David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHARD II: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scenes 2-3

— 2.3 —

In the wilds of Gloucestershire, Henry Bolingbroke and the Earl of Northumberland spoke. Soldiers were present.

Henry Bolingbroke asked, “How far is it, my lord, to Berkeley Castle now?”

“Believe me, noble lord,I am a stranger here in Gloucestershire,” the Earl of Northumberland replied. “These high wild hills and rough uneven waysdraw out and lengthen our miles, and make them wearisome,and yet your fair conversation has been like sugar,making the hard way sweet and delectable.

“But I think to myself what a weary way from Ravenspurgh to the Cotswolds will be found by Ross and Willoughby, who lack your company, which, I protest, has very much beguiled the tedious process of my travel. But their travel is sweetened with the hope to have the present benefit that I possess, and hope to joy is little less in joy than hope enjoyed — the anticipation of enjoying joy is almost as good as the actual enjoyment of joy. With this hope the weary lords shall make their way seem short, as mine has seemed because of the sight of what I have, your noble company.”

“Of much less value is my company than your good words,” Henry Bolingbroke replied. “But who is coming here?”

Henry Percy, the young son of the Earl of Northumberland, rode up to them.

The Earl of Northumberland said, “It is my son, young Harry Percy, sent from the Earl of Worcester, my brother, wherever he is.”

He asked his son, “Harry, how fares your uncle?”

“I had thought, my lord, to have learned about his health from you,” young Henry Percy replied.

“Why, isn’t he with the Queen?”

“No, my good lord,” young Henry Percy replied. “He has forsaken and left the court, broken his staff of office, and dispersed the household attendants of the King.”

“What was his reason?” the Earl of Northumberland asked. “He was not so resolved when we last spoke together.”

“Because your lordship was proclaimed traitor,” young Henry Percy replied. “But he, my lord, has gone to Ravenspurgh, to offer his service to the Duke of Hereford, and he sent me over by Berkeley, to find out what troops the Duke of York had levied there, and he ordered me to then go to Ravenspurgh.”

“Have you forgotten the Duke of Hereford, boy?” his father asked him.

“No, my good lord, for that is not forgotten which never I did remember,” young Henry Percy replied. “To my knowledge, I never in my life have seen him.”

“Then learn to know him now,” his father said, pointing to Henry Bolingbroke. “This is the Duke of Hereford.”

To Henry Bolingbroke, young Henry Percy said, “My gracious lord, I tender — offer — you my service, such as it is, being tender, inexperienced, raw, unpolished, and young, which elder days shall ripen and confirm to more approved service and desert. As I grow older, I shall give you better service.”

“I thank you, noble Percy,” Henry Bolingbroke said, “and be sure that I count myself in nothing else so happy as in a heart that remembers my good friends, and as my fortune — good luck and wealth — ripens with your love, my fortune shall be always your true love’s recompense and reward. My heart this covenant makes, and my hand thus seals it.”

He shook hands with young Henry Percy.

“How far is it to Berkeley?” the Earl of Northumberland asked. “And what business keeps the good old Duke of York there with his men of war?”

“There stands Berkeley Castle, by yonder thicket of trees,” young Henry Percy said. “It is manned with three hundred soldiers, so I have heard, and in it are the Lords of York, Berkeley, and Seymour. No one else of high name and noble rank is there.”

Lord Ross and Lord Willoughby rode up to them.

The Earl of Northumberland said, “Here come the Lords of Ross and Willoughby. They are splattered with blood from spurring their horses, and they are fiery-red because of their haste.”

“Welcome, my lords,” Henry Bolingbroke said to Lord Ross and Lord Willoughby. “I know that you follow a banished traitor — me — because of your good feelings toward me. All my treasury is still only intangible thanks, but when my treasury is more enriched, so shall be the reward for your friendship and labor.”

“Your presence makes us rich, most noble lord,” Lord Ross said.

“And far surpasses our labor to attain it,” Lord Willoughby added.

