David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHARD II: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scenes 1-2

— 3.1 —

Before Bristol Castle, Henry Bolingbroke passed sentence on Bushy and Green, whom he and his men had captured. Also present were the Duke of York, the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Ross, young Henry Percy, Lord Willoughby, and attendants.

“Bring forth these men,” Henry Bolingbroke said.

Some attendants brought to him Bushy and Green.

He said, “Bushy and Green, I will not vex your souls — since soon your souls must part from your bodies — with too much convincing you that you have led pernicious lives, for it would not be charitable.

“Yet, to wash your blood from off my hands, here in the view of men I will unfold some of the legal reasons for your deaths.

“You have misled Richard II, a Prince, a royal King, a gentleman fortunate in birth and appearance and qualities. You have made him wholly unfortunate and disfigured.

“You have with your sinful hours made a kind of divorce between his Queen and him, broken the possession of a royal bed, and stained the beauty of a fair Queen’s cheeks with tears drawn from her eyes by your foul wrongs.

“I myself, a Prince by fortune of my birth, close to the King by birth, and close to him in friendship until you made him misinterpret me, have stooped my neck and knelt under your injuries, and sighed my English breath up to foreign clouds, eating the bitter bread of banishment, while you have fed upon my signories and estates, used my parks for other than their intended purpose of hunting, felled my forest woods, broken my own stained-glass windows bearing my household coat of arms, and scraped away depictions of my heraldic device, leaving me no sign, except men’s opinions and my living blood, to show the world I am a nobleman.

“This, and much more, much more than twice all this, condemns you to die.”

He ordered, “See them delivered over to execution and the hand of death.”

Bushy said, “More welcome is the stroke of death to me than Bolingbroke is to England. Lords, farewell.”

Green said, “My comfort is that Heaven will take our souls and plague unjust men with the pains of Hell. We will enjoy Heaven; you shall suffer Hell.”

Henry Bolingbroke ordered, “My Lord Northumberland, see that they are executed.”

The Earl of Northumberland and other attendants exited with Bushy and Green.

Henry Bolingbroke said to the Duke of York, “Uncle, you say the Queen is at your house. For God’s sake, let her be treated fairly. Tell her I send to her my kind compliments. Take special care that my greetings are delivered.”

The Duke of York replied, “A gentleman of mine I have dispatched with a letter fully detailing your friendship to her.”

“Thank, gentle uncle,” Henry Bolingbroke said.

“Come, lords, away. We must fight against the Welsh leader Glendower and his accomplices. For a while we will work, and afterward we will enjoy holiday.”

— 3.2 —

On the coast of Wales within sight of a castle stood King Richard II. With him were the Bishop of Carlisle, the Duke of Aumerle, and some soldiers.

King Richard II asked, “Do they call this nearby castle Barkloughly Castle?”

“Yes, my lord,” the Duke of Aumerle replied. “How does your grace enjoy the air after your recent tossing on the breaking seas as you crossed from Ireland to Wales?”

“I like it well, of course,” King Richard II said. “I weep for joy to stand upon my Kingdom once again.”

He knelt and touched the ground and said, “Dear earth, I do salute and greet you with my hand, although rebels wound you with their horses’ hoofs. Just as a mother long parted from her child plays fondly — affectionately and foolishly — with it and sheds tears and smiles when meeting her child again, so, weeping, smiling, I greet you, my earth, and salute you by touching you with my royal hands.

“My gentle earth, do not feed your sovereign’s foe, nor with your fruits comfort his ravenous appetite. Instead, let your poisonous spiders, which suck up venom from you, my earth, and let clumsy-moving poisonous toads lie in their way and injure the treacherous feet that with usurping steps trample you as they take the ground that is yours. Yield stinging nettles to my enemies, and when they from your bosom pluck a flower, guard it, please, with a lurking adder whose forked tongue may with a mortal touch throw death upon your sovereign’s enemies.

“Don’t mock my imploring of things that lack human sensation, lords. This earth shall have feeling and these stones shall become armed soldiers before her natural King shall falter under foul rebellion’s arms.”

The Bishop of Carlisle said, “Fear not, my lord. That Power that made you King has the power to keep you King in spite of all. The means that Heaven yields must be embraced, and not neglected; else, if Heaven would, and we will not, Heaven’s offer we refuse — we refuse the proffered means of succor and redress. We must make use of the opportunities that Heaven gives us; otherwise, we are rejecting Heaven’s help.”

The Duke of Aumerle explained to King Richard II, “He means, my lord, that we are too remiss in making use of our opportunities. On the other hand, Henry Bolingbroke, because of our overconfidence, grows strong and great in resources and in troops.”

King Richard II replied with a speech in which he compared himself to the Sun. When the Sun shines on the other side of the Earth, it is dark on this side. King Richard II had been away in Ireland, and it had been dark with rebellion in England, but now the King — the metaphorical Sun — had returned to make things light again.

