habit and donkey. When the chastened Jovinian returns with these familiar symbols of humility to the foot of his former throne, he recognizes that its new occupant is an angel, who abdicates and points the moral of his experience: only acceptance of human contingency and mortality can provide hope for their transcendence.


THERE was once a king who ruled over many lands; he went to war, and added one country after another to his kingdom. At last he came to be emperor, and that is as much as any man can be. One night, after he was crowned emperor, he lay awake and thought about himself. “Surely,” he said, “no one can be greater than I am, on earth or in heaven.” The proud king fell asleep with these thoughts. When he awoke, the day was fair, and he looked out on thepleasant world. “Come,” he said to the men about him; “to-day we will go a- hunting.” The horses were brought, the dogs came leaping, the horns sounded, and the proud king with his courtiers rode off to the sport. They had hunted all the morning, and were now in a deep wood. In the fields the sun had beat upon their heads, and they were glad of the shade of the trees; but the proud king wished for something more. He saw a lake not far off, and he said to his men:— “Bide ye here, while I bathe in the lake and cool myself.” Then he rode apart till he came to the shore of the lake. There he got down from his horse, laid aside his clothes, and plunged into the cool water. He swam about, and sometimes dived beneath the surface, and so was once more cool and fresh. Now while the proud king was swimming away from the shore and diving to the bottom, there came one who had the same face and form as the king. He drew near the shore, dressed himself in the king’s clothes, mounted the king’s horse and rode away. So when the proud king was once more cool and fresh, and came to the place where he had left his clothes and his horse, there were no clothes to be seen, and no horse. The proud king looked about, but saw no man. He called, but no one heard him. The air was mild, but the wood was dark, and no sunshine came through to warm him after his cool bath. He walked by the shore of the lake and cast about in his mind what he should do. “I have it,” he cried at last. “Not far from here lives a knight. It was but a few days ago that I made him a knight and gave him a castle. I will go to him, and he will be glad enough to clothe his king.” The proud king wove some. reeds into a mat and bound the mat about him, and then he walked to the castle of the knight. He beat loudly at the gate of the castle and called for the porter. The porter came and stood behind the gate. He did not draw the. bolt at once, but asked:— “Who is there?” “Open the gate,” said the proud king, “and you will see who I am.” The porter opened the gate, and was amazedat what he saw. “Who are you?” he asked. “Wretch!” said the proud king; “I am the emperor. Go to your master.Bid him come to me with clothes. I have lost both clothes and horse.” “A pretty emperor!” the porter laughed. “The great emperor was here not an hour ago. He came with his court from a hunt. My master was with him and sat at meat with him. But. stay you here. I will call my master. Oh, yes! I will show him the emperor,” and the porter wagged his beard and laughed, and went within. He came forth again with theknight and pointed at the proud king. “There is the emperor!” he said. “Look at him! look at the great emperor!” “Draw near,” said the proud kingto the knight, “and kneel to me. I gave thee this castle. I made thee knight. I give thee now a greater gift. I give thee the chance to clothe thy emperor with clothes of thine own.” “You dog!” cried the knight. “You fool! I have just ridden with the emperor, and have come back to my castle. Here!” he shouted to his servants, “beat this fellow and drive him away from the gate.” The porter looked on and laughed. “Lay on well,” he said to the other servants. “It is not every day that you can flog an emperor.” Then they beat the proud king, and drove him from the gate of the castle. “Base knight!” said the proud king. “I gave him all he has, and this is how he repays me. I will punish him when I sit on my throne again. I will go to the duke who lives not far. away. Him I have known all my days. He will know me. He will know his emperor.” So he came to the gate of the duke’s great hall, and knocked three times. At the third knock the porter opened the gate, and saw before him a man clad only in a mat of reeds, and stained and bleeding. “Go, I pray you, to the duke,” said the proud king, “and bid him come to me. Say to him that the emperor stands at the gate. He has been robbed of his clothes and of his horse. Go quickly to your master.” The porter closed the gate between them, and went within to the duke. “Your Grace,” said he, “there is a madman at the gate. He is unclad and wild. He bade me come to you and tell you that he was the emperor.” “Here is a strange thing indeed,” said the duke; “I will see it for myself.” So