‘This England’ : John of Gaunt watches in despair as his country is milked for its wealth and shared out among the king’s favourites.
‘This England’

Abridged from ‘Richard II’ (Act II, Scene 1), by William Shakespeare.

It is 1399, and for two years King Richard II has (in addition to legalised murder) been levying extortionate rents on the property of his opponents, and handing out grace-and-favour homes to his cronies. As John of Gaunt lies dying, he charges his nephew with being ‘landlord of England, not king’.

THIS throne of kings, this sceptr’d 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,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
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:*

England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.

* ‘Pelting’ in this case is an adjective with a meaning similar to ‘paltry, mean’.

Abridged from ‘Richard II’ (Act II, Scene 1), by William Shakespeare.

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William Shakespeare (9) Extracts from Literature (94) Passages in Early Modern English (4) Fiction (84)

Picture: © Karl and Ali, Geograph. Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0. View original
Sheep on Nab Hill in the Lune Valley in Cumbria, England.
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