‘…for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court, and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp…’
[Richard II, 3.2.160-3]
Death is the ultimate jester (or ‘antic’) because He is the truth-teller that cannot be contradicted. He is the dark mirror. We all die; everything passes. The great temples and palaces, the frail achievements of humanity, all fall to ruin. Nothing living is exempt from the law of Death.
Yet do we not spend most of our lives pretending He is not there?
Death mocks pomp because it is created in defiance or denial of His inexorable law. If we were to become more conscious of Death in all our dealings, not only would our wisdom and peace of mind increase, but so would the beauty and vitality of the world. Our rulers would renounce their worldly power for something deeper, more cooperative, and Nature would recognize in us a kindred spirit.
We come into this world naked, and naked we depart. The closer we are to that state, psychologically speaking, by the time we die, the better; looking back, the second half of life will be seen to have been a kind of stripping bare of all that is not us. The Hindu knows this, for the greatest teacher in the Upanishads is Yama, King of Death.
Take Physic, Pomp!