The Tragedy of King Richard II

Not a good king, according to historical accounts, Richard II and his failings were popularized by William Shakespeare in The Tragedy of King Richard II

In this clip, we see John Gielgud, in the role of John of Gaunt (the Duke of Lancaster), bemoaning the weaknesses of the country (under Richard II) and berating the King (for his bad judgment). 

It is Gaunt's last speech, before he dies. 

Move the video forward, to 2:07, for the scene with these famous words:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea 
That England that was wont to conquer others 
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.

From Shakespeare's Richard II, Act 2, scene 1. 

For a bit of historical background ... John Gaunt (so-called because he was born in Ghent which, in English, was then known as "Gaunt") was the younger brother of Edward, the Prince of Wales (also known as "The Black Prince").    

Ancestor to many of Britain's Kings and Queens - including the present Queen - John Gaunt was one of the wealthiest men in Britain during his lifetime (1340-1399).  Historians also believe he was one of the wealthiest men who ever lived.  

The following brief summary of the entire work will provide some background for the meaning of Gaunt's words as he chastises his nephew, the young king. 

At the beginning of the play, Richard II (the King) banishes his cousin (Henry Bolingbroke) from England. Bolingbroke later returns (with an army and the support of some of the nobility) to depose Richard.  More successful than Richard, Bolingbroke (at the end of the play) is crowned King Henry IV - after Richard, separated from his Queen, is initially imprisoned, then murdered.

Those were interesting times!


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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 04, 2014

Updated Last Revision: Apr 15, 2015

Media Credits

Video clip from Richard II, BBC Television Shakespeare cycle, first aired in the UK on October 12, 1978.  Copyright, BBC, all rights reserved.  Clip provided here as fair use for educational purposes and to acquaint new viewers with the program.

Director: David Giles


John Gielgud ... John of Gaunt
Charles Gray ... Duke of York
Derek Jacobi ... Richard II
Janet Maw ... Queen
David Swift ... Duke of Northumberland

Production Companies ... BBC Television, Time-Life Television
Producer ... Cedric Messina
Script Editor
 ... Alan Shallcross
Designer ... Tony Abbott
Music Adviser ... David Lloyd-Jone

Video clip online, courtesy ShakespeareAndMore Channel at YouTube.  Copyright, BBC, all rights reserved.  Clip provided here as fair use for educational purposes.


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"The Tragedy of King Richard II" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 04, 2014. Sep 20, 2018.
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