In what ways does John of Gaunt's speech from Act 2 scene 1 develop your understanding of both his character and his place in the play's consideration of "England and "Englishness"?

Essay by ptannenbaumHigh School, 12th gradeB+, November 2002

download word file, 4 pages 4.8

Downloaded 31 times

The monologue of John of Gaunt delves into the perilous nature of unfettered autocracy. Gaunt proclaims that King Richard should relinquish his crown because he has figuratively raped "mother" England by exploiting the loyalty of his subjects and debasing the grandeur of "this blessed plot" for his own personal glory. The speech enables the reader to look into the character of Gaunt and his relationship with Richard. The central symbolic image centres around England and the relationship between England and the kings and thus gives us much to think about with regard to this issue.

The first section of the monologue deals with the nature of Richard's vices. The staccato like verbal rhythm brings a firmness and urgency to Gaunt's exhortations. When he utters, "His rash, fierce blaze of riot cannot last; For violent fires soon burn out themselves", he warns Richard that the "fierce blaze of riot" that he has put through the kingdom will inevitably consume him as well.

Shakespeare attacks the traditional belief that the monarch is able to hide away from such tremors, as Gaunt says,

"With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder.

Light vanity, insatiate cormorant,

Consuming means, soon preys upon itself." (37-39)

Gaunt's own son, Bolingbroke was feasted upon by Richard's insatiable desire for control. Richard does not realise that men like Bolingbroke, who are unjustly victimised, will not be digested and disposed of easily. By continuing to rule in the same manner, each destructive decision Richard makes will eventually resurface to "prey upon" him. This is thus a way of portraying the imagery of Richard consuming in an obsessive nature, leading to choke the feeders who feed him, being the country.

There is much in the speech which portrays a mythological view of England and the status of the country in Gaunt's...