Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Henry takes it upon himself to sentence Bushy and Green to death for misleading Richard, seizing Lancastrian lands, urging his exile, using Lancastrian parks for purposes other than hunting and forestry, and so forth. He notes that he is “Near to the King in blood, and near in love / Till you did make him misinterpret me” (III.i.17-18). Bushy remarks, “More welcome is the stroke of death to me / Than Bullingbrook to England” (III.i.31-32). Northumberland leads them off to their deaths. Henry then sends York to look after the queen while he goes to fight Glendower in Wales (an unexplained anachronism). His final line in the scene seems glib: “A while to work, and after holiday” (III.i.44).
Richard has landed back in Wales and rhapsodizes about the dirt.
So weeping, smiling, greet I thee, my earth,
And do thee favors with my royal hands.
Feed not thy sovereign’s foe, my gentle earth,
Nor with thy sweets comfort his ravenous sense,
But let thy spiders, that suck up thy venom,
And heavy-gaited toads lie in their way,
Doing annoyance to the treacherous feet,
Which with usurping steps do trample thee.
His request that the earth turn against his foe is something that happens to the enemy of primitive England in Locrine.
Despite warnings about Henry, “The bishop of Carlisle, one of Shakespeare’s high churchmen of high character, punctures [Richard’s] egoistic fatalism” (Goddard, I 153). Richard is happy to think himself protected by virtue of being king, and he rails against the treacherous, indulging in a lengthy conceit whereby he represents the sun, revealing thieves who operate under the darkness of night. Furthermore, “Not all the water in the rough rude sea / Can wash the balm off from an anointed king” (III.ii.54-55). Richard is the worst “of all those who depend upon the name instead of the thing to bestow identity” (Garber 249).
Salisbury reports that the Welsh army disbanded: “O, call back yesterday, bid time return” (III.ii.69). Richard falters in spirit, but Aumerle reminds him, “remember who you are” (III.ii.82). “I had forgot myself, am I not king?” (III.ii.83) — perhaps a blur of true self and status. At the arrival of Scroop, Richard exhibits more “neurotic” behavior though (Goddard, I 154), immediately asking,
Say, is my kingdom lost? Why, ’twas my care,
And what loss is it to be rid of care?
. . .
Revolt our subjects? That we cannot mend,
They break their faith to God as well as us.
Cry woe, destruction, ruin, and decay:
The worst is death, and death will have his day.
Scroop reports the massive popular support of Henry and that he has had dealings with Bushy and Green. Before he can say that this involved their execution, Richard rants at length. He assumes Bushy, Bagot, and Green have betrayed him, and rails:
O villains, vipers, damn’d without redemption!
Dogs, easily won to fawn on any man!
Snakes, in my heart-blood warm’d, that sting my heart!
Three Judases, each one thrice worse than Judas!
Richard seems dramatically bipolar, one minute monomaniacally self-confident, the other rendering lamentations. Aumerle asks where his father the Duke of York is exactly. Richard ignores this practical question and sinks into more misery:
No matter where — of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs,
. . .
Our lands, our lives, and all are Bullingbrook’s,
And nothing we can call our own but death,
. . .
For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings….
Critics note the “masochistic mode of this luxuriance” (Bloom 258). Some kings, says Richard, prophetically, are “haunted by the ghosts they have deposed” (III.ii.158). The Bishop of Carlisle tries to give Richard encouragement, which works momentarily.
My lord, wise men ne’er sit and wail their woes,
But presently prevent the ways to wail;
To fear the foe, since fear oppresseth strength,
Gives in your weakness strength unto your foe,
And so your follies fight against yourself.
But after rallying briefly, Richard sinks lower when he hears a report that York has also joined Bolingbroke:
By heaven, I’ll hate him everlastingly
That bids me be of comfort any more.
Go to Flint castle, there I’ll pine away….