“Disheartening cousin,” King Richard II replied, “Don’t you know that when the searching eye of Heaven — the Sun — is hidden behind this side of the globe, and lights the lower hemisphere, then thieves and robbers range abroad unseen and commit murders and outrage boldly here. But when from under this terrestrial ball the Sun lights the proud tops of the eastern pines and darts light through every hole where the guilty hide, then murders, treasons, and detested sins, since the cloak of night is plucked from off their backs, stand bare and naked, trembling at the revealing of their crimes and sins?

“So when this thief, this traitor, Bolingbroke, who all this while has reveled in the night while we were wandering with the people in the antipodes — a far-off land — shall see us rising in our throne, the east, his treasons will sit blushing in his face. Bolingbroke will not be able to endure the sight of day, but self-affrighted — afraid as a result of his own actions — will tremble at his sin.

“Not all the water in the rough rude sea can wash the balm — the consecrated oil used in the coronation ceremony — off from an anointed King. The breath of Earthly, mortal men cannot depose the deputy — the King — elected by the Lord.

“For every man whom Bolingbroke has impressed to lift injurious steel against our golden crown, God for his Richard has in Heavenly pay a glorious angel. Then, if angels fight, weak men must fall, for Heaven always guards the right.”

The Earl of Salisbury rode up to the group.

King Richard II said, “Welcome, my lord. How far away is your army?”

“Neither nearer nor farther off, my gracious lord, than this weak arm of mine,” the Earl of Salisbury replied. “Discouragement guides my tongue and bids me speak of nothing but despair. Your arrival here — one day too late — I am afraid, noble lord, has clouded all your happy days on Earth. Oh, call back yesterday, bid time return, and you shall have twelve thousand fighting men! Today, today, unhappy day, too late, overthrows your joys, friends, fortune, and royal authority. All the Welshmen, hearing that you were dead, have gone to Bolingbroke, dispersed, and fled.”

The Duke of Aumerle said to King Richard II, “Take comfort, my liege; why does your grace look so pale?”

“Just now the blood of twenty thousand men triumphed in my face, and they have fled. And, until so much blood thither comes again, don’t I have reason to look pale and lifeless?

“All souls who want to be safe fly from my side, for time has set a blot upon my pride.”

“Take comfort, my liege,” the Duke of Aumerle said. “Remember who you are.”

“I had forgotten myself,” King Richard II said. “Am I not the King? Awake, you coward majesty! You sleep. Isn’t the King’s name itself twenty thousand names?

“Arm, arm, my name! A puny subject strikes at your great glory.”

He said to the lords with him, “Look not at the ground, you favorites of a King.”

Using the royal plural, he added, “Are we not high? High be our thoughts: I know my uncle York has troops enough to serve our turn.

“But who is coming here?”

Sir Stephen Scroop rode over to the group and said, “May more health and happiness befall my liege than can my tongue, which is tuned to the key of sorrow, deliver to him!”

“My ear is open and my heart prepared,” King Richard II replied. “The worst you can unfold is worldly loss. Say, is my Kingdom lost? Why, it was my worry and what loss is it to be rid of worry? Does Bolingbroke strive to be as great as we? Greater he shall not be; if he serves God, we’ll serve Him, too, and be Bolingbroke’s equal in that way. Do our subjects revolt? That we cannot mend. They break their faith to God as well as to us. Even if you proclaim loudly woe, destruction, ruin, and decay, the worst is death, and death will have his day.”

“I am glad that your highness is so armed to bear the tidings of calamity,” Sir Stephen Scroop said. “Like an unseasonably stormy day, which makes the silver rivers drown their shores, as if the world were all dissolved to tears, so high above his banks swells the rage of Bolingbroke, covering your frightened land with hard bright steel and with hearts harder than steel.

“White-bearded old men have put on helmets and armed their balding and hairless scalps against your majesty. Boys, who still have women’s voices, strive to speak forcefully and put their female — weak and delicate — joints in stiff unwieldy armor against your crown. The very beadsmen — old almsmen who are paid to pray for their benefactors — learn to bend their bows of doubly fatal yew against your state.”

Yew is doubly fatal because the wood of the yew tree is poisonous and because it is used to make deadly longbows.

Sir Stephen Scroop continued, “Yes, weaving women put down their distaffs in order to wield rusty halberds against your throne. Both young and old rebel, and all goes worse than I have power to tell.”

“Too well, too well you tell a tale so ill,” King Richard II said. “Where is the Earl of Wiltshire? Where is Bagot? What has become of Bushy? Where is Green? Why have they let the dangerous enemy measure our country’s and King’s confines with such peaceful steps? Why have they let Bolingbroke travel across the country without opposition? If we prevail, their heads shall pay for it. I am sure that they have made peace with Bolingbroke.”

Sir Stephen Scroop made a grim joke: “Peace have they made with him indeed, my lord.”

King Richard II said, “Oh, villains, vipers, damned without hope of redemption! Dogs, easily won to fawn on any man! Snakes, in my heart-blood warmed, that sting my heart!”

He was referring to a fable by Aesop: A farmer found a frozen snake. Taking pity on it, he put it under his coat and warmed it. Reviving, the snake, which was venomous, bit him. Dying, the farmer said, “Learn from my example. Don’t take pity on scoundrels.”

