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This scene focuses on Richard's last long soliloquy in his prison cell at Pomfret Castle. His soliloquy contains the essence of his personal tragedy. He is alone for the first time and does not have any audience to perform for. He does not have any role to play and thus is forced into a confrontation with his own self. This final soliloquy has been greatly appreciated by critics. Richard is in a contemplative mood and establishes a parallel between his prison cell and the outside world. He realizes that the world is populated, while he is alone in his cell. But imagination comes to his rescue, and he discovers that he has made a world of his own thoughts.
There is birth imagery, which recalls Queen Isabel's words when she attempts to trace the source of her grief after Richard's departure for Ireland. Richard's brain acts as the female to his soul, the father, to produce "a generation of still-breeding thoughts" that make up his world. This emphasis on populating his world with thoughts reinforces the sense of Richard as an actor who needs to perform. When he was king, his courtly favorites served as his audience. Now his thoughts are his audience. But Richard cannot be satisfied with this freedom of the imagination. He realizes that it is a hard task to be the king of his own mind. Each thought is accompanied by its opposite. This theme of contrary states of being has been running through the entire play. Richard attempts to arrive at an understanding of his own self through
"Thoughts tending to content flatter themselves That they are not the first of fortune's slaves, Nor shall not be the last ; like silly beggars Who, sitting in the stocks, refuge their shame, That many have and others must sit there;
And in this thought they find a kind of ease, Bearing their own misfortunes on the back Of such as have before endured the like."
Richard goes on to say that he has played the roles of many people in his life: "play I in one person many people." He has played the role of the king, but the fear of treason makes him wish the role of a beggar. But crushing penury makes him wish himself a king again. When he is made a king again, he fears deposition by Bolingbroke and being reduced to nothing. This is the tragedy of the human condition: no man is truly happy and satisfied in life, and is released from pain only in death: "But whate'er I be, / Nor I, nor any man that but man is, / With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased / With being nothing."
This is ironic, since Richard's own death is closer than he realizes. He is an ordinary mortal now that he is no longer the king. Shakespeare uses music as an indication that Richard has arrived at the knowledge of his own self. Music leads Richard to meditate on time. Music irritates Richard because his mind is out of tune with it, as it is occupied with discordant thoughts. Richard realizes that he has wasted time, and now time is wasting him. There follows a deep meditation on time: