Richard II

Richard II Act 1, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Summary
Analysis
In this scene, John of Gaunt talks with his brother’s widow, the Duchess of Gloucester. Gaunt laments his brother’s death, and the unfortunate fact that the one who has the power to correct the situation or punish the killer (Richard) was the one involved with the murder. Facing this difficult situation, Gaunt resigns himself to let heaven resolve the quarrel.
In Gaunt’s mind, honor and duty to the king outweigh familial obligation. He speaks about the absolute power of the king, and the difficulty of accusing a monarch of a crime or wrongdoing when the only one with the power to correct the wrongdoing or inflict punishment is the monarch himself.
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The Duchess of Gloucester, though, encourages Gaunt to act by appealing to his sense of brotherhood. Edward III’s sons, she says, including Gaunt and the Duke of Gloucester, all contained sacred blood. She says an attack on one is an attack on all of them; killing Gloucester is killing Gaunt, because the brothers shared the same womb, blood, bed, and upbringing, but also because by allowing Gloucester’s killers to go free, Gaunt leaves himself vulnerable to attack.
The Duchess of Gloucester believes that family bonds and obligations are stronger and more important than any duty to the king, though she does seem to suggest that this family is particularly important because of its royal blood. The Duchess uses vivid, intense imagery of brothers sharing blood and a womb to strengthen her appeal to Gaunt’s sense of family duty.
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Despite the Duchess’s intense speech, Gaunt still maintains that the quarrel must be left up to God, since Richard is king and God’s substitute on earth, and going against him would therefore be blasphemy. The Duchess says she hopes that Henry is successful in the fight, thereby punishing Mowbray for her husband’s murder, and as she parts, she tells Gaunt about grief and laments her status as widow.
Gaunt accepts that he has a family obligation, but since he believes Richard is king by divine right, he will not act against the throne for fear of blaspheming God himself. The Duchess appears more interested in human action creating justice than surrendering the situation to God.
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