Henry, York, Northumberland, and the rebels are at Flint Castle in Wales. Northumberland reports that “Richard not far from hence hath hid his head” (II.iii.6). York bewails, “Alack the heavy day / When such a sacred king should hide his head!” (II.iii.8-9), the idea being that a head of state has to be a pretty sniveling, cowardly piece of Garbage to go running for cover in the Wake of a Big national disaster (IX.xi.2001).
Henry Percy reports that Richard, Aumerle, and others are inside. Henry Bullingbrook sends the message that he bows down to Richard provided that his banishment is repealed and his lands restored to him. Otherwise it’s bloody war. Henry and York see Richard on the castle wall, looking quite regal, as York remarks. Richard starts out self-assured and snide with Northumberland and declares Henry’s presence to be treasonous. Northumberland tries to convince Richard that Henry is not starting a civil war. Richard makes dignified conciliatory overtures, but in ruminating while his message is delivered, he unravels.
What must the King do now? Must he submit?
The King shall do it. Must he be depos’d?
The King shall be contented.
“This is role-playing; those are props. Richard’s implication is that all life is role-playing, a scepter as much a stage property as a walking staff, a king’s robes as much a costume as an almsman’s gown” (Garber 261). Richard’s anticipation of “a little little grave, an obscure grave” (III.iii.154) strikes a “theme of obscure burial [that] also appears in Shakespeare’s sonnets and other works, as if the Bard worried that his identity would be unknown to future generations” (Farina 114).
By the time the Bullingbrook party responds, Richard’s defeatist side pre-emptively gives in to Henry’s demands and then he flies into an agony about his own weakness. “There is something infinitely non-heroic about this speech by a King who had so short a while before been so absolute” (Asimov 297). Richard seems to be the main force behind his own deposition. “So, drowning in an orgy of self-pity, Richard proceeds to uncrown himself” (Goddard, I 154).
Richard is called down from the castle wall. “Undone by a pun [Base / down] might be a succinct description of what happens. And the stage direction, confirming the symbolism, is Exeunt from above” (Goddard, I 154). “It is the abjectest of surrenders” (Goddard, I 155).
Bullingbrook: My gracious lord, I come but for mine own.
King Richard: Your own is yours, and I am yours, and all.
Richard says that the issue of the kingship will be decided in London, then catches himself and asks Henry if that’s okay with him.
But if Shakespeare condemned Richard’s version of divine right, he had just as little use for Henry’s doctrine of the strong man. Where that doctrine leads, the rest of the History Plays reveal.
Is there no other way? Is there nothing between the feudal idea and the revolutionary practice that sought to replace it?
Yes, in a little scene that seems utterly incidental, Shakespeare characteristically drops a hint. (Goddard, I 159)
“The most obviously choric scene of all” (Wells 135) takes place in the garden of the Duke of York. One of two ladies tries to cheer up Queen Isabella but neither games nor dancing is likely to work. The Queen prefers to eavesdrop on a gardener and his apprentices who speak of politics with gardening analogies.
Cut off the heads of too fast growing sprays,
That look too lofty in our commonwealth:
All must be even in our government.
… our sea-walled garden, the whole land,
Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers chok’d up,
Her fruit-trees all unprun’d, her hedges ruin’d,
Her knots disordered, and her wholesome herbs
Swarming with caterpillars….
Richard and his followers are weeds and he should have lopped off “Superfluous branches” (III.iv.63). Apparently Bolingbroke is a good gardener. (For gardening as a political conceit, see the Peter Sellers film Being There.)
The good gardener, by submitting himself to the creative forces of nature, but checking them where they grow excessive or unfruitful, becomes a creator himself. A good ruler, it is intimated, is like a good gardener, participating in the fructifying activities of his kingdom instead of merely standing off and watching them, interfering with them, or expecting them to intervene in his behalf in an emergency. Here, in a metaphor, is suggested an everlasting divine right of kings and men alike. (Goddard, I 160)
Queen Isabella, using an Edenic conceit, berates this somewhat treasonous talk. The gardener says that it is the popular opinion and the deposition is true news. When the Queen is gone he says he plans to plant rue where her tears have fallen, “In the remembrance of a weeping queen” (III.iv.107).