Summary and Analysis Act II



Scene 1 takes place at Ely House in London, where Gaunt lies ill. His first speech forms a sort of "bridge" between the end of the last scene and this act. Speaking to his brother, the Duke of York, Gaunt asks, "Will the king come that I may breathe my last / In wholesome counsel to his unstaid youth?" Clearly, Gaunt is worried about conditions in England. York, however, has no easy words of consolation; he thinks that the king is beyond listening ("all in vain comes counsel to his ear"); he thinks that the king listens only to young men who are more concerned with aping Continental fashions than coping with England's political troubles. Still, however, Gaunt hopes that his advice won't be wasted. He reasons that dying men are listened to more carefully because it is recognized that their words are precious because they are so scarce.


Scene 1 takes place at Ely House in London, where Gaunt lies ill. His first speech forms a sort of "bridge" between the end of the last scene and this act. Speaking to his brother, the Duke of York, Gaunt asks, "Will the king come that I may breathe my last / In wholesome counsel to his unstaid youth?" Clearly, Gaunt is worried about conditions in England. York, however, has no easy words of consolation; he thinks that the king is beyond listening ("all in vain comes counsel to his ear"); he thinks that the king listens only to young men who are more concerned with aping Continental fashions than coping with England's political troubles. Still, however, Gaunt hopes that his advice won't be wasted. He reasons that dying men are listened to more carefully because it is recognized that their words are precious because they are so scarce.

Acknowledging that he probably sounds like an Old Testament prophet, Gaunt charges Richard with the sin of wasting himself in a "rash fierce blaze of riot" which "cannot last." He is determined to convert the erring Richard to a better life worthy of his role as king. He appeals strongly to the patriotic sentiments of the audience as he rhetoric ally describes England:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise. (40-42)

Then Gaunt reverses the imagery and speaks of the shame that has been brought to England of late, how Richard turned this paradise into a shameful place and turned this fortress-like isle into a prison. As the king enters, York hastily warns Gaunt to temper his rage, saying that "young hot colts being raged do rage the more."

Richard, with his favorite courtiers, approaches Gaunt and is amazed at the old man's invective. Gaunt charges that Richard is the sicker of the two men, and he extends the idea of sickness and infection to include England itself: "Thy deathbed," he says, "is no lesser than thy land, / Wherein thou liest in reputation sick." He points to the covey of political sycophants which the king surrounds himself with; the crown of England cannot encompass all these "thousand flatterers," Gaunt warns. Richard is no king; Richard is no more than a greedy landlord to his country.

Richard loses his composure and abruptly stops the old man: If Gaunt were not the brother to great Edward's son, he would soon have his head separated from his body. Gaunt is not impressed. He reminds the company that that sort of scruple didn't bother Richard when he ended Gloucester's life. As Gaunt is taken out, he turns and hopes that "these words hereafter thy tormentors be!"

Gaunt's death is announced shortly thereafter by Northumberland, and the Duke of York is distressed to hear Richard almost gloat over "the plate, coin, revenues, and moveables" of old Gaunt. What is to become of the entire system of allegiance and inheritance, he asks, if Richard can so capriciously take the lands and property of Gaunt, which rightfully belong to Gaunt's son, Bolingbroke? If Richard does this, York warns him that he "plucks a thousand dangers on [his] head." Richard is unmoved; he means to immediately "seize into our hands / His plate, his goods, his money, and his lands," and to that end he orders Bushy to arrange the transfer of possessions.

When the king is gone, Northumberland, Willoughby, and Ross discuss the state of the nation. Northumberland fears that banishment will be the punishment if one of Richard's flatterers chooses to decide to denounce him. Ross points to the grievous, unjust taxes now levied on commoners and nobles alike, and Willoughby mentions the plethora of "blank checks" and "forced loans." The three men see no hope for England; "unavoided is the danger now." The times demand revolt, and Ross urges Northumberland to lead the revolt. Northumberland then gives them the news that already he has had news from Bolingbroke; Gaunt's son has gathered a large number of highly placed sympathizers who have ships and some "three thousand men." As soon as Richard leaves for Ireland, Bolingbroke means to fight to reclaim what is his. Moreover, Northumberland promises them that they personally will soon have a chance to "redeem . . . the blemished crown, / Wipe off the dust that hides our sceptre's gilt, / And make high majesty look like itself."

