Shakespeare’s Richard II Essay: The Rape of a Nation

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Richard II - The Rape of a Nation

By bowing down to the needs of his subjects, a king allows others to dictate his actions and hence compromises the essence of his power. Paradoxically, failing to heed the desires of his subjects transforms a king into a self-indulgent tyrant and propels his kingdom towards ruin and decay. Can a sovereign rule his subjects without considering their general welfare? If a king rules unconscionably, do his subjects have the right to replace him? William Shakespeare's Richard II considers this authoritarian quandary at great length. In particular, John of Gaunt's "other Eden" monologue (2.1.31-68) delves into the perilous nature of unfettered autocracy. Gaunt proclaims that King Richard should
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Gaunt expresses the belief that Richard's actions are not beyond reproach. Contrary to traditional doctrine, King Richard may indeed have to reap what he has sown, rather than hide behind the monarchical veil of infallibility. Gaunt expounds upon this theme when he says,

With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder.

Light vanity, insatiate cormorant,

Consuming means, soon preys upon itself. (2.1.37-39)

Gaunt's own son, Harry Bolingbroke, was feasted upon by Richard's insatiable desire for control. Richard does not realize that men like Bolingbroke, who are unjustly victimized, will not be digested and disposed of easily. By continuing to rule in the same ignorant manner, each destructive decision Richard makes will eventually resurface to "prey upon" him.

The next significant portion of Gaunt's speech pertains to the God-given glory of "mother" England and all her natural attributes. Contrary to the opening segment of the speech, this section is one continuous run-on sentence with only commas to provide subtle caesuras. This fluid style brings unity to Gaunt's central symbolic image, England as a mother to her kings. He establishes an allegorical precursor to this metaphor by characterizing his beloved homeland as:

This