David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHARD II: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 4

— 3.4 —

In the garden of one of the Duke of York’s houses, the Queen and two ladies talked.

The Queen said, “What entertainment shall we devise here in this garden to drive away the gloomy thought of sorrow?”

A lady said, “Madam, we’ll play the game of bowls.”

“It will make me think the world is full of rubs, and that my fortune rubs against the bias,” the Queen said.

Rubs are obstacles that prevent the ball from going where it should. A bias is a weight on one side of the bowl — ball — that makes it curve in a particular direction as it rolls. The Queen’s fortune was not going in the direction it ought to go.

“Madam, we’ll dance,” a lady said.

“My legs can keep no measure — no graceful movement — in delight, when my poor heart keeps no measure — no limit — in grief,” the Queen said. “Therefore, no dancing, girl; suggest some other entertainment.”

“Madam, we’ll tell stories,” a lady said.

“Of sorrow or of joy?” the Queen asked.

“Of either, madam,” the lady replied.

“Of neither, girl,” the Queen said. “For if the stories are of joy, then because I altogether lack joy, they will remind me all the more of sorrow. Or if the stories are of grief, then because I am altogether sad, they will add more sorrow to my lack of joy. For what I have — sorrow — I don’t need to repeat, and what I lack — joy — it doesn’t help to lament.”

“Madam, I’ll sing,” a lady said.

“It is well that you have cause to sing, but you would please me better if you would weep.”

“I could weep, madam, if it would do you good,” the lady replied.

“And I could sing, if weeping would do me good, and I would never have to borrow any tear from you,” the Queen said. “If weeping would do me good, then much good would be done to me because I have wept so much, and I would be able to sing and I would not need you to weep for me.”

A head gardener and two assistant gardeners entered the garden.

Seeing them, the Queen said, “But wait, here come the gardeners. Let’s step into the shadow of these trees. I bet all my wretchedness against a row of pins — something trivial — that they’ll talk about affairs of state, for everyone does that when they anticipate a political change; woe is forecast by woe.”

The Queen and the two ladies moved into the shadows, where they were not seen.

The head gardener said to one assistant, “Go, bind up young dangling apricots, which, like unruly children, make their sire — father — stoop with oppression of their prodigal and excessive weight. Give some support to and prop up the bending twigs.”

He said to the other assistant, “Go, and like an executioner, cut off the heads of too quickly growing sprays — shoots and branches — that look too lofty — tall and overbearing — in our commonwealth. All must be even in our government.”

He added, “While you two are thus employed, I will go and root away the noisome, noxious weeds, which without profit and fruit suck the soil’s fertility and keep it from wholesome flowers.”

An assistant asked, “Why should we within the compass of a fenced-in area keep law and form and due proportion, showing, as in a model, our stable, secure estate, when our sea-walled garden, the whole land of England, is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up and suffocated, her fruit trees all upturned, her hedges ruined, her knots — intricately designed flowerbeds — disordered and her wholesome herbs swarming with parasitic caterpillars?”

“Hold your peace and be quiet,” the head gardener said. “He who has suffered this disordered spring has now himself met with the fall of leaf — it is his autumn. The weeds that his broad-spreading leaves sheltered — those weeds that ate him while seeming to be holding him up — have been plucked up root and all by Bolingbroke. By ‘weeds,’ I mean the Earl of Wiltshire, Bushy, and Green.”

“Are they dead?” the servant asked.

“They are,” the head gardener said, “and Bolingbroke has seized the wasteful King Richard II. Oh, what a pity it is that the King had not so trimmed and tended his land as we trim and tend this garden! We at the correct season wound the bark, the skin of our fruit trees, lest, being overly proud and excessively swollen by sap and blood, with too much riches it confounds and destroys itself. Unless the fruit trees are pruned, the result is excessive wood and lack of fruit.

“Had King Richard II done so to great and growing men, they might have lived to bear fruit and he to taste their fruits of duty. We lop away superfluous branches so that bearing boughs may live. Had King Richard II done so, he himself would bear the crown, which waste of idle, leisure hours has quite thrown down.”

“Do you think that the King shall be deposed?” an assistant asked.

“He has already been brought low, and there is fear that he will be deposed,” the head gardener said. “A letter came last night to a dear friend of the good Duke of York; the letter tells bad news.”

The Queen said, “Oh, I am pressed to death through want of speaking!”

She was referring to a medieval punishment in which suspects who declined to enter a plea of Guilty or Not Guilty in a court of law would have heavy stones placed on them after they lay down. Sometimes, they would continue not to enter a plea, and they would be crushed to death under the weight of stones. People who pled Guilty or who pled Not Guilty and were found guilty and executed had their property forfeited. Sometimes, people refused to enter a plea because they believed that they would be found guilty and would leave their loved ones destitute.

The Queen came out of the shadow of the trees and said to the head gardener, whom she referred to as the likeness of Adam, the first gardener in the first garden, the Garden of Eden, which he shared with Eve, “You, old Adam’s likeness, ready to cultivate this garden, how dares your harsh and rude tongue sound and cry out this unpleasing news? What Eve, what serpent, has tempted you to make a second fall of cursed man?”

The first fall occurred when Adam and Eve sinned and God banished them from the Garden of Eden. The head gardener was making a second fall by talking about the likelihood of King Richard II being deposed.

She continued, “Why do you say that King Richard II is deposed? Do you dare, you thing little better than earth, prophesy his downfall? Say where, when, and how you came by these ill tidings! Speak, you wretch.”

“Pardon me, madam,” the head gardener said. “Little joy have I in telling you this news, yet what I say is true. King Richard II is in the custody of mighty Bolingbroke. Both their fortunes are weighed in a set of scales. In your lord’s scale is nothing but himself, and some few vain trifles that make him light, but in the balance of great Bolingbroke, besides himself, are all the English peers, and with that superiority he weighs King Richard II down. If you travel to London, you will find it so. I speak no more than what everyone knows.”

The Queen said, “Nimble Mischance, who are so light of foot, doesn’t your message belong to me, and yet I am the last who knows it? Oh, you think to serve me last, so that I may the longest keep your sorrow in my breast.

“Come, ladies, go with me to meet at London London’s King in woe.

“Was I born to this, that my sad look should grace the triumphal procession of great Bolingbroke?

“Gardener, for telling me this news of woe, I pray to God that the plants you graft may never grow.”

The Queen and ladies exited.

The head gardener said, “Poor Queen! So that your state might be no worse, I wish that my skill were subject to your curse.

“Here she let fall a tear; here in this place I’ll set a bank of rue, sour herb of grace. Rue, even for ruth — pity, compassion, and sympathy — here shortly shall be seen, in memory of a weeping Queen.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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