King Richard II continued, “They are three Judases, each one three times worse than Judas, who betrayed Christ! Would they make peace with Bolingbroke? May terrible Hell make war upon their sin-stained souls for this offence!”

Sir Stephen Scroop said, “Sweet love, I see, changing its character, turns to the sourest and most deadly hate. Take back your curse upon their souls; their peace is made with heads, and not with hands. They did not raise their hands to Bolingbroke in greeting, or shake hands with him, or sign a peace treaty. Those whom you curse have felt the worst of death’s destroying wounds and lie very low, graved in the hollow ground.”

“Are Bushy, Green, and the Earl of Wiltshire dead?” the Earl of Aumerle asked.

“Yes, all of them at Bristol Castle lost their heads,” Sir Stephen Scroop replied.

“Where is the Duke of York, my father, with his troops?” the Duke of Aumerle asked.

“It does not matter where,” King Richard II said. “Let no man speak of comfort. Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and of epitaphs. Let’s make dust our paper and with rainy eyes write sorrow on the bosom of the earth. Let’s choose executors and talk about wills, and yet let’s not do so, for what can we bequeath except our deposed bodies to the ground? Our lands, our lives, and our all are Bolingbroke’s, and we can call nothing our own except death and that small model of the barren earth that serves as paste and cover to our bones: we own the flesh that surrounds our bones, and we call our own the ground that will cover our corpses when we are dead.

“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings — how some have been deposed, some slain in war, some haunted by the ghosts of those they have deposed, some poisoned by their wives, some killed while sleeping, and all murdered, for within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temples of a King is the place where Death keeps his court. There the grinning jester — Death — sits, scoffing at the King’s splendor and grinning at his pomp, allowing him a breath, a little scene, to play at being a Monarch, and to be feared and to kill with looks. Death infuses the King with the vain conceit of his own self-importance as if this flesh that forms castle walls around our life were impregnable brass. Once Death has amused himself like this, he comes at the last and with a little pin bores through the King’s castle wall, and farewell, King!”

As a sign of respect, subjects did not wear hats while in the presence of the King; however, Richard II did not feel much like a King, and so he told his followers, “Cover your heads and don’t mock my flesh and blood with solemn reverence. Throw away respect, tradition, form, and ceremonious duty, for you have only mistaken me all this while. I live by eating bread like you, I feel hunger and need, I taste grief, I need friends. Since I am subjected to all this, how can you say to me that I am a King?”

The Bishop of Carlisle said, “My lord, wise men never sit and bewail their woes, but immediately they take steps to thwart the pathways that lead to woe. To fear the foe, since fear oppresses strength, gives in your weakness strength to your foe, and so your follies fight against yourself.

“Fear and be slain; no worse can come by fighting. And to fight and die is death destroying death. If you fight and die, you destroy the power of death by dying. Once you are dead, death has no power over you. In contrast, being afraid of dying pays death servile breath. If you are afraid of dying, you pay Death a servile flattery.”

“My father has some troops,” the Duke of Aumerle said. “Speak to him, and learn to make a body of a limb. His troops can be the nucleus to which more troops are added.”

“You rebuke me well,” King Richard II said. “Proud Bolingbroke, I am coming to exchange blows with you for our day of doom — the day that will decide our fate. My ague fit of fear has blown over — an easy task it is to win our own.

“Tell me, Scroop, where is our uncle with his troops? Speak sweetly, man, although your looks be sour.”

“Men use the appearance of the sky to judge the state and inclination of the day,” Sir Stephen Scroop said. “So may you by my dull and sorrowful eye. My tongue has only a heavier tale to say.I am like a torturer who slowlystretches the man on the rack so that he feels more pain.By saying only a little and then a littlemore, Ilengthen the worst that must be spoken.

“Your uncle, the Duke of York, has joined Bolingbroke, and all your northern castles have yielded to Bolingbroke,and all your southern gentlemen have taken up arms in support of Bolingbroke’s party.”

“You have said enough,” King Richard II said.

He then said to the Duke of Aumerle, “Curse you, cousin, who led me away from that sweet way I was in to despair!What do you say now? What comfort do we have now?By Heaven, I’ll hate that man everlastinglywho bids me to be of comfort any more.”

He then said, “Go to Flint Castle. There I’ll pine away. A King, woe’s slave, shall Kingly woe obey.

“Those troops whom I have, discharge, and let them go to cultivate the land that has some hope to grow, for I have none. I am barren ground, while Bolingbroke is fertile soil.

“Let no man speak again to attempt to get me to alter my decision, for all counsel to me is in vain.”

“My liege, one word —” the Duke of Aumerle said.

Richard II interrupted, “He does me double wrong who wounds me with the flatteries of his tongue.”

One wound was the raising of false hopes; another was being called “my liege” when it was apparent to Richard II that soon Henry Bolingbroke would be called “my liege.”

He added, “Discharge my followers. Let them from here go away, from Richard’s night to Bolingbroke’s fair day.”

Previously, Richard II had compared himself as King to the Sun; now he compared Bolingbroke to the Sun.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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