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MonkeyNotes-Richard II by William Shakespeare
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Act II, Scene 1

The scene opens at Ely House in London, with Gaunt anxiously awaiting the arrival of Richard. He is lying on a couch and is surrounded by his brother, who is the Duke of York, and his other followers. Gaunt expresses his annoyance to the Duke of York at the fact that the king has not yet arrived. York cynically tells Gaunt not to vex himself unnecessarily, since nothing is taken seriously by the king. But Gaunt is hopeful that the young monarch will pay attention to the advice of a dying man. He believes that the words of a dying man command some respect, since they are his last. York counters that Richard pays more attention to those who flatterer him. He further adds that Richard prefers the sound of the "lascivious metres to whose venom sound / The open ear of youth doth always listen." All this leaves no time for Richard to think about good counsel. York tells Gaunt not to waste his precious breath on a person who has chosen this way of life.

Gaunt then launches into his vision of the ideal England. He claims that he has the gift of prophecy and can foretell the king's future: "His rash fierce blaze of riot cannot last, / For violent fires soon burn out themselves; / Small showers last long, but sudden storms are short." Gaunt thus predicts the king's downfall. He continues in the same spirit for a few more lines and then launches into his prophetic vision of England. Gaunt's majestic description of Old England presents a striking contrast to his image of present-day England, which Richard has ruined. He regretfully observes that the "England, that was wont to conquer others, / Hath made a shameful conquest of itself."


Richard enters, along with his queen and followers, and York hurriedly warns Gaunt to control his anger. Richard is taken aback by Gaunt's attitude. When he asks Gaunt about his health, Gaunt cynically replies that he has indeed become gaunt and lean by watching England sleep for such a long time. Richard wonders whether sick men on the verge of dying can playfully mock their own names. Gaunt replies that he is mocking his name to flatter the king. Then Gaunt says that living men flatter the dying, and he describes Richard as being on his deathbed. Richard is surprised at the old man's vehemence. Gaunt then extends the metaphor of sickness to include the entire realm: "Thy death-bed is no lesser than thy land / Wherein thou liest in reputation sick." He tells Richard that he is such a careless patient that he has entrusted his health to the very physicians who first wounded him. Pointing to the fawning followers, Gaunt says "a thousand flatterers sit within thy crown." He mourns the lack of foresight on the part of Edward III, who would have deposed Richard himself. He admonishes Richard by saying that he is not a king, but a mere landlord.

Richard is infuriated and cuts Gaunt short in the middle of his speech, denouncing him as a "lunatic lean-witted fool." He says that if Gaunt had not been the brother of great Edward's son, he would not escape alive. Gaunt refuses to calm down, exclaiming that there is no need to spare him, since Richard has already "tapp'd out and drunkenly carous'd" Gloucester's blood. Gaunt is carried away shouting: "These words hereafter thy tormenters be!"

York attempts to pacify Richard by saying that Gaunt's words were the result of his illness and old age and that he loves Richard just as much his own son, Bolingbroke. Northumberland enters with the news of Gaunt's death. Richard takes the news in his stride. He immediately moves on to discuss the Irish wars and expresses glee over Gaunt's property, which will now come into his possession.

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