At Windsor Castle, deep in conversation with Bushy, one of the king's favorites, the queen is trying to discover the source of her deep depression. The king has departed for Ireland, and the queen feels that something ominous is about to occur:

Yet again, methinks
Some unborn sorrow, ripe in Fortune's womb
Is coming towards me. (8-10)

Her "inward soul" persuades her that there is something amiss causing her anxiety, something more than mere separation from the king, although that separation is indeed a source of pain to her.

Green hurries onstage as they are talking and proves the queen's premonition correct by delivering the news that Bolingbroke has landed with his army in the north of England. York enters then and laments the fact that he was left by Richard to uphold the royal forces, to "underprop the land." There is no money left to fight a successful campaign against the rebels, and even if there were, it seems apparent that the popular figure in the country is not the king but his adversary — Bolingbroke. Adding to the general woe that has befallen the present company, a messenger enters with the news that the Duke of York's sister-in-law, the widow of the late Duke of Gloucester, has died. "God for his mercy! what a tide of woes / Comes rushing on this woeful land at once," cries York in despair. He is thoroughly confused; he is duty-bound (by conscience and kinship) to defend the nation against the rebels, but his sympathies are with his nephew Bolingbroke, whom the king has wronged.

The queen and York leave, and Bushy, Bagot, and Green remain behind to discuss their plans. Bagot decides to go to Ireland and join the king, while Bushy and Green decide to seek refuge at a sympathetic castle in Bristol. The three of them are convinced that the Duke of York's chances of repelling the rebels are slim. The task of defending Richard's crown, Green likens to "numbering sands, and drinking oceans dry." Convinced that they "may never meet again," they exit.

Somewhere in Gloucestershire, once more in England, Bolingbroke questions Northumberland about the way to Berkeley. These "high wild hills and rough uneven ways" have exhausted them both. Northumberland replies that Bolingbroke's "fair discourse" and his good conversation have made the journey seem light and easy. Bolingbroke replies graciously that his companion's words have special value for him.

Northumberland's son, Henry Percy, comes onto the scene and pledges his services to Bolingbroke for life. Northumberland and Bolingbroke then discuss the military situation and are soon joined by the forces of Willoughby and Ross, and both men reaffirm their pledge to right the wrongs done to Bolingbroke in his absence. The Lord of Berkeley enters then, bearing a message from the Duke of York. Berkeley addresses Bolingbroke as "My Lord of Hereford," and Berkeley is rebuffed by the rebel leader, who tells Berkeley to address him by his proper title — Lancaster — if he wants an answer.

The Duke of York, unattended, enters next and is greeted formally and respectfully by Bolingbroke, who kneels to him. York, however, will have none of this formality and tells his nephew to

Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle;
I am no traitor's uncle, and that word "grace"
In an ungracious mouth is but profane. (86-88)

York reminds Henry and his rebels that "in my loyal bosom lies his [King Richard's] power," but Bolingbroke stands firm in his claim that he has every right to be doing what he is doing. He was banished as Hereford, but now that his father is dead, he returns as Lancaster to claim what is his and "to rouse [Richard's] wrongs." He further entreats old York to think of him as a son ("methinks in you / I see old Gaunt alive"). He continues the kinship argument, trying to persuade York that if the situation had been reversed and it was York (instead of Gloucester) who had been killed by Richard, it is certain that old Gaunt would have backed Aumerle (York's son).

Northumberland reiterates the point that all of them are concerned primarily with righting the wrongs that have been done to Bolingbroke, and Bolingbroke asks York to join them in attacking Bristol Castle, where the "caterpillars of the commonwealth," Bushy, Bagot, and their accomplices, are hiding. York finds the argument to be strong, and he says, "It may be I will go with you. . . . Things past redress are now with me past care."

A short scene closes this act. In a camp in Wales, the Lord of Salisbury is speaking with a Welsh captain and is worried that he has heard "no tidings from the king." The captain is ready to disperse his troops but is urged by Salisbury to maintain his forces one more day. The captain, however, refuses; he believes the rumor that "the king is dead." Unnatural omens and portents seem to prove the supposition and "our countrymen are gone and fled." Salisbury, likewise, laments Richard's dying glory — "like a shooting star." Symbolically, Salisbury sees the sun set "weeping in the lowly west."


