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Wrong hath but wrong, but something's gotta be right

OK, so you know how helpful you all were with my exit line last time? Well, I have a different problem this time.

First of all, I have a great, great speech for when I’m about to die. But the last couplet, which is one of the few well-known lines I have, which is in fact one of the very few well-known lines in the whole play that is uttered by anyone other than Richard, that last couplet? Doesn’t make sense to me.

That is, I know more or less what it means. Here’s the line: Come, sir, convey me to the block of shame; Wrong hath but wrong, and blame the due of blame.. I have admitted, at this point, my complicity in underhand corrupted foul injustice, and I have further admitted that foreshadowing is a legitimate literary device my own pledge had asked for and deserved nothing better than betrayal in response to my own. So what I’m saying is that I am being wronged by Richard in response to my own wrong behavior toward the Young Prince, and that insofar as I blame Richard, I needs must blame myself as well. Right?

Or, as SparkNotes and the No Fear Shakespeare site have translated it, I have done wrong, so I will suffer wrong. I have been blamed because I deserved to be. Boy, that’s terrible writing.

But the problem—my problem—is that I can’t make the words of the text mean that. If I am saying Wrong hath but [the seeds within it that grow into greater] wrong, that’s an awful lot of implication to put in between the words. If I am saying Blame [that I place on Richard is] the due of blame [that I place on myself], then not only am I jamming a lot of implication in between the words, I’m using due in a way that is difficult to understand. For me as well as the audience.

Now, I don’t mean to say that I can’t deliver the line. Frankly, if I do say it myself, I think the bit that leads up to the closing couplet is going to be terrific, and then, I straighten myself, look at Tyrell (who I think will be my executioner, although it may be Brackenbury), take a deep breath and snap Come, sir! Convey me to the block of shame! before smiling ruefully, opening my arms and saying Wrong hath but wrong, and blame… the due of blame. Or, of course, I could play it the other way: resignedly asking to be brought to the block, and then suddenly turning on my escort and snapping out that wrong hath but wrong, and so on, as a threat that he, too, will pay for his support of Richard. In some ways, when the structure of the sentences are opaque, the actor is released to use the words as floaters, independent of the surrounding sentence, and shouting out wrong! and blame! will carry (I would think) the audience to the meaning I put into them.

On the other hand, it would be nice to feel like I’m working with the text and not around it. I don’t ordinarily feel any difficulty with Shakespeare’s language, you know. Oh, I like to work against the meter, but not against the language itself. I almost never have a problem with understanding the basic meaning of the sentences, or figuring out why the various parts of the sentence are presented in the order they are. I have lots of lines that I can say a number of different ways, even within the confines the character than I am narrowing, but the different ways is because they all make sense in different ways. And, in fact, for all of Buckingham’s courtly language, with his unnecessary modifiers and intensifiers, his sentences are for the most part straightforward. Either straightforward lies, or straightforward truths. This last couplet of mine, though, is baffling me.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I believe what Billy S. is doing here is allegorical personification, such that Wrong is a guy and Blame is another guy. When all is said and done, all Mr. Wrong has to keep him warm is the wrong he has done to others. Mr. Blame is left at the end of his life only what he is owed for having blamed all those folks.

Does that help at all?


Here's my take:

wrong has but wrong

Think about Right. Right (i.e. right action) gives you all kinds of good stuff: the virtue in the action itself, the pleasure of self-righteousness, the promise of heavenly reward, whatever. Wrong, on the other hand, brings nothing but wrong.

blame the due of blame

I don't think he's saying Blame [that I place on Richard is] the due of blame [that I place on myself]. I think he's saying Blame [that is being placed on me, leading to, you know, my execution] the due of blame [that I sent out into the world by blaming others].

What goes around comes around, right?

There is an intentional ambiguity here.

I read it more as a poetic line which evokes a general effect. In this immoral world which Buckingham is now preparing to leave (gladly i think), one gets confused and one's perspective is skewed. A seemingly assertive and forward thinking character, willing to carry out absolutely the mission of elevating Richard, is suddenly reduced to a confused and terminal figure. All that is certain is that what has gone before (corrupted foul injustice etc.) is wrong, and that his murder - a saddening event - is presented as justifiable. The fact that he engaged in immoral behaviour rendered any ovearching rule of right and wrong defective.

There is a general air of acceptance - no undignified struggle to refute his punishment, as one might expect. Despite the fact that Richard has betrayed him as he had previously 'begged in jest', Buckingham acknowledges that the event of his murder is not outrageous.

His murder or punishment is taken completely out of context. It is no longer something ordered by Richard, but an act of God. Herein is where the power of this couplet lies - they shouldn't be subjected to rigourous translation and redefinition, they should be accepted for the general aura of divine morality that they convey in the same way that Buckingham accepts his fate.

What do you make of Richmond's conjecture:

'True hope is swift and flies with swallow's wings//
Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings.'


That one seems easier to me, at least to play. Richmond is in a hurry, leading his growing army on a quick-march and now within a day of meeting up with Richard’s forces. He is (to my eyes) written as conspicuously pious, which works with some of the bigger arcs of the play. So, for the first line, he is specifically urging even greater speed, while drawing a metaphorical connection between himself (with his usurper’s army) and hope—or true hope, anyway, which I think has a religious undertone. This comes through in the next line, which reads either as hope (or confidence, or action without hesitation) having transformative power or as True Hope, that is, the Divine Power, having that transformative power. I think it’s meant to be both—Richmond, by acting swiftly and ambitiously, is the agent of the Divine. I think the reference to making “kings into Gds” can be read as a reference to Caesar or as a reference to Jesus, or as both. And then the “meaner creatures” is again a double reference, both to Richard and Richmond—.

In other words, loads of double meanings, which is par for the course. If I were Richmond (which I am not, nor ever will be, I think), I would play it as piety, probably crossing myself on the last line. I could imagine a bit of byplay between the assorted nobles, glancing at each other over his bowed head, wondering whether this display of pious humility is any more real than Richard’s…and perhaps whether they want it to be.

The thing is (to go back to your initial comment) that while it is absolutely true that Shakespeare’s lines work very hard to maintain ambiguity, I have found it difficult as an actor to frame a line unless I as the character have a narrower meaning in mind. That may be a double meaning, a deliberate pun on the part of the character, but it also may be a single meaning that the character inadvertently loads with connotations. So while I think you are right, on the whole, that Buckingham’s final line is meant to produce a general effect, rather than being word-for-word clear to the audience, that was not helping me to play the scene.

Two more things—welcome to this Tohu Bohu, and I hope you stick around and comment! I am, alas, done with my Shakespeare playing and indeed with any theater for some months, but we have been known to talk about Shakespeare or other items you may be interested in just because they come to mind. And secondly, your comment reminded me that I have not yet written up any concluding note about my experience in R3, and I would like to do so. So thank you for that reminder.


Thanks for punctual analysis - especially your insight regarding the duplicitous 'meaner creatures'.

I apologize - it seems that I had forgotten the original purpose of this thread in my heady rush to find the true meaning behind these lines.

I took my english literature exam yesterday and hence had required something particularly intelligent to conclude a Buckingham essay which encapsulated the progression of his character and paid tribute to the complexity of Shakespearean personality.

One tends to get distracted and buried in literary analysis at the expense of the text's theatrical potentialities. Sorry.

I hope your performance(s) proved a success.


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