Richard II


William Shakespeare

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England Theme Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
Themes and Colors
The Throne Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
England Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Richard II, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
England Theme Icon

As noted above, the Henriad and all of the history plays trace the line of the English throne leading up to Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled during the first part of Shakespeare’s career. Thus, running through all of the other themes in the play are a strong sense of English pride and an exploration of England itself. The pride for England, for example, is expressed in the way that Henry and Mowbray react to being banished. Both men clearly are unhappy about leaving their country. Even speaking another language is figured as “speechless death.” These Englishmen want only to speak the English language and live on English soil, indicating both a sense of pride and of English superiority. We can note also that of the all the plays in Henriad, this play is the least concerned with other nations, either through foreign visitors or the conquests of kings. Richard makes a brief journey to Ireland, but no scenes take place there, and it is in this time away from England that Henry takes action and Richard essentially loses his crown.

England is described with figurative language throughout the play, including being portrayed as a garden, as mother, as a nurse, and, of course, as another body of the king in the form of the body politic. These descriptors seem to indicate that the country is maternal, natural, life-giving, and beautiful. However, in a rousing speech near his death, Gaunt at once praises England and laments its current status under the rule of King Richard. In the beginning of the speech, he simply lists epithets that indicate how special England is. The country is described as the throne of kings; it is perfect and likened to an “other Eden”; it is also a “fortress built by nature herself,” as it is surrounded by water and so protected from invasion, leading to the Gaunt’s metaphor calling the country a “precious stone set in the silver sea.” Gaunt also emphasizes England’s reputation, saying that England is known throughout the world. Such a line, along with the list of praises above, can be seen as both Shakespeare pandering to his English audience and the author expressing true passion for his homeland and the deep connection and appreciation for England experienced by his characters and the British nobility.

But under Richard, Gaunt says, England is likened to a tenement, or a land leased out by a landlord. The country that usually wants to conquer others has conquered itself. This important criticism shows a turn in Gaunt, who at first would not criticize his king for fear of breaking his Christian duty. But the harm to England and its reputation that Gaunt attributes to Richard seems to be the only thing capable of causing Gaunt to act and speak out. Gaunt calls Richard the landlord of England, not the king, and says that, as Henry suggests later, the king must be held accountable for his actions and treated as a subject of the law. Thus we see the notion that a monarch’s power and infallibility come second only to the prosperity of England itself, which is figured as “the womb of royal kings.” Kings and queens might replace one another, but the constant is England, which gives rulers their power and apparently must always thrive, despite the individual goals, failings, or desires of its monarchs.

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England Quotes in Richard II

Below you will find the important quotes in Richard II related to the theme of England.
Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

The language I have learnt these forty years,
My native English, now I must forgo;
And now my tongue's use is to me no more
Than an unstringéd viol or a harp,
Or like a cunning instrument cased up,
Or, being open, put into his hands
That knows no touch to tune the harmony.

What is thy sentence then but speechless death,
Which robs my tongue from breathing native breath?

Related Characters: Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk (speaker), King Richard II
Page Number: 1.3.161-175
Explanation and Analysis:

How long a time lies in one little word!
Four lagging winters and four wanton springs
End in a word; such is the breath of kings.

Related Characters: Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV (speaker), King Richard II
Page Number: 1.3.218-220
Explanation and Analysis:

Shorten my days thou canst with sullen sorrow,
And pluck nights from me, but not lend a morrow.
Thou canst help time to furrow me with age,
But stop no wrinkle in his pilgrimage,
Thy word is current with him for my death,
But dead, thy kingdom cannot buy my breath.

Page Number: 1.3.233-238
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

This royal throne of kings, this sceptered 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,

This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Feared by their breed and famous by their birth,

This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out—I die pronouncing it—
Like to a tenement or pelting farm.

Related Characters: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (speaker), King Richard II
Page Number: 2.1.45-66
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 3 Quotes

He is come to open
The purple testament of bleeding war;
But ere the crown he looks for live in peace,
Ten thousand bloody crowns of mothers' sons
Shall ill become the flower of England's face,
Change the complexion of her maid-pale peace
To scarlet indignation, and bedew
Her pastures' grass with faithful English blood.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Related Symbols: Blood, The Crown
Page Number: 3.3.95-102
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

If you crown him, let me prophesy
The blood of English shall manure the ground
And future ages groan for this foul act,
Peace shall go sleep with Turks and infidels,
And in this seat of peace tumultuous wars
Shall kin with kin and kind with kind confound.
Disorder, horror, fear, and mutiny
Shall here inhabit, and this land be called
The field of Golgotha and dead men's skulls.
O, if you raise this house against this house,
It will the woefullest division prove
That ever fell upon this curséd earth!

Related Symbols: Blood, The Crown
Page Number: 4.1.142-153
Explanation and Analysis:

Yet I well remember
The favors of these men. Were they not mine?
Did they not sometime cry "All hail" to me?
So Judas did to Christ, but He in twelve
Found truth in all but one; I, in twelve thousand, none.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Page Number: 4.1.175-179
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, cousin, seize the crown.
Here, cousin.
On this side my hand, on that side thine.
Now is this golden crown like a deep well
That owes two buckets, filling one another,
The emptier ever dancing in the air,
The other down, unseen, and full of water.
That bucket down and full of tears am I,
Drinking my grief, whilst you mount up on high.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Related Symbols: The Crown
Page Number: 4.1.190-198
Explanation and Analysis:

With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown,
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duteous oaths.
All pomp and majesty I do forswear.
My manors, rents, revenues I forgo;
My acts, decrees, and statutes I deny.
God pardon all oaths that are broke to me.
God keep all vows unbroke are made to thee.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Related Symbols: The Crown
Page Number: 4.1.216-224
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 5 Quotes

Exton, thy fierce hand
Hath with the King's blood stained the King's own land.
Mount, mount, my soul. Thy seat is up on high,
Whilst my gross flesh sinks downward, here to die.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Sir Pierce of Exton
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 5.5.112-116
Explanation and Analysis: