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

— 3.3 —

Henry Bolingbroke, the Duke of York, and the Earl of Northumberland spoke together before Flint Castle. With them were attendants and troops.

Holding a piece of paper, Henry Bolingbroke said, “We learn from this information that the Welshmen have dispersed, and that the Earl of Salisbury has gone to meet the King, who recently landed with a few private friends upon this coast.”

“The news is very fair and good, my lord,” the Earl of Northumberland said. “Richard has hidden his head not far from here. He has gone into hiding.”

The Duke of York rebuked the Earl of Northumberland: “It would be seemly for the Lord Northumberland to say ‘KingRichard.’ Feel pity for the sorrowful day when such a sacred King should hide his head.”

“Your grace is mistaken,” the Earl of Northumberland replied. “I left out his title only in order to be brief.”

The Duke of York said, “The time has been, if you would have been so brief with him, he would have been so brief with you as to shorten you, for taking so the head, your whole head’s length. If you were to be headstrong and talk that way to the head of state, he would have had you beheaded.”

Henry Bolingbroke said, “Don’t mistake him, uncle, further than you should. Don’t take wrongly what he said.”

The Duke of York replied, “Take not, good nephew, further than you should lest you mis-take: The Heavens are over our heads. God is watching us.”

The Duke of York was worried that Henry Bolingbroke might unethically take King Richard II’s crown.

“I know it, uncle, and I do not oppose myself against the will of Heaven,” Henry Bolingbroke said. “But who is coming here?”

Young Henry Percy rode over to the group and said to Henry Bolingbroke, “The castle is royally manned, my lord, against your entrance.”

“Royally!” Henry Bolingbroke said. “Why, it contains no King! Or does it?”

“Yes, my good lord,” young Henry Percy said, “it does contain a King; King Richard II stays within the limits of yonder castle made of lime and stone, and with him are the Lord Aumerle, Lord Salisbury, Sir Stephen Scroop, besides a clergyman of holy reverence. Who the clergyman is, I cannot learn.”

“Oh, probably it is the Bishop of Carlisle,” the Earl of Northumberland said.

“Noble lords, go to the rough ribs — the wall — of that ancient castle,” Henry Bolingbroke said. “Through the sound of a brazen trumpet, send the breath of parley — a request for a conference — into the ruined ears.”

The ruined ears referred to the slits in the castle fortifications, through which archers could shoot arrows. “Ruined ears” also referred to the ears of King Richard II, whom Bolingbroke felt would soon be captured and therefore ruined.

Henry Bolingbroke continued, “Deliver this message:

“Henry Bolingbroke on both his knees kisses King Richard II’s hand and sends allegiance and true faith of heart to his most royal person. I, Bolingbroke, have come here to lay my arms and power at Richard II’s feet, provided that the King freely grants that my banishment is repealed and my lands are restored again to me.

“If the King will not do this, I’ll use the superiority of my power and keep down the summer’s dust with showers of blood rained from the wounds of slaughtered Englishmen. But my humble and kneeling duty to the King shall respectfully show how far off from the mind of Bolingbroke is it that such a crimson tempest should drench the fresh green lap of fair King Richard II’s land.”

He said to the Earl of Northumberland, “Go, tell him that, while here we march upon the grassy carpet of this plain.”

He then said, “Let’s march — without the noise of threatening military drums — so that from this castle’s battered battlements our well-equipped troops may be well seen by the King.”

Marching without the sound of drums signified that the troops were not marching to a battle, but Bolingbroke wanted Richard II and his supporters to see that the troops opposing them were superior to any troops the King had.

Bolingbroke continued, “I think that King Richard II and I should meet with no less terror than the elements of fire and water, when their thundering shock at meeting wounds and tears the cloudy cheeks of Heaven.”

The word “shock” was used to refer to two soldiers mounted on warhorses charging at each other and fighting each other in battle.

He continued, “If King Richard II is the fire, I’ll be the yielding water. Let the rage be his, while on the earth I rain my waters; I will rain them on the earth, and not on him.”

By punning — “rain” and “reign” — Bolingbroke was hinting that he would be a better King than Richard II. In his reign, he would metaphorically rain water — so important for abundant crops — on the fields. And by being the water rather than the fire, he was hinting at military supremacy over King Richard II’s forces, since lots of water — and Bolingbroke had lots of troops — can put out fire.

He concluded, “March on, and take particular notice of how King Richard II looks.”

A trumpet sounded a request for a parle, and from the castle came the sound of an answering trumpet. On the castle walls appeared King Richard II. With him were the Bishop of Carlisle, the Duke of Aumerle, Sir Stephen Scroop, and the Earl of Salisbury.

Henry Bolingbroke said, “See, see, King Richard II himself appears, as does the blushing discontented Sun from out the fiery portal of the east, when he perceives the malicious clouds are bent to dim his glory and to stain the track of his bright passage to the west.”

A red Sun in the morning is a sign of a coming storm.

Looking at King Richard II, the Duke of York said, “Yet he looks like a King. Behold, his eye, as bright as is the eagle’s, shoots forth controlling majesty like lightning. It would be a pity, a woe, if any harm should stain so fair a show!”

King Richard II stared at the Earl of Northumberland for a few seconds; the Earl of Northumberland did not kneel to the King.

King Richard II said, “We are amazed; and thus long have we stood to watch for the full-of-fear bending of your knee, because we thought ourself your lawful King. And if we are your lawful King, how dare your joints forget to pay their full-of-awe duty to our presence?

“If we are not your lawful King, show us the handwriting of God that has dismissed us from our stewardship; for well we know that no mortal hand of blood and bone can seize the sacred handle of our scepter, unless he profanes, steals, or usurps. To seize our scepter, he would have to be a blasphemer, a thief, or a rebel and usurper.

“And though you think that all, as you have done, have jeopardized their souls by turning them from us, and you think that we are barren and bereft of friends; yet you should know that my master, omnipotent God, is mustering in his clouds on our behalf armies of plague and pestilence, and they shall strike the children who are yet unborn and unbegotten of all you who lift your vassal hands against my head and threaten the glory of my precious crown.

“Tell Bolingbroke — for yonder I think he stands — that every stride he makes upon my land is dangerous treason. He has come to open the bright-red testament of bleeding war, but before the crown he looks for shall live in peace, ten thousand bloody crowns of mothers’ sons shall ill become the flower of England’s face. Those bloody crowns shall change the complexion of her maiden-pale peace to scarlet indignation and shall bedew her pastor’s grass with faithful English blood.”

As King of England, Richard II was the pastor — the caretaker — of England.

He added, “Bolingbroke shall have to endure much civil war and many deaths of English young men before he shall wear the crown in peace.”

“May the King of Heaven forbid that our lord the King should so with civil and uncivil arms be rushed upon!” the Earl of Northumberland said.

The arms — weapons — would be civil because they were used in civil war; they would be uncivil — uncivilized — because they would be used by Englishmen to kill other Englishmen.

He continued, “Your thrice noble cousin Harry Bolingbroke humbly kisses your hand. He is thrice noble because of his descent from his grandfather King Edward III and from his father, John of Gaunt, and because of his own nobility. And he swears by the honorable tomb, that tomb that stands upon your royal grandsire’s bones, the bones of Edward III, and by the royal status of both your bloodlines, currents that spring from one most gracious head, that of Edward III, and by the buried hand of warlike Gaunt, and by the worth and honor of himself, comprising all that may be sworn or said, as I say, on all these things he swears that his coming here has no further scope than to gain what is his by the right of inheritance and to beg for immediate enfranchisement — for his sentence of exile to be revoked — on his knees.

“Once you on your royal part have granted these things, he will hand over his glittering arms to rust, his armored steeds to stables, and his heart to the faithful service of your majesty.

“This he swears, as he is a just Prince. And I believe him, as I am a gentleman.”

King Richard II said, “Earl of Northumberland, say that this is the King’s answer: The King’s noble cousin is very welcome here, and all the number of his fair demands shall be accomplished without contradiction. With all the gracious utterance you have, speak to Bolingbroke’s gentle hearing my kind regards.”

The Earl of Northumberland left to give King Richard II’s answer to Henry Bolingbroke.

King Richard II said to the Duke of Aumerle, “We do debase ourselves, kinsman, do we not, to look so abject and to speak so courteously? Shall we call back the Earl of Northumberland, and send defiance to Henry Bolingbroke, the traitor, and so die?”

“No, my good lord,” the Duke of Aumerle replied. “Let’s fight with gentle words until time lends us friends and friends lend us their helpful swords.”

“Oh, God! Oh, God!” King Richard II said. “That ever this tongue of mine that laid the sentence of dread banishment on yonder proud man, should take it off again with words of flattery and appeasement! Oh, I wish that I were as great as is my grief, or lesser than my name — my name of King! I wish that I could either forget what I have been, or not remember what I must be now!

