Richard II | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard II | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Gaunt, who is ill and near death, speaks with the Duke of York, who is Gaunt's brother, Richard's uncle, and Aumerle's father. Gaunt says he wants to give his nephew some advice. York tells him Richard will not listen, but Gaunt still hopes the king will heed his dying words: "Methinks I am a prophet new inspired / And thus expiring do foretell of him: / His rash fierce blaze of riot cannot last, / For violent fires soon burn out themselves." He describes England as "[t]his other Eden, demi-paradise" and a "precious stone set in the silver sea" as he bemoans Richard's poor management of the country: "That England that was wont to conquer others / Hath made a shameful conquest of itself."

When Gaunt speaks with Richard, the old man takes the young king to task for doing such a poor job leading the country. The king grows angry and warns Gaunt he could have him killed. Gaunt then accuses Richard of ordering the Duke of Gloucester's murder. Gaunt is taken offstage, and the Earl of Northumberland soon reports he has died.

Richard quickly announces he will take over Gaunt's estate. York warns Richard he should not try to change the way titles and land are inherited: "for how art thou a king / But by fair sequence and succession?" Richard ignores York's advice but then appoints him to govern the country while Richard fights in Ireland.

After the king and his followers leave, Northumberland and two other nobles—Ross and Willoughby—discuss Richard's unjust seizure of Gaunt's wealth, which should have passed to Bolingbroke. Northumberland reveals Bolingbroke is coming back to England, leading his own army—even though his banishment has not yet expired. The three nobles say they will join Bolingbroke.

Analysis

Gaunt seems to have resolved his inner conflict about criticizing the rightful king. With the religious conviction of a dying man, Gaunt declares himself "a prophet new inspired," and this religious office gives him the freedom to speak the truth to Richard. This reversal from his position in Act 1, Scene 2 seems to stem from his love for England. As he speaks of his country, he uses religious language, calling it "This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars" and "This other Eden, demi-paradise." He is moved to criticize the king because he believes Richard's mismanagement is ruining the nation. Gaunt's priorities have shifted, though his faith in God is still a powerful motivator. He has now come to believe God has blessed the land of England, not just its king, and this frees him to honor the kingdom but not the king.

Richard's plan to take over the estate Bolingbroke should inherit is a dangerous move, and York immediately tells the king it will weaken the whole system of inheritance. Someday, someone might use this very weakening to justify taking away Richard's crown. York's concerns are for Richard and the possibility his hasty decision will negatively affect his reign's legitimacy as well as the monarchy in general, especially since Richard has no children. However, weakening inheritance could affect more than just the royal line of succession. This can be seen at the end of the scene, as the nobles are concerned their own lands and wealth could be taken away if the rights of inheritance are threatened.

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