David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHARD II: A Retelling in Prose — Chapter 4, Scene 1

— 4.1 —

In Westminster Hall were meeting Henry Bolingbroke, the Duke of Aumerle, the Earl of Northumberland, young Henry Percy, Lord Fitzwater, the Duke of Surrey, the Bishop of Carlisle, and the Abbot of Westminster. Also present were another lord, a herald, officers, and Bagot.

Henry Bolingbroke ordered, “Call forth Bagot.”

Bagot stood forward.

Henry Bolingbroke ordered, “Now, Bagot, freely speak your mind. What do you know about the noble Duke of Gloucester’s death? Who wrought it with King Richard II, and who performed the bloody task of his untimely end?”

The word “wrought” meant “worked” or “brought it about.” The meaning of that part of the sentence in which the word was used was ambiguous. It could mean “Who brought it about with the King and persuaded him to have the Duke of Gloucester murdered?” or “Who worked with the King to have the Duke of Gloucester murdered?” or both. In September 1397, the Duke of Gloucester had been murdered at Calais.

Bagot replied, “Then set before my face the Lord Aumerle.”

Henry Bolingbroke ordered, “Cousin, stand forth, and look upon that man.”

Bagot said to the Duke of Aumerle, “My Lord Aumerle, I know your daring tongue scorns to unsay what once it has delivered and stated. In that fatal time when Gloucester’s death was plotted, I heard you say, ‘Isn’t my arm long? It reaches from the restful English court as far as Calais, to my uncle’s head.’ Among much other talk, at that same time, I heard you say that you would prefer to refuse the offer of a hundred thousand crowns than to have Henry Bolingbroke return to England. You added as well how blest this land would be if your cousin Bolingbroke would die.”

The Duke of Aumerle had a higher social status than Bagot. Because of this, if he were challenged to trial by combat he could refuse to fight him on the basis that it would be degrading for him to fight a man of such low rank.

The Duke of Aumerle said, “Princes and noble lords, what answer shall I make to this base man? Shall I so much dishonor my fair stars and high birth to treat him as an equal and give him his punishment? Either I must, or my honor will be soiled by the accusation of his slanderous lips.”

He threw down his gage — a gage was an item such as a glove or a hood — as a challenge to combat. They would fight to the death, God would determine the victor, and whichever man still lived would be innocent while the dead man would be guilty.

He said to Bagot, “There is my gage, the manual seal of death, that marks you out for Hell. I say that you lie, and I will maintain that what you have said is false by spilling your heart-blood, although it is all too base to stain the temper and quality of my knightly sword.”

Henry Bolingbroke ordered, “Bagot, stand back. You shall not pick up the gage.”

Picking up the gage meant accepting the challenge and agreeing to a fight to the death.

The Duke of Aumerle said, “Excepting one person, I wish that the man who had so angered me were the best man and highest ranking among all the men present here.”

The one exception was Henry Bolingbroke, whom most of the people present believed would soon be King Henry IV.

Lord Fitzwater threw his gage on the ground and said, “If you say that because your valor insists on fighting only those close to your own rank, then there is my gage, Aumerle, in challenge to your gage.

“By that fair Sun that shows me where you stand, I heard you say, and boastingly you said it, that you were the cause of the noble Duke of Gloucester’s death.

“Even if you deny it twenty times, you lie, and I will return your falsehood to your heart, where it was forged, with the point of my rapier.”

“You dare not, coward, live to see that day,” the Duke of Aumerle said.

“Now by my soul, I wish we could fight during this hour,” Lord Fitzwater replied.

“Fitzwater, you are damned to Hell for this,” the Duke of Aumerle said.

Young Henry Percy said, “Aumerle, you lie. Fitzwater’s honor is as true in this appeal as you are entirely unjust, and that you are so, there I throw my gage, to prove it on you to the extremest point of mortal breathing. I will prove that you are lying by fighting you and taking away your mortal breath. Pick up my gage, if you dare.”

