What Does My Kingdom for a Horse Mean?

My Kingdom for a Horse Meaning

Definition: 1) A king might lose his kingdom because he lost his horse; 2) something small and insignificant is needed more than a kingdom at the moment.

The full phrase is a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse. However, people often alter this expression by substituting something they need for the word horse. Usually it is something that is otherwise unimportant, but highly important at that exact time.

Origin of My Kingdom for a Horse

This expression comes from the play Richard III, by the English playwright William Shakespeare, from around the year 1592.

In the play, the king loses his horse in the middle of a battle. He says this line because having a horse is very important to him in being able to fight well. If he does not have a horse, he might lose the battle, and therefore his kingdom.

This line highlights the fact that something that usually is not important can become quite important at a moment’s notice.

Examples of My Kingdom for a Horse

who said my kingdom for a horseIn the dialogue below, two friends are enjoying a day out in the country. The woman uses a variation of the quote to express how strongly she wants something.

Tina: I’m glad we hiked so far, but I really have to use the bathroom.

Keanu: That is going to be difficult, since we’re miles away from any bathrooms. You could just go behind a tree.

Tina: But I didn’t bring any toilet paper.

Keanu: Oh well. Nothing you can do about that now.

Tina: Ugh. This is awful. Toilet paper, toilet paper, my kingdom for toilet paper.

my horse my horse my kingdom for a horseIn this example, two friends are discussing a divorce that the man is going through.

Jonah: Here are the divorce papers. My lawyer gave them to me to sign today. I’m so glad this whole terrible marriage is almost officially over. All I have to do is sign it, and then the marriage will be done.

Tatiana: Well, I’m happy for you. You deserve some peace from the whole ordeal. What are you waiting for? Go ahead and sign the papers.

Jonah: I don’t have a pen. I can’t believe this. Do you have a pen?

Tatiana: No, sorry.

Jonah: I can’t believe something so small is holding me back from something so big! A pen, a pen, a kingdom for a pen!

Tatiana: Oh, look! I found one. Here you go.

More Examples

This excerpt comes from an article about the physical remains of the real King Richard III. The excerpt refers to Shakespeare’s play and the impact it had on people’s perception of the former king.

  • That image was solidified by a damning play by Shakespeare, who portrayed Richard as a conniving hunchback. The play culminates with his death in battle after he loses his horse and cries, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” –LA Times

The second example comes from a review of a play. It uses the expression simply because it is one of the most famous quotes from the play.

  • With plenty of action and intrigue, a “winter of our discontent” and “a kingdom for a horse,” “Richard III” is one of William Shakespeare’s historical plays about the controversial king and his short reign. –OC Register

Summary

The phrase my kingdom for a horse is a famous line from the play Richard III by Shakespeare.

In modern contexts, people use it to emphasize how important a usually insignificant item is at the moment.