John of Gaunt, ill and dying in his house, talks with the Duke of York while he awaits the arrival of King Richard. Gaunt hopes that, with his dying breath, he will be able to give the foolhardy young King Richard some advice that he will listen to. York says that that is unlikely; the King is too much surrounded by flatterers, and too interested in the follies and fashions of the world. Gaunt replies that, if that is the case, he must prophecy with his last breath that Richard is headed for doom: "His rash fierce blaze of riot cannot last. / For violent fires soon burn out themselves" (33-34).
He goes on to lament, in the play's most famous speech, that the beautiful, fertile, and divinely favored country of England has been rented out. "This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle, / This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, / This other Eden, demi-paradise... / This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England... / Is now leas'd out--I die pronouncing it-- / Like to a tenement or pelting farm" (40-60).
King Richard arrives with a large train of followers--Queen Isabel, Aumerle, Bushy, Bagot, Greene, and more. When Richard inquires casually after Gaunt's health, Gaunt bitterly rebukes Richard for the exile of his son Bolingbroke. He then goes on to admonish Richard, in scalding terms, for the ways in which he has been wasting money, taxing the people too heavily, allowing the country to go to ruin, and letting himself be flattered by his power-hungry and self-interested advisors. Richard, completely infuriated, interrupts his uncle, saying that were Gaunt not of the royal blood, he would destroy him; but Gaunt, raging and made bold by the knowledge that he is dying anyway, points out to Richard that he has not hesitated to shed the blood of royalty before and brings up the king's involvement in the death of his uncle Thomas of Gloucester. He finishes by cursing Richard with his dying breaths and walking out on the king. York tries to make excuses for Gaunt's behavior to Richard, but Richard, understandably enough, is not in a very good mood.
The Earl of Northumberland comes in to tell the company that Gaunt has died. Richard promptly announces his intention to seize all of Gaunt's worldly goods in order to finance his war in Ireland. His uncle, the Duke of York, protests vehemently, pointing out that Gaunt was a loyal subject and that his estate should by rights now belong to his son Bolingbroke, who, though currently in exile, will eventually return to England to claim it. But Richard will not listen to him, and York departs. Richard, blithely ignoring his powerful uncle's distress and concern, tells his allies that tomorrow he plans to set sail for Ireland, and that he will make his York Lord Governor of England while he himself is gone.
After Richard leaves with his attendants, three lords--the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Ross, and Lord Willoughby--remain behind. Indignant at Richard's latest injustice, the three agree that England is being ruined under Richard's reign. Northumberland confides to the other two that he has secret news: Bolingbroke, with many English allies and with with ships supplied by the King of Brittany, plans to sail for England as soon as Richard leaves for Ireland. Their plan is to invade England's northeast shore and stage a royal coup. The three decide to join him, and they depart together for Ravenspurgh, in the north, where Bolingbroke plans to land.Read a translation of Act II, scene i →
This long scene is a turning point in Richard II, and one of the two or three most important scenes in the play.