‘This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle’ is part of one of the best-known speeches in William Shakespeare’s plays. It is delivered by John of Gaunt as he is dying. The speech alludes to the excesses of King Richard II and what Gaunt sees as England’s fate.
The monologue ends with Gaunt suggesting that he would be happy to die if he knew that England would recover from Richards’s reign and regain its past power and glory. But, he knows this is not going to be the case and is therefore unhappy to lose his life and any influence he might have on the fate of his much-loved nation.
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“This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle” Meaning
This famous and commonly utilized quote describes England. John of Gaunt delivers the lines as part of his dying monologue. He refers to England as “this sceptered isle,” “this seat of Mars,” “This other Eden,” and more. He loves his country and uses his dying words to mourn “her” fate in the hands of Richard II.
Where Did Shakespeare Use This Quote?
William Shakespeare uses the quote in Act II, Scene 1 of his history play Richard II. The line is spoken by John of Gaunt in one of the most memorable passages in the play. It is part of a monologue that Gaunt delivers and can be found, specifically, in line 45. Here is the quote in context with part of John of Gaunt’s speech:
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 sceptered 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
Gaunt is dying when he uses this famous line. It, along with the other phrases included in his monologue are about the fate of England as a country. He uses a string of epithets to describe the nation’s strength and what it has come to today. He believes that England is being “leased out” by the current King Richard in a way that goes against the country’s nature and legacy.
Prior to the excerpt above, Gaunt says:
Methinks I am a prophet new inspired
And thus expiring do foretell of him:
His rash fierce blaze of riot cannot last,
For violent fires soon burn out themselves;
Small showers last long, but sudden storms are
As he’s lying there, he feels as if God is letting him see the future of King Richard II. He believes that the King has been living a degenerate lifestyle unbecoming of a king, something that cannot go on. His rule will die out like a raging fire. Shakespeare uses a metaphor to compare him to a “fierce blaze of riot” as well as a “small shower” and “sudden storm.” John of Gaunt says that big thunderstorms rage themselves out quite quickly while smaller storms “last long.”
Looking back to the quote above, he adds that “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.” While Gaunt does not mention Richard by name in these lines, it is implied that his various metaphors are meant to describe the current king.
He then refers to England and the monarchy as “this seat of Mars / This other Eden, a demi-paradise, / this fortress built by Nature for herself / Against infection and the hand of war.” Another well-known quote follows:
This happy breed of men, this little
Gaunt is speaking as though the end of England, or at least the England he loves, is around the corner. The country has many advantages, namely being set apart from the rest of mainland Europe, “a precious stone set in the silver sea.” The speech concludes with Gaunt and saying:
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!
He is suggesting that if when he dies England’s former glory is restored he would be happy to lose his life. But, he knows this isn’t going to happen.
Why Did Shakespeare Use This Quote?
William Shakespeare used this quote as John of Gaunt’s dying words to display the sickly man’s wisdom, opinion of England, and his disdain for the king. The quote is part of a longer speech that outlines all the advantages that England has, the strength it has displayed in the past and then moves on to speak about how it is affected by the King’s rule today. Gaunt also alludes to the King’s excesses and how, like a sudden storm, he is going to burn himself out.
Throughout his reign, King Richard II demonstrates his immaturity and enjoyment of the wealth and power that comes with the monarchy. He does not display an adequate interest in the lives of his people and the fate of the country, something that leads to his being overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke, his cousin, and then assassinated.
This line is part of John of Gaunt’s dying speech. He is referring to England through a series of metaphors and examples of anaphora. He refers to England’s power (or lack thereof) and the monarchy in this line and in others.
This is another part of John of Gaunt’s dying speech in Richard II. He refers to “Mars,” the God of War, and connects him to England. He is describing how those who sit on the throne have the power to wage war and decide the fate of their people.
- Read: Richard II by William Shakespeare
- Watch: Richard II – England’s Most Tragic King
- Watch: Richard II