“‘Thanks’ is always the treasury of the poor,” Henry Bolingbroke said, “and ‘thanks’ will take the place of my bounty until my infant fortune comes to maturity and I can properly repay you.

“But who is coming here?”

From Berkeley Castle, Lord Berkeley rode up to the group. The Duke of York had sent him to talk to Henry Bolingbroke.

“It is my Lord of Berkeley; that is my guess,” the Earl of Northumberland replied.

“My Lord of Hereford, my message is to you,” Lord Berkeley said.

Henry Bolingbroke began to speak to Lord Berkeley, but then he decided that Lord Berkeley would have to address him as the Duke of Lancaster first: “My lord, my answer is — address yourself to Lancaster. I have come to seek that name in England, and I must find that title in your tongue, before I make reply to anything you say.”

“Mistake me not, my lord,” Lord Berkeley said. “It is not my intention to scrape away even one title of your honor. To you, my lord, I come, what lord you will, from the most gracious regent of this land, the Duke of York, to know what pricks you on to take advantage of the King’s absence and frighten our native peace with self-borne arms — with weapons carried for your cause and not the country.”

The Duke of York, too impatient to wait for Lord Berkeley to return after speaking with Henry Bolingbroke, rode with his attendants over to the group of people.

“I shall not need you to transport my words to the Duke of York,” Henry Bolingbroke said. “Here comes his grace in person.”

He knelt and said, “My noble uncle!”

“Show me your humble heart, and not your knee,” the Duke of York said. “Your knee’s duty is deceitful and false and traitorous.”

“My gracious uncle —” Henry Bolingbroke began.

“Tut, tut!” the Duke of York interrupted. “Grace me no grace, and uncle me no uncle. I am no traitor’s uncle, and that word ‘grace’ in an ungracious mouth is only profane and blasphemous.”

“Ungracious” can mean “lacking in divine grace” and/or “extremely wicked.”

The Duke of York continued, “Why have those banished and forbidden legs of yours dared once to touch a speck of dust of England’s ground?

“But I have additional questions.

“Why have they dared to march so many miles upon England’s peaceful bosom, frightening her pale-faced villagers with war and the display of despised, contemptible arms?

“Did you come because the anointed King is away from England?

“Why, foolish boy, the King is left behind, and in my loyal bosom lies his power. The physical body of the King is in Ireland, but I have the King’s authority to govern England in his physical absence.”

“Were I only now the lord of such hot youth as I was when your brave father — John of Gaunt — and I rescued Edward the Black Prince, that young war-god Mars of men, from the ranks of many thousand French soldiers, oh, then how quickly should this arm of mine, which is now prisoner to the shaking sickness, chastise you and administer correction to your fault!”

“My gracious uncle, let me know my fault,” Henry Bolingbroke replied. “On what condition stands it and wherein? What point of law have I infringed and in what specific way have I infringed it? What personal quality is my fault?”

The word “condition” can mean “point of law” or “personal quality,” and Henry Bolingbroke had used both meanings, but the Duke of York used the meaning “circumstance” in his answer.

“Even in condition — the circumstance — of the worst degree: in gross rebellion and detested treason,” the Duke of York replied. “You are a banished man, and here you have come before the expiration of your time of banishment, and you are defiantly bearing arms against your sovereign.”

“When I was banished, I was banished as Duke of Hereford,” Henry Bolingbroke replied, “but now when I come, I come for the title of Duke of Lancaster. And, noble uncle, I beg your grace to look on my wrongs with an impartial eye.

“You are my father, for I think that in you I see old John of Gaunt alive. Oh, then, my father, will you permit that I shall stand condemned to be a wandering vagabond? Will you permit my rights and royal prerogatives to be plucked from my arms by force and given away to upstart spendthrifts?

“Why was I born? If my cousin-King, Richard II, is King of England, it must be granted that I am Duke of Lancaster.

“You have a son, the Duke of Aumerle, who is my noble cousin. If you had died before my father died, and if your son had been trodden down like I have been, your son would have found in his uncle Gaunt a father who would rouse those who did your son wrong and chase them to the bay — a father who would reveal those who wronged your son and chase them to their dying last stand.