Scene 1 begins with the individual rage of an esteemed old man who is soon to breathe his last, and it ends with the suggestion that the rage has spread to large numbers of people who are prepared to do something about it. The situation is a potentially revolutionary one, and Shakespeare traces the development of political turmoil by first allowing one man to speak his frustration and bear the insults of a capricious ruler, and then showing the effect of this scene of humiliation on those who have witnessed it. When Northumberland, Ross, and Willoughby conspire at the very end of the scene to join forces with the rebellious army of Bolingbroke, we have a feeling that there is a rightness to their decision. We not only hear about Richard's ill-treatment of deserving countrymen, but we witness that ill-treatment. Shakespeare's dramatic strategy is at its most effective here.

In the first conversation between York and Gaunt in Scene 1, Gaunt is perhaps a symbol for the sickly state of the nation, for there is the suggestion that what is symbolically best about the nation is languishing at the moment. Then after York prepares the ground with references to corrupt foreign influences and herds of flatterers, it is Gaunt who delivers the rousing patriotic speech that is the emotional center of the entire scene. By the end of the speech, it is as though Gaunt is identified with all that is good and noble and blessed about England. The scene gains further dramatic significance by the fact that these are the words of a dying man. Point for point, the features of England that Gaunt mentions in his rousing speech are those features that are being misshapen by the actions of the king and his court. "This seat of Mars" — England — a proud, warring nation, we are soon to learn, has become so craven that it gains more and spends more from its cleverly concluded truces than it does from the actual spoils of war. And when Northumberland and his friends speak at the end of the scene, it is clear that they loath the new set of priorities that Richard has set for the nation. Even the war fought in Ireland is fought on borrowed, extorted, and stolen money, and it is fought for a purely imperialistic purpose — that is, to fill the coffers of the profligate king. Gaunt's charges are keen and forceful: "This fortress built by nature for herself," "this precious stone set in the silver sea," has become instead a prison "bound in with shame" and an object to be pawned, "now leased out." Gaunt is responding to the corruption of his England in the interests of the private indulgence of a bad king, and Shakespeare, for his part, like many of his contemporaries, is here making unhappy reference to changes in the economic system that were taking place in Elizabethan England. The new order for England would be the order of a profit-oriented world. Shakespeare also sounds the religious note of the play anew in this scene when he makes reference to the "Christian service and true chivalry" of the former "royal kings" of England. At the end of Gaunt's speech, one can imagine the old man being somewhat exhausted, especially when he utters the lines,

Ah! would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death! (67-68)

His own strength is diminishing in strong contrast with the swift and lively entry of Richard and his queen and courtiers. Richard, true to his reputation, always travels "in style," as it were. Whenever he comes onto the scene, it is always with a verbal flourish and an entourage. He is a man who likes "entrances," a man with a special penchant for acting. Consider the situation when Gaunt utters his last tired breath at the end of his patriotic tirade, and Richard bursts onto the scene. Notice the way in which Richard speaks to the old man. His speech is short and clipped, and his treatment of Gaunt is disrespectful, to say the least. First, there is the exchange between them on the subject of Gaunt's punning comment on the state of his health and the meaning of his name — gaunt, sickly, and thin. Richard's words are, at first, questions, one after the other — "What comfort, man? How is it with aged Gaunt?"; "Can sick men play so nicely with their names?"; "Should dying men flatter . . . those that live?" But when Gaunt loses patience, as an old man deprived of the comfort of having a son near him as he himself nears death, he launches a direct attack on the king and his court. The king, in turn, responds viciously. Gaunt's reference to the "thousand flatterers [who] sit within thy crown" and more specifically to the fact that Richard is dangerously close to deposing himself strikes a raw nerve within Richard. Earlier, he entered the scene self-assured and confident that Gaunt was no threat to him because of his illness; he has come to Ely House in the first place to collect the old man's wealth, but now he loses his composure at these words and suddenly attacks the old man:

A lunatic, lean-witted fool,
Presuming on an ague's privilege,
Dar'st with thy frozen admonition
Make pale our cheek, chasing the royal blood
With fury from his native residence. (115-19)

This attack adds cowardice and foolhardiness to the list of Richard's faults. One should remember, however, that Richard's response to any attack on himself is, in orthodox terms, justified; he is the king and, therefore, an entity apart from ordinary mortals. The complication in this scene, and indeed in the play as a whole, is that this king seems unworthy of the divine office he occupies. His attacker, old Gaunt, especially after the emotional "this other Eden" speech, is much more the "kingly" figure to be identified with England's virtues than the actual king himself.

Before Gaunt exits, he virtually accuses the king of the murder of Gloucester, and he warns him that these words will later haunt him:

Live in thy shame, but die not shame with thee!
These words hereafter thy tormentors be! (135-36)

The words will haunt him, and we should recall them when we witness the last scenes of the play, when the king faces death and despondency — as old Gaunt now does.

