The Words of the Dying Gaunt Essay

The Words of the Dying Gaunt Essay

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The idea of England as a second paradise in a postlapsarian world was a popular thought in Shakespeare's day. Not only did Englanders compare their land the to Biblical Eden, but also to Classical legends that would have flourished in the Renaissance era. The fact that Britain is an island isolated from the rest of the world invited the comparison of England to mythical islands such as the Islands of the Blest and Homer's Ogygia (Mackenzie 319). Such comparisons surely originated in the strong patriotism that thrived in the Elizabethan era. Shakespeare capitalized on this feeling through his history plays, which both instructed his audience on England's past and fed the patriotic ego of her citizens (Reese 46). Nowhere does Shakespeare more humor his audience with the nostalgic idea of England as a paradise than in John of Gaunt's famous speech in the second act of Richand II.

In the speech, which is uttered from his deathbed, Gaunt begins by claiming he is a "prophet new inspired," (2.1.31). This inspiration comes from Gaunt's realization that his life will soon end, giving him the freedom to speak his mind without the fear of being punished for treason. This freedom allows him to reprimand the actions of Richard who, Gaunt feels, has been acting as landlord rather than king of England and wasting her precious soils for selfish gains (Klinck).

Gaunt laments that England is "now leas'd out-I die pronouncing it- / Like to a tenement or pelting farm" (59-60). Gaunt refers to Richard's use of the land as "His rash fierce blaze of riot" (33) giving the image of Richard burning the country he is meant to care for. He continues this fire and consumption metaphor by proclaiming With eager feeding food doth choke the...


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...ses "my ensuing death" (68).

Alliteration adds to the pleasing rhythmic flow of the speech and helps to enhance the poetic imagery (Silverbush and Plotkin 54). Alliteration is combined with assonance to further heighten poetic effect in the line "With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder" (37). Another excellent example of alliteration is found in the line "This precious stone set in the silver sea" (46).

Aside from the powerful imagery provided by Shakespeare, the most moving aspect of this speech is the eloquence it gives to a dying man. John of Gaunt is presented as patriotic citizen concerned with the future of his homeland, even in the last moments of his life. His character can be seen as an example of a true patriot, Christian, and hero. His dying speech challenges the reader to be selfless and stand up for what he or she believes in.

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