“And if I do not, may my hands rot off and never again brandish revengeful steel over the glittering helmet of my foe!” the Duke of Aumerle said, and he picked up the gage.

Another lord said, “I task the earth with a similar burden, falsely swearing Aumerle, and I spur you on with fully as many charges of falsehood as may be hollered in your treacherous ear from sunrise to sunset.”

He threw his gage to the ground and said, “There is my honor’s pawn — my gage. Pick it up, and engage yourself to a trial by combat, if you dare.”

The Duke of Aumerle said, “Who else is betting? By Heaven, I’ll throw the dice and bet against all. I have a thousand spirits in one breast and so I can answer twenty thousand such as you.”

The Duke of Surrey said, “My Lord Fitzwater, I remember well the exact time that Aumerle and you talked.”

“That is very true,” Lord Fitzwater replied. “You were present then, and you can witness with me that what I say is true.”

“It is as false, by Heaven, as Heaven itself is true,” the Duke of Surrey said.

“Surrey, you lie,” Lord Fitzwater said.

“Dishonorable boy!” the Duke of Surrey said, throwing down his gage. “That lie shall lie so heavy on my sword, that it shall render vengeance and revenge until you the lie-giver and that lie you told do lie in earth as quietly as your father’s skull. In proof of what I say, there is my honor’s pawn. Pick it up and engage to meet me in a trial by combat, if you dare.”

“How foolishly do you spur a horse that is already eager to run!” Lord Fitzwater said. “If I dare to eat, or drink, or breathe, or live, I dare to meet Surrey in a wilderness, where no one will interfere with the fight, and spit upon him, while I say he lies, and lies, and lies.”

He threw down his gage and said, “There is my bond of faith, to tie and commit you to my strong retribution. As I intend to thrive in this new world that Henry Bolingbroke is bringing about, Aumerle is guilty of my true accusation. Besides, I heard the banished Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, say that you, Aumerle, sent two of your men to execute the noble Duke of Gloucester at Calais.”

“Some honest Christian give me a gage to throw down as I say that the Duke of Norfolk lies,” the Duke of Aumerle said.

Someone gave him a gage, and he threw it down and said, “Here I throw this down. If the banishment of the Duke of Norfolk may be repealed, I will try his honor in a trial by combat.”

Henry Bolingbroke said, “These differences shall all rest under gage — remain as challenges — until the banishment of the Duke of Norfolk is repealed. Repealed it shall be, and, although he is my enemy, all his lands and estates will be restored to him.”

Henry Bolingbroke was taking to himself the power of the King of England. He now used the royal plural: “When the Duke of Norfolk has returned, we will enforce the holding of his trial by combat with the Duke of Aumerle.”

The Bishop of Carlisle said, “That honorable day shall never be seen. Many a time has the banished Duke of Norfolk fought for Jesus Christ as a Crusader on a glorious Christian battlefield, flying in the wind the flag of the Christian cross against black pagans, Turks, and Saracens.

“Exhausted with the works of war, he retired to Italy, and at Venice he died and gave his body to that pleasant country’s earth, and his pure soul to his Captain — Christ — under whose flag he had fought so long.”

“Bishop of Carlisle, is the Duke of Norfolk dead?” Henry Bolingbroke asked.

“As surely as I live, my lord,” the Bishop of Carlisle replied.

“May sweet peace conduct his sweet soul to the bosom of good old Abraham!” Henry Bolingbroke said.

He then said to the lords who had thrown down gages and made challenges, “Lords appellants, your differences shall all rest under gage until we assign you to your days of trial.”

The Duke of York entered the room, accompanied by attendants.

He said, “Great Duke of Lancaster, Henry Bolingbroke, I come to you from plume-plucked and humbled Richard, who with willing soul adopts you as his heir, and yields his high scepter to the possession of your royal hand. Ascend his throne, because as his heir you now descend from him, and long live Henry, fourth of that name!”

“In God’s name, I’ll ascend the regal throne,” Henry Bolingbroke said.

