How we cite our quotes:
Gaunt: O, had thy grandsire with a prophet's eye
Seen how his son's son should destroy his sons,
From forth thy reach he would have laid thy shame (2.1.8)
The glory of Edward III (Richard's grandfather and Gaunt's father) haunts the characters in the play, many of whom are descended from him. The theory on which the English monarchy is based – that power should be passed down through inheritance – fails with Richard II and opens up the dangerous possibility that there are other ways to choose a king. In fact, it raises the possibility, present throughout the play, that there is nothing "divine" about the king at all, and that bloodlines don't guarantee anything. Here, Gaunt wishes that Edward III could have foreseen how badly Richard would damage his family – in particular, how he would destroy his uncles, Edward's sons – and stopped him from inheriting the throne. The only way to do this would be to create another system of government. In effect, Gaunt wishes Edward III had implemented a different model of royal inheritance.
O, spare me not, my brother Edward's son,
For that I was his father Edward's son.
That blood already, like the pelican,
Hast thou tapped out and drunkenly caroused. (2.1.9)
The pelican was thought to feed its blood to its offspring. Here Gaunt suggests that Richard is like a hungry, cannibalistic bird who, instead of respecting his father's blood and those who share it, feeds on it and gets drunk on the power it carries.
Brain Snack: Shakespeare's monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, often used the pelican as a symbol of the maternal relationship she had with her subjects. Check out this famous painting of Elizabeth known as the "Pelican Portrait." It features a brooch (a fancy pin) with a picture of, you guessed it, a mother pelican on it.
His face thou hast, for even so looked,
Accomplished with the number of thy hours;
But when he frowned, it was against the French
And not against his friends. (2.1.6)
After Richard decides to seize Gaunt's property while Henry Bolingbroke is in exile, York unfavorably compares Richard to his father. Even though they look physically the same at around the same age, Richard's father had many good qualities Richard lacks, including a talent for punishing his enemies instead of his friends.