Richard II (excerpts): This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle

Richard II (excerpts): This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle

Original Text

Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (London: Printed by Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blount, 1623): sig. C2v. STC (2nd ed.) 22273

4This fortress built by Nature for her self
5Against infection and the hand of war,
7This precious stone set in a silver sea
8Which serves it in the office of a wall
9Or as a moat defensive to a house,
10Against the envy of less happier lands,
11This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
13Feared by their breed and famous for their birth,
14Renownèd for their deeds as far from home
15For Christian service and true chivalry
18This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
19Dear for her reputation through the world,
20Is now leased out - I die pronouncing it -
22England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
23Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
26That England that was wont to conquer others
27Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.


1] John of Gaunt's death-bed speech in Act 2, scene 1 prophesizes the downfall of an idealized England under the rule of Richard II. Back to Line
2] seat of Mars: home to the Roman god of war. Back to Line
3] demi-paradise: a place Edenic in quality, diminished only in size. Back to Line
6] happy breed: a "blessed, beatified" population (OED adj. 2b); "happy" in this sense conventionally refers to the deceased and is therefore an instance of prolepticirony. Back to Line
12] teeming: fruitful, pregnant. Back to Line
16] stubborn Jewry: Judea; "stubborn" suggests both resistance to Christian conversion and an unwillingness to yield militarily to medieval Crusaders. Back to Line
17] the world's ransom: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all ..." (1 Timothy 2: 5-6). Back to Line
21] pelting farm: a "paltry, petty, mean" homestead (OED adj.); a parceling out of sheep hide for profit is perhaps also suggested, alluding caustically to King Richard's exploitation of the nation's wealth. Back to Line
24] Neptune: Roman sea-god. Back to Line
25] inky blots and rotten parchment bonds: referring to instruments used by King Richard to farm the nation's wealth, ostensibly to finance war in Ireland. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors
Christopher Matusiak
RPO Edition