One reason for Shakespeare's writing the next part of Scene 1, between Richard and York, is that it offers a point of contrast between the two "old" men (York and Gaunt) in their responses to the king. We have already witnessed the conversation between York and Gaunt, and we know that York is unhappy with the state of England, though he is less likely to become infuriated and risk any treasonous act or statement. He tried to conciliate old Gaunt, tried to calm him in the face of the king, and now he uses the words of a diplomat to quell the king's anger toward Gaunt:

I do beseech your Majesty, impute his words
To wayward sickliness and age in him. (141-42)

York has a careful nature here; clearly, he knows just how explosive the situation is and doesn't want anyone to risk upsetting whatever equilibrium prevails. He will retain this role throughout the entire play, even after the rebels prove successful in deposing Richard.

It is significant that this "normative" figure, York, has his patience tried when Gaunt's death is announced, and the king, without the least trace of remorse, makes plans to immediately collect the booty he came for in the first place. The king's words, ironically, point to his own future situation: "The ripest fruit first falls, and so doth he; / His time is spent, our pilgrimage must be. So much for that" (153-55). The king himself is "ripest" in the sense that he is most nearly "rotten"; and the king will indeed follow Gaunt on a "pilgrim-age" — to humiliation and death. Richard breaks off these thoughts in mid-sentence and turns his mind to Gaunt's "plate, coins, and revenues." It is here that York approaches exasperation: "How long shall I be patient?" he asks and begins a lengthy discourse on the falseness of Richard's conduct. One must imagine Richard's demeanor through all this long speech of York's. His interrupting words are: "Why, uncle, what's the matter?" The tone is almost certainly sarcastic because it couldn't fail to be clear to anyone exactly what the matter is. York continues his desperate argument, completely unaware that, at best, the king is merely tolerating his words. York concludes his argument about succession: Since Richard is violating rights of inheritance and succession by seizing Gaunt's goods, he is putting the very idea of succession in jeopardy:

Take Hereford's rights away, and take from Time
His charters and his customary rights;
Let not tomorrow then ensue today;
Be not thyself. (195-98)

Indeed, in being a bad king, Richard is not being himself, kingship being by definition divine and therefore good. Richard is totally unmoved by this speech and, single-mindedly, repeats his intentions:

Think what you will, we seize into our hands
His plate, his goods, his money, and his lands. (209-10)

York departs in despair, a mood that will change to hope in the rebellious persons of Northumberland, Willoughby, and Ross.

Remember that these three men have been present for most of the foregoing scene and have witnessed the behavior of the king — both to Gaunt and to York. At first, their plight seems to be the same as York's. They dare not open their mouths for fear of the repercussions. That foul injustice has been done to Gaunt and to his son Bolingbroke is without doubt, but they must tread lightly when considering what action to take. The dialogue is written in such a fashion as to emphasize the volume of wrongs that the king has done. One after another of his deeds is catalogued, all those things we have already heard Gaunt and York accuse him of. The reason for the repetition is to indicate just how widespread the discontent with the king is; in addition, it serves as a way of allowing these individual nobles to garner the courage to decide to commit what will be, after all, treasonable acts. They list all the wrongs, then they pause to consider their weight, and Northumberland speaks for them all when he expresses fear at his own thoughts: He "dares not say" what they can do to set things right in England. It is important to realize that there is something conspiratorial about this scene in that the three nobles are aware of the gravity of the situation. But when they decide at the end to join forces with Bolingbroke's forces, they do so with conviction:

. . . we shall shake off our slavish yoke,
Imp out our drooping country's broken wing,
Redeem from broking pawn the blemish'd crown [and]
Wipe off the dust that hides our scepter's gilt. (291-94)

Note in these words of Northumberland's the reference to Richard's financial dealings ("redeem from broking pawn") and the pun on the word "gilt," which refers to both the golden scepter, the symbol of the crown that has become besmirched by the king's behavior, and the actual "guilt" which lay on Richard's head, presumably for the murder of Gloucester. The irony is heavy with significance.

