Fiction

Shakespeare: “This Sceptered Isle”

by William Shakespeare (submitted by John I. Johnson)

Prophecy of the dying John of Gaunt in The Tragedy of King Richard II (1594), Act 2, Scene 1:

Methinks I am a prophet new inspired
And thus expiring do foretell . . .:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’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 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 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.

* * *

John of Gaunt (1340-1399) (born in Ghent, hence his name, by way of common mispronunciation) — Duke of Lancaster, fourth son of King Edward III, brother of Edward, Prince of Wales (“the Black Prince”), and uncle of King Richard II — was a historical figure. He is described as follows by John Fines in Who’s Who in the Middle Ages (London: Anthony Blond, 1970): “He was a tall spare man, reserved and proud. He was courageous in battle, and easily roused, but he was loyal to a degree and chivalrous in every sense of the word. He loved the tournament, and specialized in absolutely fair play, a quality rare in his day. He was a great patron, of poets, scholars, clergy, monks, and indeed of the poor. . . . the ideal Englishman.”

* * *

Source: John I. Johnson

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