Richard II - Character Profile - John Of Gaunt



As we look forward to David Tennant's performance as Richard II in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of the play, we will be taking a look at the play and its characters in a series of articles.
We continue with a look at the elder statesman of the play...


John Of Gaunt, Duke Of Lancaster, appears in only four scenes of the play, dying in Act II Scene 1, but he plays a significant role in the scheme of the drama. He is an old man, a link with the great King Edward II, his father, in Gaunt lives the noble tradition of England's glorious past. Richard's scornful and derisive attitude to Gaunt demonstrates how little respect he pays to his heritage. 
Early in the play Gaunt voices criticisms of Richard. This is the crucial point: Henry has a grievance against Richard and can be expected to oppose the King out of self interest. Gaunt on the other hand is prepared to put aside his personal feelings for the good of the country. He demonstrates this when as a counsellor he agrees to the banishment of his son as he believes it is in the interest of peace in England, though as a father he bitterly regrets it. He speaks out against Richard not out of personal malice but out of concern for the well-being of the country. 
His famous speech serves to illustrate a vision of England as a blessed land, a vision which has a lasting effect upon the audience's view of Richard's misdeeds. And Gaunt is in constant opposition to the King's wrongdoings. Not only is he prepared to go to his death trying to reform the King, but we learn that he has spent the earlier years of the King's reign in the same endeavour. 
Yet such is Gaunt's commitment to his duty, as he sees it, that he refuses to act against Richard himself, although he feels deeply the injustice of his of the murder of his brother Gloucester. It is not for him to try to dethrone God's appointed deputy on Earth. Unlike his son Henry, he will place his trust in God to right matters; unlike his brother, York, however, he will resolutely and fearlessly oppose what he sees as the King's neglect of duty; and unlike his nephew Richard, he will put the good of England before all else. In these ways he offers a model of nobility against which to measure all other characters in the plays, all of whom are found wanting.


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