The dramatic strategy of Scene 2 is similar to that which Shakespeare uses elsewhere and which he will bring to its most perfect execution in Macbeth. He builds suspense and tension by having a figure of some importance in the play, here the queen, articulate her premonition of evil things to come, then after a suitable interval in which another character, Bushy, tries to dissuade her from her gloomy thoughts, he has the news announced that her intuition was correct; shortly thereafter, woe upon woe is to be visited upon all present. It is interesting to note that in the queen's immediate response to Green's information about the rebel forces, she even uses a form of imagery that Shakespeare will later have Lady Macbeth use to great effect:

So, Green, thou art the midwife to my woe,
And Bolingbroke my sorrow's dismal heir;
Now hath my soul brought forth her prodigy,
And I, a gasping, new-delivered mother,
Have woe to woe, sorrow to sorrow, joined. (62-66)

The image of giving birth in the context of sorrow and political intrigue (birth given to a monster-prodigy) and all as if first conceived in the imagination (the soul brought forth the monster) is of special importance to this play. First, there is the general theme of legitimacy and inheritance to consider: The play is about a deposition and an unlawful succession to the throne, and for all of its consideration of the inadequacy of the king in question, the process shall bring forth misery as its heir. Another motif, which Shakespeare makes much of in the last acts of the play, is that of the relationship between one's experience of suffering and the imagination. Later, Richard is isolated in his prison cell and will meditate on the "populous" world of his thoughts and how they breed:

My brain I'll prove the female to my soul,
My soul the father; and these two beget
A generation of still-breeding thoughts. (V. v. 6-8)

After Bushy's advice to "despair not," the queen continues with her theme and uses phrases that relate the current state of sorrow to their immediate causes:

Who shall hinder me?
I will despair and be at enmity
With cozening hope. He is a flatterer,
A parasite, a keeper-back of death,
Who would gently dissolve the bands of life,
Which false hope lingers in extremity. (67-72)

Hope, she says, is a flatterer and a parasite and keeps even death at bay; she is speaking these lines to the very characters in the play who have been identified (by most of the sympathetic characters) with the flattery and corruption that will drag Richard down to his doom.

When Bushy is first speaking to the queen, before Green enters with the news about the rebels, he also uses language that prepares us for several later scenes in the play when Richard will become more of a central focus. In a later scene, Richard has an important moment in which he asks for a mirror and then, gazing at his image, meditates publicly on his situation as king and as an ordinary mortal. Here in Scene 2, Bushy uses a metaphor that obliquely prepares us for that important dramatic moment:

Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows,
Which shows like grief itself, but is not so;
For sorrow's eye, glazed with blinding tears,
Divides one thing entire to many objects,
Like perspectives, which rightly gazed upon
Show nothing but confusion. (14-19)

Again, the key idea is that there is a difference between what you think you perceive and what is actually there, and beyond that, there is the natural distortion that a confused emotional state will bring to one's perceptions. Here the idea is graphically expressed in the image of an eye filled with tears through which one's experience is refracted. As this might be true of the queen in this scene, it is also true to a certain extent of Richard in a later scene. There it will be Bolingbroke who comments sarcastically about the difference between true emotion and "shadows." This idea is one that fascinated Shakespeare throughout his life, perhaps because he was so closely associated with the stage, where it is the business of a good actor to convey the substance of true emotions through mere shadows (acting) of those emotions. As a concluding note on this idea, consider the following two brief passages:

Howe'er it be, I cannot but be sad-
As, though on thinking on no thought I think,
Makes me with heavy nothing faint and shrink. (30-32)

This is spoken by Richard's queen here in Scene 2. And the following is spoken by another of Shakespeare's mentally tortured heroes, Prince Hamlet, speaking of Denmark.

. . . for there is nothing either good
Or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison. (II. ii. 255-56)

With the announcement of the arrival of the rebel forces and the death of the Duchess of Gloucester, all talk of imaginary worries ceases. It would be foolhardy to ignore the signs of things to come. An important figure in Scene 2 is the Duke of York, for he has lost a sister-in-law and is dissatisfied with the king, yet he has been appointed to be the guardian of the realm in the king's absence. His feelings are divided:

Both are my kinsmen.
Th' one is my sovereign, whom both my oath
And duty bids defend; t' other again
Is my kinsman, whom the king hath wronged,
Whom conscience and my kindred bids to right. (111-15)

His last words of confusion make it absolutely clear that there is no hope of any real resistance to Bolingbroke, but because he is duty-bound, the Duke of York will, for now, fight for the king.

The last moments of Scene 2 are given over to the three representatives of Richard's court still remaining — Bushy, Bagot, and Green. They present a picture of expedience and cowardice, Bagot being the only one who will go to join the king in Ireland. There is no question concerning whether or not they will join the Duke of York in his battle against Bolingbroke's army. These men are like rats, leaving a sinking ship; here, the ship is England, the ship of state.

