Act 2 Scene 1
At Ely House, Gaunt and the Duke of York await the King. Gaunt hopes that Richard will listen to the advice he has to offer, but York doubts that he will. In Yorks opinion, Richard listens only to flatterers and has too much of a taste for luxury. Gaunt says that Richards reign will not last long; it will burn itself out. Then he gives a long speech in praise of England which he finishes with bitter regrets about the dismal state into which the nation has fallen as a result of Richards misgovernment. When the King enters with his courtiers, Gaunt puts his complaints directly to Richard. He says that if Richards grandfather, Edward III, had known how Richard would destroy the land he rules, he would have prevented Richard from becoming king. The situation is shameful, Gaunt says, claiming that Richards policy of “farming” the realm has turned him into a landlord rather than a king. Richard responds angrily, saying that if Gaunt were not his uncle, he would have him beheaded. Gaunt is not intimidated, and says Richard should not spare him, since Richard has already killed Gaunts brother, Gloucester.
After more defiant words, the sick Gaunt asks to be taken to his bed. Within a few moments, Northumberland enters and reports that Gaunt is dead. Richard immediately announces that he is seizing all Gaunts wealth. York protests at this action. He says he has been patient up to now, in spite of Richards misdeeds. He contrasts Richard unfavorably with Richards father, Edward the Black Prince, who turned his wrath on the French, not on his own people, and had no blood of relatives on his hands. Then York points out how unjust Richards current actions are, in seizing Gaunts property and thereby denying Gaunts son Bolingbroke his rightful inheritance. York warns the King that if he carries out these actions, he will create many dangers for himself.
Richard is unmoved by Yorks protests. After Yorks exit, Richard makes plans to go to Ireland, leaving York as temporary governor of England. After the Kings exit, Northumberland, Ross and Willoughby bemoan Richards injustices. He has alienated the common people and the nobles by his reckless taxations. But Northumberland, who is the most powerful man in the group, sees some hope. He informs the others that Bolingbroke and some of his friends, along with three thousand soldiers, will soon be landing in northern England. They all decide to meet Bolingbroke when he arrives at the port of Ravenspurgh.
This scene provides further evidence of Richards arrogance and mismanagement of the country. Even the mild-mannered York is forced to protest.
Gaunts speech beginning, “This royal throne of kings” is one of the most famous in Shakespeare. Gaunt represents the values of the old order in England, which Richard is violating. Gaunt is sick and dying just as England is.
Richard does not realize that in violating the established social order he will bring disaster on his head. The passing of property and titles from one generation to the next was a foundation of the medieval social order. When Richard violates this by illegally seizing Gaunts lands, he offends the very system, sanctioned by God, that confers legitimacy on his own position as king. To the medieval mind, the social order under which they lived was as natural as nature itself. Thats why in this play, beginning in this scene, there are so many images of nature, especially gardening and flowers. Gaunt refers to Richard, for example as a “too long withered flower.”
Act 2 Scene 1