39. This England: from Richard II: William Shakespeare

I am amazed at how confused my students get in analyzing this poem. To me, it seems quite obvious. Yet, they start talking about Mars the planet, and half of them do not have the biblical background to even know what Eden is, and then they take the precious stone as being literal. In the end, their pieces are a mess of misunderstanding.

Still, it is a baseline. This serves as a teachable moment; a place to begin.

I use it as an introduction to nationalism and the western world. How does it compare to great American poems and songs? Remember, this is but a piece from a play.

This England: from Richard II
William Shakespeare

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d 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,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,


4 thoughts on “39. This England: from Richard II: William Shakespeare

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  1. Middle school being a transitional stage for most young minds in the very ability to understand the sorts of metaphor that underpin this poetic speech, it should be no surprise that some will still be baffled by “this precious stone,” and indeed, all of it. It is not that they know not of Eden, they know Eden as only biblical. They know Mars as the planet, not its mythical god namesake, or further, his association with bellicose power.

    How can you teach about the nuances of patriotism, about accepting such disparate and conflicting notions as antagonism toward others mixed with defense from others, when you need to explain how these notions are even present in the language? When you’ve convinced yourself that your students can intrinsically understand metaphor and allegory, then you can use this poem for what you intend. Before that they’ll be as baffled as if it were in a foreign language, rife with non-literalisms and subtle modes of thought beyond their ken, because it is.

    1. Good points. To a degree, I won’t disagree about readiness, but I would argue that the struggle is where the learning happens. If you wait until “they can intrinsically understand metaphor and allegory” you will be waiting a long time. Only through the struggle, the challenge of Eden being a metaphor and not a biblical place, does their mind expand. That is how the mind expands.

      Unfortunately, I meet a lot of middle school teachers, coordinators and administrators who won’t tackle such text because their students do not have all of their ducks in a row. Our SU tends to push such things to the high school (which, in turn, is pushing towards college), regardless of the Common Core says. Learning is messy. I probably misrepresented myself in my post–I am always surprised by the holes in their cultural currency, but also know that they exist and that the movement towards the abstract is beginning and comes out in all sorts of ugly, messy, beautiful ways.

  2. Hello, yes intriguing, especially we seem never to see the whole speech quoted, which follows the above and six more lines with:

    This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
    Dear for her reputation through the world,
    Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
    Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
    England, bound in with the triumphant sea
    Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
    Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
    With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
    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!

    On this day as we go to the polls so many people still have that view of England’s greatness and here’s Shakespeare giving us another view.
    All best wishes, Keith

  3. Even more importantly, most people, not just your students, have forgotten or have never been told the true history of why England was the envy of less happier lands

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