“Do you swell, proud heart? Do you beat faster and swell with pride? I’ll give you scope — room — to beat, since our foes have scope — opportunity — to beat both you and me.”

The Duke of Aumerle said, “The Earl of Northumberland is coming back from talking to Henry Bolingbroke.”

“What must the King do now?” King Richard II said. “Must he submit? The King shall do it. Must he be deposed? The King shall be contented. Must he lose the name of King? In God’s name, let it go.

“I’ll trade my jewels for a set of rosary beads, my gorgeous palace for a hermitage, my gay apparel for an almsman’s robe, my embossed goblets for a wooden dish, my scepter for a religious pilgrim’s walking staff, my subjects for a pair of carved figures of saints, and my large kingdom for a little grave, a little, little grave, an obscure grave — or I’ll be buried in the King’s highway, some way of common passage, where subjects’ feet may each hour trample on their sovereign’s head; for on my heart they tread now while I am alive, and once I am buried, why shouldn’t they trample upon my head?

“Aumerle, you weep, my tender-hearted cousin! We’ll make foul weather with despised tears. Our sighs and tears shall flatten the summer corn, and make a dearth of food in this revolting land. Or shall we wantonly play with our woes, and make up some pretty game with shedding tears? For example, we could drop our tears always upon one place, until they have worn away for us a pair of graves within the earth, and, there we would be laid with this epitaph: Here lie two kinsmen who dug their graves with weeping eyes. Would not this ill do well? Well, well, I see I talk but idly, and you laugh at me.”

He then said to the Earl of Northumberland, “Most mighty Prince, my Lord Northumberland, what does King Bolingbroke say? Will his majesty give Richard permission to live until Richard dies? If you bend your knee to him, Bolingbroke will say yes to whatever you request.”

The Earl of Northumberland said, “My lord, in the base court he waits to speak with you. May it please you to come down and talk to him.”

The base court was the lower or outer courtyard, sometimes called the servants’ courtyard because servants’ quarters and stables surrounded it.

King Richard II said, “Down, down I come, like glistening Phaethon, who borrowed the god Apollo’s Sun-chariot and was unable to manage the unruly jades — horses — that pulled it.”

In this ancient myth, Phaëthon attempted to drive the Sun-chariot, but he could not manage the horses, and so it came close to Earth and would have set it on fire, but Jupiter, King of the gods, hurled his thunderbolt and killed Phaëthon, who fell to Earth.

He continued, “In the base court? Base court, where Kings grow base, to come at traitors’ calls and do them grace. In the base court? Come down? Down, court! Down, King! For night-owls shriek where mounting larks should sing.”

Owls are birds of night, while larks are birds of morning. Owls are birds of death and sorrow, while larks are birds of life and joy. Owls swoop low to get their prey, while larks fly high in the sky. Owls shriek, while larks sing beautiful songs. Owls come out when the Sun sets; larks come out when the Sun rises.

As King Richard II and his supporters descended from the high castle walls to the low base court, Henry Bolingbroke asked the Earl of Northumberland, “What does his majesty say?”

“Sorrow and grief of heart make him speak foolishly, like a madman, yet he is coming.”

King Richard II and his supporters arrived in the base court.

Henry Bolingbroke ordered those with him to bow to the King: “Stand away from the King, and show fair duty to his majesty.”

Henry Bolingbroke knelt and began, “My gracious lord —”

King Richard II interrupted, “Fair cousin, you debase your Princely knee by making the base earth proud by kissing it. I had rather that my heart might feel your love than my unpleased eye see your courtesy.”

He pointed to the crown he was wearing and said, “Up, cousin, up; your heart is up, I know, thus high at least, although your knee is low.”

“My gracious lord, I come only for what is mine,” Henry Bolingbroke replied.

“Your own is yours, and I am yours, and all is yours,” King Richard II said.

“Be mine, my most dreaded lord, as far as my true service shall deserve your love,” Henry Bolingbroke said.

“You well deserve it,” King Richard II said. “They well deserve to have, who know the strongest and surest way to get.”

He said to the Duke of York, who was crying, “Uncle, give me your hands. No, don’t weep. Dry your eyes. Tears show their love for whom the tears are shed, but tears lack their remedies — they cannot cure what causes them.”

He then said to Henry Bolingbroke, “Cousin, I am too young to be your father, although you are old enough to be my heir. What you will have, I’ll give to you, and willingly, too, for we must do what force will have us do.

“Shall we set on towards London, cousin? Is that what you want?”

“Yes, my good lord,” Henry Bolingbroke replied.

“Then I must not say no,” King Richard II replied.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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