Bushy, Bagot, and Green had the last words in Scene 2 as they prepared to escape to Ireland, in Bagot's case, or to ensconce themselves in Bristol Castle, as Green and Bushy decided to do. By the end of Scene 3, the forces of Bolingbroke will be preparing to go to Bristol themselves to clear the land of these "caterpillars of the commonwealth." Scene 3 itself is almost melodramatically opposed to the one that precedes it, setting off the forces of good against their evil opponents.

The way in which Bushy, Bagot, and Green disport themselves is in striking contrast to the behavior of the Bolingbroke faction. Even their lines are overdressed, somewhat genteel and effete, in comparison with the speeches of Bolingbroke and his men. For example, the soldiers have been on their feet for some time. They speak of the hard road they have traveled and the distance they have yet to go, but as befits their heroic status, they do not complain too loudly. Of particular importance here is the implied reason for their forbearance in these hard times. Notice the way, for example, in which Northumberland speaks to Bolingbroke. It is as though Shakespeare wants to prepare us in advance for Bolingbroke's ascent to the throne. Explaining his renewed energy despite the physical hardships, Northumberland claims that the "noble company" of Bolingbroke has been its chief source. This way of speaking about someone is usually closely associated with a royal personage; the impression given is that the very presence of royalty — in this case, Bolingbroke — emanates some life-giving source. When Henry Percy comes onto the scene and tenders his service to Bolingbroke, one almost imagines him bending his knee and pledging himself as one would to a king. With the arrival of Willoughby and Ross, the effect is redoubled: Shakespeare has these various entrances strung out in this way to give the dramatic illusion of great numbers of people supporting the king-to-be. It is as though Bolingbroke will almost have to become the new ruler by popular acclaim. Though no admirer of democracy himself, Shakespeare's idea here is that there is a will of the people (albeit the nobility) that might, in some cases, supercede the divine right of kingship.

When Bolingbroke, in mid-sentence, decides to use his new title of Lancaster, we get the feeling that the popular support might have had some effect on this leader of men. But at this point, Bolingbroke still feels uneasy about his position, and he is never too actively in pursuit of power, as, for example, Richard III is in Shakespeare's play of that name. There is a feeling in this scene that circumstances are mounting that are likely to force certain kinds of commitments from the nobility and, specifically, from Bolingbroke. One should be alert to various shades of indecisiveness and commitment in this scene. This element is used as dramatic material throughout the play.

With all of these "royal indications" in mind, imagine the dramatic effect when Bolingbroke kneels to the Duke of York and calls him "my gracious uncle." It is clear that the duke is the king's representative, but it would be unlikely that Bolingbroke would at this point be thereby showing obeisance to the king. Bolingbroke is testing both himself and his uncle with the irony and the seriousness of their situation, and the ensuing conversation between the duke and Bolingbroke is quite serious. Treating issues of importance to the country, Bolingbroke argues soundly that he has been wronged, and in so arguing, he uses language that strikes the central theme of rights of inheritance:

Will you permit that I shall stand condemned,
A wandering vagabond, my rights and royalties
Plucked from my arms perforce, and given away
To upstart unthrifts?
. . . . .
I lay my claim
To my inheritance of free descent. (119-36)

The last lines of Scene 3 voice the central dilemma in the words of Bolingbroke and York: Bolingbroke speaks of "weeding" the country of what is choking it, and York grapples with his own conscience over what this weeding entails:

It may be I will go with you, but yet I'll pause,
For I am loath to break our country's laws.
Nor friends, nor foes, to me welcome you are.
Things past redress are now with me past care. (168-71)

Scene 4 serves in place of a stage battle to tell us that Richard's cause has been lost. The language used by Richard's allies is conventional in its reference to the natural elements being somehow in harmony with the momentousness of the occasion. When great men fall, so goes the popular belief, the echoes of that fall are heard in the earth's crust itself. The tradition can be traced back at least to the time of the crucifixion of Christ, at which time earthquakes and natural calamities were witness to the event. Shakespeare, along with his contemporaries, uses this idea fairly frequently; it is an important motif in all of his history plays. Salisbury's comment on the fall of Richard being "like a shooting star" makes reference to the particular image of Richard in the play as someone who does possess, however one may judge it, a kind of style or romantic glory. This is how he is known and how he knows himself. It is also a conventional metaphor for the "tragic" fall from greatness by a heroic or noble figure.

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