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.
England Quotes in Richard II
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Here, cousin, seize the crown.
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.
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.
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.