(John of Gaunt; Duke of York; King Richard; Queen; Aumerle; Bushy; Green; Bagot; Ross; Willoughby; Attendants; Northumberland)
The dying Gaunt despairingly talks with his brother York. Gaunt hopes that the fact he is dying may make his counsels to the King have some weight, but York thinks there is little likelihood of that. The King and his court enter, and Gaunt tries to reason with his nephew, but to no avail. His advice merely sends Richard into a rage, swearing that he would have Gaunt executed were it not that he not his uncle. Gaunt responds that he clearly has no respect for that fact, seeing as he killed his uncle Gloucester, and is carried away to die. Once his death is confirmed, Richard immediately announces his intention of confiscating the entirety of Gaunt’s possessions. York objects on the grounds that this is Bullingbrook’s inheritance, but Richard dismisses all argument, not caring whether his actions are legal or not. Richard creates York Governor of England during his absence in Ireland and leaves. Northumberland, Ross and Willoughby, remaining behind, discuss this latest injustice and Richard’s general tyranny. Northumberland discloses that Bullingbrook and other exiles are planning to return at the head of an army, and are only waiting for Richard’s departure. Ross and Willoughby immediately opt to join in the rebellion. (303 lines)
Enter John of Gaunt, sick, with the Duke of York, etc.
Will the King come, that I may breathe my last
In wholesome counsel to his unstayed youth?
Vex not yourself, nor strive not with your breath,
For all in vain comes counsel to his ear.
O but they say the tongues of dying men
Enforce attention like deep harmony.
Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain,
For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.
He that no more must say is listened more
Than they whom youth and ease have taught to glose.
More are men’s ends mark’d than their lives before.
The setting sun, and music at the close,
As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last,
Writ in remembrance more than things long past.
Though Richard my live’s counsel would not hear,
My death’s sad tale may yet undeaf his ear.
No, it is stopp’d with other flattering sounds,
As praises, of whose taste the wise are fond,
Lascivious metres, to whose venom sound
The open ear of youth doth always listen;
Report of fashions in proud Italy,
Whose manners still our tardy, apish nation
Limps after in base imitation.
Where doth the world thrust forth a vanity—
So it be new, there’s no respect how vile—
That is not quickly buzz’d into his ears?
Then all too late comes counsel to be heard,
Where will doth mutiny with wit’s regard.
Direct not him whose way himself will choose,
’Tis breath thou lack’st, and that breath wilt thou lose.
Methinks I am a prophet new inspir’d,
And thus expiring do foretell of him:
His rash fierce blaze of riot cannot last,
For violent fires soon burn out themselves;
Small show’rs last long, but sudden storms are short;
He tires betimes that spurs too fast betimes;
With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder;
Light vanity, insatiate cormorant,
Consuming means, soon preys upon itself.
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred 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 nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear’d by their breed, and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry
Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s Son;
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leas’d 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 wat’ry 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.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!
Enter King and Queen, etc.—Aumerle, Bushy, Green, Bagot, Ross, and Willoughby.
The King is come. Deal mildly with his youth,
For young hot colts being rag’d do rage the more.
How fares our noble uncle Lancaster?
What comfort, man? How is’t with aged Gaunt?
O how that name befits my composition!
Old Gaunt indeed, and gaunt in being old.
Within me grief hath kept a tedious fast;
And who abstains from meat that is not gaunt?
For sleeping England long time have I watch’d,
Watching breeds leanness, leanness is all gaunt.
The pleasure that some fathers feed upon
Is my strict fast—I mean, my children’s looks;
And therein fasting, hast thou made me gaunt.
Gaunt am I for the grave, gaunt as a grave,
Whose hollow womb inherits nought but bones.
Can sick men play so nicely with their names?
No, misery makes sport to mock itself:
Since thou dost seek to kill my name in me,
I mock my name, great King, to flatter thee.
Should dying men flatter with those that live?
No, no, men living flatter those that die.
Thou, now a-dying, sayest thou flatterest me.
O no, thou diest, though I the sicker be.
I am in health, I breathe, and see thee ill.
Now He that made me knows I see thee ill,
Ill in myself to see, and in thee, seeing ill.
Thy death-bed is no lesser than thy land,
Wherein thou liest in reputation sick,
And thou, too careless patient as thou art,
Commit’st thy anointed body to the cure
Of those physicians that first wounded thee.
