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Richard visits the dying Gaunt in this scene. The character of Gaunt recalls the lost honor of England, and on his deathbed, he also represents the pitiable state to which England has been reduced. Gaunt is dying, and with him, the patriotism represented by Edward III and his sons is being destroyed. He delivers a patriotic speech on England just before the arrival of King Richard. This speech presents an ideal vision of England; its style recalls the earlier courtly episodes of Act I. It is like an elegy (a poem of lament and praise for the dead) for a glorious past. His speech is recognition of the passing away of an old order, due to the political incompetence and moral depravity of Richard, and it gains a sense of urgency and importance as Gaunt's dying words.
Gaunt's opening line, "Methinks I am a prophet new inspir'd," is significant. He claims that he can prophesy the king's future, and without mincing words, he predicts Richard's downfall and the destruction of his arrogance and pride. Gaunt continues in a similar spirit for a few lines, and then he launches into his famous poetic speech on England. He lists the features of old England, which are being destroyed by Richard. Gaunt's England is the royal throne of kings. It is the "earth of majesty," but the kings are secondary to the land itself: kings are simply the symbols of the land's greatness. Gaunt characterizes England by using a number of epithets in the Renaissance style. His England is the other Eden, a demi-paradise. It is small and guarded by Nature herself against corruption and wars. England is "a precious stone set in the silver sea." Here, the image of the jewel represents value. The sea serves as a protective barrier against invaders and acts as would a moat to a castle. Gaunt's England is indeed a "blessed plot," although it is being assaulted by political intrigue and economic change.
The latter part of Gaunt's speech contrasts the England of the past with the pitiable state to which it has been reduced in the present. Gaunt says that the England, which was the royal throne of kings, is now leased out like a tenement. The chivalry and true Christian service of the former kings has degenerated into private profiteering. Shakespeare is here commenting on the economic transformations taking place during Elizabeth's rule.
The king, whom Gaunt has been attacking in his speech, makes a grand entrance. He is like a performer who needs an audience. Even now, when he has come to meet his dying uncle, he is surrounded by his flatterers and court favorites. Their strength and vivacity provides a sad contrast to the failing powers of old Gaunt. Richard's very first question to Gaunt is abrupt and unkind: "What comfort, man? How is't with the aged Gaunt?" Richard indicates that since Gaunt is dying, he is not a threat anymore. Gaunt puns on his name and the state of his health and replies sarcastically that he has indeed become very "gaunt" (thin and haggard.) Then Gaunt openly mocks Richard, whom he ultimately denounces for being merely the landlord of England, and not the king. This should be seen in the context of Gaunt's preceding speech about England. Richard's sickness, which has resulted in the sickness of England, is now seen as the state of kingship. The office of the king has degenerated into the office of a mere profit-seeking landlord. Thus the metaphor of sickness engulfs not only the land but the corrupt monarchy itself.