How we cite our quotes:
O, how that name befits my composition!
Old Gaunt indeed, and gaunt in being old.
Within me Grief hath kept a tedious fast,
And who abstains from meat that is not gaunt? (2.1.4)
Here, old John of Gaunt expresses his grief at his son's banishment from England. What's interesting about this passage is that Gaunt's wordplay experiments with the very problem of identity. He puns on his name, Gaunt, which means skinny and sickly looking, but by the end of the quote, everyone who "abstains from meat" (everyone who fasts) is included. Gaunt is making an important point: the name "Gaunt" can refer to many people (despite the king's efforts to make sure there will be no more "Gaunts" by banishing Gaunt's heir, Henry. Using this logic, it also becomes clear that that the name "king" can also refer to more than just one man, right?
My lord, my answer is, to 'Lancaster',
And I am come to seek that name in England;
And I must find that title in your tongue
Before I make reply to aught you say. (2.3.6)
When Henry Bolingbroke returns to England to claim his birthright, he assumes a powerful position. He makes it clear that before he'll accept any message from the king's representative, he must first be acknowledged and officially recognized as "Lancaster," Gaunt's rightful heir. (Remember, John of Gaunt was the Duke of Lancaster, and when he died that land was supposed to be passed down to his son. Richard stepped in and basically stole it.) Since this is exactly what Richard was trying to deprive Henry of, it's a bold move. Keep reading...
As I was banish'd, I was banish'd Hereford;
But as I come, I come for Lancaster.
Will you permit that I shall stand condemn'd
A wandering vagabond; my rights and royalties
Pluck'd from my arms perforce and given away
To upstart unthrifts? Wherefore was I born?
If that my cousin king be King of England,
It must be granted I am Duke of Lancaster.
You have a son, Aumerle, my noble cousin;
Had you first died, and he been thus trod down,
He should have found his uncle Gaunt a father,
To rouse his wrongs and chase them to the bay.
I am denied to sue my livery here,
And yet my letters-patents give me leave:
My father's goods are all distrain'd and sold,
And these and all are all amiss employ'd.
What would you have me do? I am a subject,
And I challenge law: attorneys are denied me;
And therefore, personally I lay my claim
To my inheritance of free descent. (2.3.6)
When York confronts Henry Bolingbroke for storming into England after he's been banished, Henry explains his rationale – he's returned with an army because King Richard has stolen his birthright by taking the land (Lancaster) that should have gone to Henry when his father died. The law says that when a man dies, all his wealth, titles, and land should be passed down to his eldest son. This applies to noblemen and kings. As Henry points out, the same system that allowed Richard to inherit the title "King of England" from his father is supposed to allow him, Henry, to inherit the title "Duke of Lancaster" from his dad. So if Richard denies Henry his title, Henry figures he's got a right to take away the king's.