“I am denied the opportunity to sue my livery — institute a lawsuit to obtain possession of my lands here — and yet my letters patent legally allow me to do that. My father’s goods are all confiscated and sold, and these and all else that ought to be mine are all amiss employed.

“What would you have me do? I am a subject, and I demand my legal rights. The use of attorneys is denied to me, and therefore in person I lay my claim to my inheritance that legally comes to me from my direct descent from my father.”

“The noble Duke of Lancaster has been too much abused,” the Earl of Northumberland said.

“It is your grace’s duty to do the right thing by him,” Lord Ross said.

“Base men are made great by his endowments,” Lord Willoughby said. “Low-born men have become rich men because they have gotten possession of his inheritance.”

“My lords of England, let me tell you this,” the Duke of York said. “I have been troubled by my cousin’s wrongs and have labored all I could to do him right, but for him to engage in this course of action, to bear defiant arms, to be his own carver — to be his own law — and to cut out his own way to bring about right through the use of wrong, it must not be. And all of you who abet him in this course of action cherish rebellion and are rebels.”

“To be his own carver” meant “to carve his own meat” rather than waiting for someone else to carve it. In other words, it meant to help himself to whatever he wanted.

The Earl of Northumberland said, “The noble Duke of Lancaster has sworn his coming is only for what is his own, and for the right of that we all have strongly sworn to give him aid, and let him who breaks that oath never see joy!”

“Well, well,” the Duke of York said, “I see the outcome of these arms. I cannot mend it, I must confess, because my army is weak and all left in disorder and without means.

“But if I could, by Him Who gave me life, I would arrest you all and make you stoop unto the sovereign mercy of the King. But since I cannot, let it be known to you I do remain as neuter.”

The Duke of York meant that he was neutral between King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke, but the word “neuter” also meant that he lacked power and effectiveness.

He continued, “So, fare you well, unless you please to enter the castle and repose there this night.”

“We will accept that offer, uncle,” Henry Bolingbroke said. “But we must win — persuade — your grace to go with us to Bristol Castle, which people say is held by Bushy, Bagot, and their accomplices, the caterpillars — parasites — of the commonwealth. I have sworn to weed the commonwealth and pluck away the caterpillars.”

“It may be I will go with you,” the Duke of York said, “but yet I’ll pause for a while, for I am loath to break our country’s laws.

“You are neither my friends nor are you my foes, but to me you are welcome. Things past redress are now with me past care. Past cure, past care.”

— 2.4 —

In a military camp in Wales, the Earl of Salisbury talked with a Welsh Captain.

The Welsh Captain said, “My lord of Salisbury, we have waited for ten days, and with great difficulty kept our countrymen together, and still we hear no tidings from the King; therefore, we will disperse. Farewell.”

“Stay yet another day, you trusty Welshman,” the Earl of Salisbury requested. “King Richard II reposes all his confidence in you.”

“It is thought that the King is dead, so we will not stay. The bay trees — whose evergreen symbolic-of-immortality leaves in Roman days were used to make crowns for victors — in our country are all withered, and meteors frighten the fixed stars of Heaven. The pale-faced Moon looks bloody on the Earth, and lean-faced soothsayers whisper about frightening changes. Rich men look sad and ruffians dance and leap, the one in fear to lose what they possess, the other in hopes to possess those things as a result of violence and war. These signs foretell the death or fall of Kings.

“Farewell. Our Welsh countrymen are gone and fled; they are certain that Richard II their King is dead.”

The Welch Captain exited.

The Earl of Salisbury said to himself, “Ah, Richard, with the eyes of heavy, sorrowful mind I see your glory like a shooting star fall to the base, low ground from the sky. Your Sun sets weeping in the lowly west, foreshadowing storms to come, woe and unrest. Your friends have fled to serve your foes, and disadvantageously to your good all fortune goes.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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