Richard II Summary and Analysis
Act Three, Scene One
Bolingbroke succeeds in capturing Green and Bushy at Bristol Castle. He informs the men that they are traitors because of the way they misled the king. They are both sentenced to death, and Northumberland leads them away to be killed. Bolingbroke then makes sure that York has delivered a message to the Queen informing her that he greets her kindly.
Act Three, Scene Two
Richard arrives in Wales after a long sea-journey, and gratefully touches the earth, happy to be back on firm ground. Aumerle comments that Bolingbroke is growing stronger the longer they wait to return. Richard delivers a speech defining what he believes makes a king, saying, "Not all the water in the rough rude sea / Can wash the balm from an anointed king" (3.2.50-51). He claims that God will fight with his army, since he is a divinely elected king.
Salisbury arrives and Richard asks him where the Welsh army is. Salisbury is forced to inform Richard that all the Welsh troops departed the previous day, thinking that Richard was already dead. Richard turns pale at this news, but then asks, "Am I not King?" (3.2.79). He orders his men to "Arm, arm, my name!" (3.2.82).
Scrope arrives and tells Richard that the country is falling apart as men defect to Bolingbroke. Richard inquires about Bushy and Green, and is told that they have made peace with Bolingbroke. He mistakes this as meaning that they defected, and curses them, only to quickly be informed that they have in fact been executed. Scrope lastly informs Richard that York has ceded all of his northern castles to Bolingbroke's factions, thereby completely destroying Richard's chances of defeating Bolingbroke in battle. Richard tells his men to discharge the troops and let the men go, "From Richard's night to Bolingbroke's fair day" (3.2.214-215).
Act Three, Scene Three
Bolingbroke arrives at Flint Castle and fortuitously discovers that Richard is hiding there with his followers. He sends Northumberland to the castle to ask Richard if he, Bolingbroke, may kneel before the royal throne, provided Richard revokes the banishment and restores his lands. Bolingbroke then marches directly up to the castle walls.
Richard appears on the top of the walls, and Bolingbroke says, "See, see, King Richard doth himself appear, / As doth the blushing discontented sun.../ When he perceives the envious clouds are bent / To dim his glory and to stain the track" (3.3.61-62,64-65). Northumberland informs Richard that Bolingbroke is there to reclaim his inheritance, and will only kneel before the king when his lands have been restored.
Richard agrees to this arrangement, but turns to Aumerle and asks whether it would have been better to fight. Aumerle says, "No, good my lord, let's fight with gentle words" (3.3.130). Northumberland goes away and speaks with Bolingbroke, and returns to inform Richard that Bolingbroke will meet with him in the courtyard. Richard comes down from the walls and makes his kneeling cousin get off the ground, saying, "Up, cousin, up" (3.3.192), a sign that Bolingbroke is rising above Richard. Richard offers to step aside from the throne, and Bolingbroke gets ready to march to London.
Act Three, Scene Four
The Queen is in the garden with her ladies trying to find a game to play when the Gardener arrives. She quickly hides behind some trees and overhears the Gardener speaking with two other men. The Gardener orders the men to keep the garden orderly and neat, but one of the men asks why they should make the garden nice when the rest of England is like a garden full of choking weeds.
The Gardener then informs the men that not only have Bushy and Green been executed, but that Richard has been deposed by Bolingbroke. The Queen is unable to remain silent when she hears this news, and emerges demanding to know the truth. The Gardener informs her that Bolingbroke has indeed captured Richard, and that they are marching to London.
Richard's descent is slowly becoming apparent and absolute. His arrival at Wales is symbolically represented when he touches the ground of Wales, saying "Dear earth, I do salute thee with my hand" (3.2.6). The image of the king brought down to the ground is reinforced when Richard is informed that the Welsh army has returned home. It is in this scene where he realizes that he cannot defeat Bolingbroke, but rather must surrender. Richard's disbanding of the army thus leaves him completely alone to finish his tragic fall.
We are given two views of what it means to be a king throughout the play. Most notable is Richard's version, which relies on divine right and the fact that he is God's elected official. "Not all the water in the rough rude sea / Can wash the balm from an anointed king" (3.2.50-51). Richard relies on this interpretation to defend all of his actions, crying out, "Am I not King?" (3.2.79). It is this concept of divine support which also allows Richard to order his men to "Arm, arm, my name!" (3.2.82).
Yet the use of a name is precisely what leads to Richard's downfall. Bolingbroke has no pretensions that a name, even one given by God, is sufficient allow a man to rule. Instead, he believes in using materials and men to defend his name. Thus Bolingbroke denies his title of Hereford and instead demands to be called Lancaster in Act Two. It is this use of a name that Richard completely fails to understand. The noblemen cannot allow Richard to confiscate Gaunt's property, because it is the property which gives the name. Thus for Richard, it is God who grants his title, but for Bolingbroke it is his property.
As the play progresses, Richard compares himself more and more to Christ. He remarks, "Three Judases, each one thrice-worse than Judas" (3.2.128) when he is led to believe that Bagot, Bushy and Green have defected to Bolingbroke. This comparison is strengthened by the fact that Richard only fights with his words, not with his weapons. He even asks Aumerle if he should have fought, but is told, "No, good my lord, let's fight with gentle words" (3.3.130). This of course is also a play on gentle and gentile, or fighting with Christian words, not with barbaric weapons.
As part of the emerging plot, Richard himself now tells the audience what is happening. He comments that he releases the army, "From Richard's night to Bolingbroke's fair day" (3.2.214-215). Again, the image of the sun as being the symbol of England is important. Richard is really saying that he has lost the sun, which now shines on Bolingbroke, the next king. However, this is discredited by Bolingbroke himself, who when he sees Richard emerge on top of the castle walls says, "See, see, King Richard doth himself appear, / As doth the blushing discontented sun.../ When he perceives the envious clouds are bent / To dim his glory and to stain the track" (3.3.61-62,64-65). This is hardly an affirmation that Bolingbroke has stolen the sun, rather it seems to be the exact opposite, namely that Richard, like the sun, will soon burn away the troublesome clouds.
However, Richard instead chooses to again descend from his high point. This is the second time he will come down for Bolingbroke, and he remarks that, "Down, down I come like glist'ring Phaethon" (3.3.177). Phaethon, the son of Apollo the sun god, was too weak to handle his father's chariot and was struck down by Zeus to prevent him from scorching the earth. Thus Richard is alluding to the fact that he was a too weak a king, unable to maintain control of his nobles.
Richard II Essays and Related Content
- Richard II: Essays
- Richard II: E-Text
- Richard II: Questions
- Richard II: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- William Shakespeare: Biography