he went to the gate, followed by his servants, and when the porter opened it there stood the proud king. The proud king knew the duke, but the duke saw only a bruised and beaten madman. “Do you not know me?” cried the proud king. “I am your emperor. Only this morning you were on the hunt with me. I left you that I might bathe in the lake. While I was in the water, some wretch took both my clothes and my horse, and I—I have been beaten by a base knight.” “Put him in chains,” said the duke to his servants. “It is not safe to have such a man free. Give him some straw to lie on, and some bread and water.” The duke turned away and went back to his hall, where his friends sat at table. “That was a strange thing,” he said. “There was a madman at the gate, he must have been in the wood this morning, for he told me that I was on the hunt with the emperor, and so I was; and he told me that the emperor went apart to bathe in the lake, and so he did. But he said that some one stole the clothes and the horse of the emperor, yet the emperor rode back to us cool and fresh, and clothed and on his horse. And he said”—And the duke looked around on his guests. “What did he say?” “He said that he was the emperor.” Then the guests fell to talking and laughing, and soon forgot the strange thing. But the proud king lay in a dark prison, far even from [7] the servants of the duke. He lay on straw, and chains bound his feet. “What is this that has come upon me?” he said. “Am I brought so low? Am I so changed that even the duke does not know me? At least there is one who will know me, let me wear what I may.” Then, by much labor, he loosed the chains that bound him, and fled in the night from the duke’s prison. When the morning came, he stood at the door of his own palace. He stood there awhile; perhaps some one would open the door and let him in. But no one came, and the proud king lifted his hand and knocked; he knocked at the door of his own palace. The porter came at last and looked at him. “Who are you?” he asked, “and what do you want?” “Do you not know me?” cried the proud king. “I am your master. I am the king. I am the emperor. Let me pass;” and he would have thrust him aside. But the porter was a strong man; he stood in the doorway, and would not let the proud king enter. “You my master! you the emperor! poor fool, look here!” and he held the proud king by the arm while he pointed to a hall beyond. [8] There sat the emperor on his throne, and by his side was the queen. “Let me go to her! she will know me,” cried the proud king, and he tried to break away from the porter. The noise without was heard in the hall. The nobles came out, and last of all came the emperor and the queen. When the proud king saw these two, he could not speak. He was choked with rage and fear, and he knew not what. “You know me!” at last he cried. “I am your lord and husband.” The queen shrank back. “Friends,” said the man who stood by her, “what shall be done to this wretch?” “Kill him,” said one. “Put out his eyes,” said another. “Beat him,” said a third. Then they all hustled the proud king out of the palace court. Each one gave him a blow, and so he was thrust out, and the door was shut behind him. The proud king fled, he knew not whither. He wished he were dead. By and by he came to the lake where he had bathed. He sat down on the shore. It was like a dream, but he knew he was awake, for he was cold and hungry and [9] faint. Then he knelt on the ground and beat his breast, and said:— “I am no emperor. I am no king. I am a poor, sinful man. Once I thought there was no one greater than I, on earth or in heaven. Now I know that I am nothing, and there is no one so poor and so mean. God forgive me for my pride.” As he said this, tears stood in his eyes. He wiped them away and rose to his feet. Close by him he saw the clothes which he had once laid aside. Near at hand was his horse, eating the soft grass. The king put on his clothes; he mounted his horse and rode to his palace. As he drew near, the door opened and servants came forth. One held his horse; another helped him dismount. The porter bowed low. “I marvel I did not see thee pass out, my lord,” he said. The king entered, and again saw the nobles in the great hall. There stood the queen also, and by her side was the man who called himself emperor. But the queen and the nobles did not look at him; they looked at the king, and came forward to meet him. This man also came forward, but he was clad in shining white, and not in the robes of the [10] emperor. The king bowed his head before him. “I am thy angel,” said the man. “Thou wert proud, and made thyself to be set on high. Therefore thou hast been brought low. I have watched over thy kingdom. Now I give it back to thee, for thou art once again humble, and the humble only are fit to rule.” Then the angel disappeared. No one else heard his voice, and the nobles thought the king had bowed to them. So the king once more sat on the throne, and ruled wisely and humbly ever after.