A thousand flatterers sit within thy crown,
Whose compass is no bigger than thy head,
And yet, incaged in so small a verge,
The waste is no whit lesser than thy land.
O had thy grandsire with a prophet’s eye
Seen how his son’s son should destroy his sons,
From forth thy reach he would have laid thy shame,
Deposing thee before thou wert possess’d,
Which art possess’d now to depose thyself.
Why, cousin, wert thou regent of the world,
It were a shame to let this land by lease;
But for thy world enjoying but this land,
Is it not more than shame to shame it so?
Landlord of England art thou now, not king,
Thy state of law is bond-slave to the law,
A lunatic lean-witted fool,
Presuming on an ague’s privilege,
Darest with thy frozen admonition
Make pale our cheek, chasing the royal blood
With fury from his native residence.
Now by my seat’s right royal majesty,
Wert thou not brother to great Edward’s son,
This tongue that runs so roundly in thy head
Should run thy head from thy unreverent shoulders.
O, spare me not, my brother Edward’s son,
For that I was his father Edward’s son,
That blood already, like the pelican,
Hast thou tapp’d out and drunkenly carous’d.
My brother Gloucester, plain well-meaning soul,
Whom fair befall in heaven ’mongst happy souls,
May be a president and witness good
That thou respect’st not spilling Edward’s blood.
Join with the present sickness that I have,
And thy unkindness be like crooked age,
To crop at once a too long withered flower.
Live in thy shame, but die not shame with thee!
These words hereafter thy tormentors be!
Convey me to my bed, then to my grave;
Love they to live that love and honor have.
Exit, borne off by his Attendants.
And let them die that age and sullens have,
For both hast thou, and both become the grave.
I do beseech your Majesty, impute his words
To wayward sickliness and age in him.
He loves you, on my life, and holds you dear
As Harry Duke of Herford, were he here.
Right, you say true: as Herford’s love, so his,
As theirs, so mine, and all be as it is.
My liege, old Gaunt commends him to your Majesty.
What says he?
Nay, nothing, all is said.
His tongue is now a stringless instrument,
Words, life, and all, old Lancaster hath spent.
Be York the next that must be bankrupt so!
Though death be poor, it ends a mortal woe.
The ripest fruit first falls, and so doth he;
His time is spent, our pilgrimage must be.
So much for that. Now for our Irish wars:
We must supplant those rough rug-headed kerns,
Which live like venom where no venom else
But only they have privilege to live.
And, for these great affairs do ask some charge,
Towards our assistance we do seize to us
The plate, coin, revenues, and moveables
Whereof our uncle Gaunt did stand possess’d.
How long shall I be patient? Ah, how long
Shall tender duty make me suffer wrong?
Not Gloucester’s death, nor Herford’s banishment,
Not Gaunt’s rebukes, nor England’s private wrongs,
Nor the prevention of poor Bullingbrook
About his marriage, nor my own disgrace,
Have ever made me sour my patient cheek,
Or bend one wrinkle on my sovereign’s face.
I am the last of noble Edward’s sons,
Of whom thy father, Prince of Wales, was first.
In war was never lion rag’d more fierce,
In peace was never gentle lamb more mild,
Than was that young and princely gentleman.
His face thou hast, for even so look’d he,
Accomplish’d with the number of thy hours;
But when he frowned it was against the French,
And not against his friends. His noble hand
Did win what he did spend, and spent not that
Which his triumphant father’s hand had won.
His hands were guilty of no kindred blood,
But bloody with the enemies of his kin.
O Richard! York is too far gone with grief,
Or else he never would compare between.
Why, uncle, what’s the matter?
O my liege,
Pardon me, if you please; if not, I, pleas’d
Not to be pardoned, am content withal.
Seek you to seize and gripe into your hands
The royalties and rights of banish’d Herford?
Is not Gaunt dead? And doth not Herford live?
Was not Gaunt just? And is not Harry true?
Did not the one deserve to have an heir?
Is not his heir a well-deserving son?
Take Herford’s rights away, and take from Time
His charters and his customary rights;
Let not tomorrow then ensue today;
Be not thyself; for how art thou a king
But by fair sequence and succession?