“Mother Mary!” the Bishop of Carlisle said. “God forbid!

“I am only a priest among all you nobles and so I am the lowest-ranking person speaking in this ‘royal’ presence.”

He was sarcastic when he said “‘royal’ presence.” He did not regard Henry Bolingbroke as royalty, although he recognized Henry Bolingbroke as a nobleman.

The Bishop of Carlisle continued, “Yet it may be best fitting for me to speak the truth.

“I wish to God that anyone in this noble presence were noble enough to be the upright judge of noble King Richard II! Then true nobleness would teach him to not commit so foul a wrong as judging the King.

“What subject can give sentence on his King? And who sits here who is not King Richard II’s subject? Thieves are not judged except when they are nearby and can hear the trial, even when obvious guilt may be seen in them, and shall the figure — the King — of God’s majesty, his captain, steward, deputy-elect, anointed, crowned, planted many years, be judged by subject and inferior breath, and the King himself not present?

“Oh, forbid it, God. Forbid that in a Christian country refined souls and civilized people should do so heinous, black, and obscene a deed!

“I speak to subjects, and I, who am also a subject, speak, stirred up by God, thus boldly for his King.

“My Lord of Hereford here, whom you call King, is a foul traitor to proud Hereford’s true King: Richard II.”

The Bishop of Carlisle called Henry Bolingbroke “Lord of Hereford,” the title he had had when he was exiled. The Bishop did not want to call him “Duke of Lancaster” and especially did not want to call him “King Henry IV.”

The Bishop of Carlisle continued, “And if you crown him, let me prophesy what will happen. The blood of Englishmen shall fertilize the ground, and future ages shall groan for this foul act. Peace shall go sleep with Turks and infidels, and in this seat of peace tumultuous wars shall cause kinsmen and fellow-countrymen to confound and destroy each other. Disorder, horror, fear, and mutiny shall inhabit England, and this land shall be called the field of another Golgotha — the place where Christ was crucified as well as a place of dead men’s skulls.

“Oh, if you raise this house against this house, it will prove to be the most woeful division that ever fell upon this cursed earth.

“Prevent it, resist it, let it not be so, lest child and child’s children cry against you woe!”

The Earl of Northumberland said to the Bishop of Carlisle, “Well have you argued, sir, and for your pains, we here arrest you on a charge of capital treason.”

He then ordered, “My Lord of Westminster, it is your charge to safely keep the Bishop of Carlisle until his day of trial.”

He continued, “May it please you, lords, to grant the commons’ suit.” The commons were the commoners.

The commons’ suit was a request that the terms of the abdication of King Richard II, who was accused of misgoverning England, be published.

Using the royal plural, Henry Bolingbroke ordered, “Fetch hither Richard, so that in public view he may surrender the throne. That way, we shall proceed without suspicion.”

“I will be his escort,” the Duke of York said.

He exited.

Henry Bolingbroke said, “Lords, you who here are under our arrest, procure your guarantees that you will show up for your trials. Little are we beholden to your friendship, and we looked for little help from your helping hands.”

The Duke of York returned with King Richard II. Some officers carried the crown and other important royal items.

King Richard II said, “Alas, why am I sent for to appear before a King, before I have shaken off the regal thoughts with which I reigned? I hardly yet have learned to ingratiate, flatter, bow, and bend my limbs. Give sorrow permission for a while to tutor me in how to behave in this submission. Yet I well remember the favors — the faces and bows — of these men. Weren’t these men mine? Did they not sometimes cry, ‘All hail!’ to me? So Judas did to Christ, but Christ, who had twelve disciples, found loyalty in all but one. I, with twelve thousand, have found loyalty in none.”

He had not yet abdicated the throne, but he was speaking as though he had and as though Henry Bolingbroke were now King Henry IV.

He continued, “God save the King! Will no man say, ‘Amen’? Am I both priest and clerk? Well then, amen.”

In church services, the priest would say the prayers and the clerk would say, “Amen.”