(1) The theme of Fear:

King Jovinian was a no nonsense king and whenever he speaks, no other dare speak; “From dusk to dawn kept manya lord awake/ For fear of him did many a great man quake” (line 6-7) And when he makes mistake, he “knew that none durst say_ when he did wrong” (line 21). Later in the poem, fearless king Jovinian began to fear the lost of all his possessions, and also began to fear God in line 606 he says “Lord God, what bitter things are these?”


The poem is centered round the king’s pride and how his pride almost cost him all he has had. Even his pride made people to fear him unnecessarily; “But at the dais must he sit alone/ Nor durst a man speak to him for his life” (in lines 10-11) and his pride made him referred to himself as God; “What need have I for temple or for priest/ Am I not God, whiles that I live at least.” (line 27-28).

(3) The theme of SUPREMACY F GOD :

The poet proves that the supremacy of God is far better than that of the King Jovinian. Jovinian’s supremacy makes him maintain fear and respect for his positions and possessions but the supremacy of God ripped him off his position, shamed him and made him worth nothing in the eyes of everyone; “The hot sun sorely burned his naked skin” (in line 100). The angel finally revealed himself to King Jovinian from line 719-728: “And now he spoke, “O King, be not dismayed Or think my coming here so strange to be, For oft ere this have I been close to thee. And now thou knowest in how short a space The God that made the world can unmake thee And though He alter in no whit thy face Can make all folk forget thee utterly That thou to-day a nameless wretch mayst be Who yesterday woke up without a peer The wide world’s marvel and people’s fear.”

(4) The theme of Repentance:

Without repentance, the proud king wouldn’t have regain his position and wealths. King Jovinian’s began to surface in the poem in different forms. He began to wear heart of regret; “Muttered, I wish the day would ne’er come back/ If all that once I had I now must lack” (line 333-334) in his regrets, he still has hope for “the fresh morning air/ The rising sun, and all things fresh and fair/ Yet caused some little hope in him to rise” (in lines 347-349) and at a certain point he narrated his plight to Christophera-Green from line 365-370: “And asked him of his name and misery; Then in his throat a swelling passion rose, Which yet he swallowed down, and, “Friend,” said he, “Last night I had the hap to meet the foes Of God and man, who robbed me, and with blows Stripped off my weed and left me on the way:” When King Jovinian became so confused in his state of nothingness, hecalled on God in line 435-436; “Ah, God!” said he, “is this another earth/ From that whereon I stood two days ago?” he further begged God from line 605-609 “Saying, “Lord God, what bitter things are these?/What hast thou done, that every man that sees/This wretched body, of my death is fain?/ O Lord God, give me back myself again!”.

(5) The theme of Arrogance:

King Jovinian’s arrogance went far even in his situation of penury, he was arrogantly approaching the nobles; he was banging the palace gate with a very heavy stone in line 143-144 “He hurdled himself against the mighty gate/ And beat upon it madly with a stone” and in line 215-217, he was shouting at the ranger; “Armies will rise up when I nod my head/ Slay me! _or cast thy treachery away/ And have anew my favour from this day.”

(6) The theme of Vanity and Death:

The Proud King realised that all human possessions without God is vain. He realised such when he met his queen, she didnt recognize him, the duke didnt recognize him, the soldiers didnt recognize, the Father that used to know him didnt recognize him, he was wandering with beggars and low-lives. At point of death feared that his fame and glories and possessions will turn to vain; “Or else is this the ending of my life/ And no man henceforth shall remember me/ And a vain name in records shall I be.” (line 460-462). The Proud King made mockery of his dead ancestor beause he believed he would never die “But he, who seldom yet had seen death near/ Or heard his name, said, “Still I may not die/ Though underneath the earth my fathers lie/ My sire indeed was called a mighty king/ Yet in regard of mine, a little” but Jovinian also died. The Rest of the Themes are

7] The theme of the therapeutic power of nature

8] The theme of Impermanence of wealth

10] The theme of the immortality of of art

11] The theme of corruptive nature of wealth and affluence

12] The theme of the frailty of the human mind

13] Sinners must repent their sins

Poetic Techniques or leterary device in the poem

The use of Antithesis

The use of Biblican allusion

The use of Apostrophe

The use of Alliteration

The use of Anaphora

The use of Oxymoron

The use of Personification

The use of Metaphor

The use of Iversion

The use of Dramatic Mnologue

The use of Rhtorical question

The use of Sarcasm

The use of Prefiguration

The use of Synecdoche

The use of Cotraction

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