Now afore God—God forbid I say true!—
If you do wrongfully seize Herford’s rights,
Call in the letters-patents that he hath
By his attorneys-general to sue
His livery, and deny his off’red homage,
You pluck a thousand dangers on your head,
You lose a thousand well-disposed hearts,
And prick my tender patience to those thoughts
Which honor and allegiance cannot think.
Think what you will, we seize into our hands
His plate, his goods, his money, and his lands.
I’ll not be by the while. My liege, farewell!
What will ensue hereof, there’s none can tell;
But by bad courses may be understood
That their events can never fall out good.
Go, Bushy, to the Earl of Wiltshire straight,
Bid him repair to us to Ely House
To see this business. Tomorrow next
We will for Ireland, and ’tis time, I trow.
And we create, in absence of ourself,
Our uncle York lord governor of England;
For he is just and always loved us well.
Come on, our queen, tomorrow must we part.
Be merry, for our time of stay is short.
Flourish. Exeunt King and Queen with others. Manet Northumberland with Willoughby and Ross.
Well, lords, the Duke of Lancaster is dead.
And living too, for now his son is Duke.
Barely in title, not in revenues.
Richly in both, if justice had her right.
My heart is great, but it must break with silence,
Ere’t be disburdened with a liberal tongue.
Nay, speak thy mind, and let him ne’er speak more
That speaks thy words again to do thee harm!
Tends that thou wouldst speak to the Duke of Herford?
If it be so, out with it boldly, man,
Quick is mine ear to hear of good towards him.
No good at all that I can do for him,
Unless you call it good to pity him,
Bereft and gelded of his patrimony.
Now, afore God, ’tis shame such wrongs are borne
In him, a royal prince, and many more
Of noble blood in this declining land.
The King is not himself, but basely led
By flatterers, and what they will inform,
Merely in hate, ’gainst any of us all,
That will the King severely prosecute
’Gainst us, our lives, our children, and our heirs.
The commons hath he pill’d with grievous taxes,
And quite lost their hearts; the nobles hath he fin’d
For ancient quarrels, and quite lost their hearts.
And daily new exactions are devis’d,
As blanks, benevolences, and I wot not what.
But what a’ God’s name doth become of this?
Wars hath not wasted it, for warr’d he hath not,
But basely yielded upon compromise
That which his noble ancestors achiev’d with blows.
More hath he spent in peace than they in wars.
The Earl of Wiltshire hath the realm in farm.
The King’s grown bankrupt, like a broken man.
Reproach and dissolution hangeth over him.
He hath not money for these Irish wars,
His burdenous taxations notwithstanding,
But by the robbing of the banish’d Duke.
His noble kinsman—most degenerate king!
But, lords, we hear this fearful tempest sing,
Yet seek no shelter to avoid the storm;
We see the wind sit sore upon our sails,
And yet we strike not, but securely perish.
We see the very wrack that we must suffer,
And unavoided is the danger now,
For suffering so the causes of our wrack.
Not so, even through the hollow eyes of death
I spy life peering, but I dare not say
How near the tidings of our comfort is.
Nay, let us share thy thoughts, as thou dost ours.
Be confident to speak, Northumberland:
We three are but thyself, and, speaking so,
Thy words are but as thoughts, therefore be bold.
Then thus: I have from Le Port Blanc,
A bay in Britain, receiv’d intelligence
That Harry Duke of Herford, Rainold Lord Cobham,
Thomas, son and heir to th’ Earl of Arundel,
That late broke from the Duke of Exeter,
His brother, Archbishop late of Canterbury,
Sir Thomas Erpingham, Sir John Ramston,
Sir John Norbery, Sir Robert Waterton, and Francis Coint—
All these, well furnished by the Duke of Britain
With eight tall ships, three thousand men of war,
Are making hither with all due expedience,
And shortly mean to touch our northern shore.
Perhaps they had ere this, but that they stay
The first departing of the King for Ireland.
If then we shall shake off our slavish yoke,
Imp out our drooping country’s broken wing,
Redeem from broking pawn the blemish’d crown,
Wipe off the dust that hides our sceptre’s gilt,
And make high majesty look like itself,
Away with me in post to Ravenspurgh;
But if you faint, as fearing to do so,
Stay, and be secret, and myself will go.
To horse, to horse! Urge doubts to them that fear.
Hold out my horse, and I will first be there.