King Richard II continued, “God save the King! Although I am not he, and yet, amen, if Heaven thinks that I am King.”

He then asked, “To do what service am I sent for here?”

The Duke of York replied, “To do that office of your own good will that tired majesty — exhaustion caused by ruling England — did make you offer: the resignation of your state and crown to Henry Bolingbroke.”

“Give me the crown,” King Richard II said.

A lord handed the crown to him, and he said to Henry Bolingbroke, “Here, cousin, seize the crown.”

King Richard II chose the word “seize” deliberately.

Henry Bolingbroke hesitated, and King Richard II said impatiently, “Here, cousin.”

Henry Bolingbroke laid his hand on the crown, and King Richard II said, “On this side my hand, and on that side yours.”

King Richard II now made a comparison in which he referred to a well with two buckets, each tied to one end of the same rope. When a crank was turned, a bucket that was filled with water rose in the air so it could be emptied while the other, empty bucket was lowered into the well water: “Now is this golden crown like a deep well that has two buckets, filling one another, the emptier ever dancing in the air, the other down, unseen and full of water: That bucket down and full of tears am I, drinking my griefs, while you mount up on high.”

Henry Bolingbroke said, “I thought you were willing to resign.”

“I am willing to resign my crown, but my griefs are still mine. You may depose my glories and my state, but not my griefs. You cannot take them away; I am still King of those.”

“Part of your cares you give me with your crown,” Henry Bolingbroke said.

In his reply to Henry Bolingbroke, King Richard II used the word “care” in several senses: obligation, responsibility, concern, grief, and worry. Some of these were personal; others related to ruling a country.

King Richard II said, “Your cares set up do not pluck my cares down. My care is loss of care, by old care done. Your care is gain of care, by new care won. The cares I give I have, although they are given away. They are attendant upon the crown, yet still with me they stay.”

“Are you contented to resign the crown?” Henry Bolingbroke asked.

King Richard II said, “In reply to your question, I answer this: I, no; no, aye. I must nothing be. Therefore no ‘no,’ for I resign the crown to you.”

He meant this:

“I, no; no, yes.

“I, which sounds like ‘aye,’ which means ‘yes,’ means the same thing as a ‘no,’ since I am nothing now that I have lost my identity as King.

“Since I have lost my identity as King, and since I am nothing, I cannot say ‘no’ to you, and therefore there is no ‘no’ — there is only a ‘yes,’ and I resign the crown to you.”

King Richard II paused and then said, “In reply to your question, I answer this: “I know no I. I must nothing be. Therefore no ‘no,’ for I resign the crown to you.”

He meant this:

“I am no longer King because I must resign the crown to you. I am now nothing, a nonentity, and so I cannot know who or what I am.

“Because I am nothing, any reply I can make is meaningless, and so there is no ‘no,’ and I resign the crown to you.”

King Richard II continued, “Now pay careful attention to me and see how I will undo myself.”

The word “undo” meant “undress” and “ruin.”

He continued, “I give this heavy weight — this crown — from off my head and this unwieldy scepter from my hand and the pride of Kingly power from out my heart. With my own tears I wash away the fragrant oil that was used to anoint me during my coronation. With my own hands I give away my crown. With my own tongue I deny my sacred state. With my own breath I release all oaths and rites of duty and loyalty to me. All pomp and majesty I forswear. My manors, rents, and revenues I forego. My acts, decrees, and statutes I deny. May God pardon all oaths that are broken to me! May God keep all vows unbroken that are sworn to you, Henry Bolingbroke!

“May God make me, who has nothing, be grieved by nothing, and may you be pleased with everything, who have achieved everything!

“Long may you live in Richard’s seat to sit, and may Richard soon lie in an earthly pit!

“May God save King Harry, the no-longer-King Richard says, and send him many years of sunshine days!

“What more remains for me to do?”

The Earl of Northumberland said, “No more, except that you read this list of these accusations and these grievous crimes committed by your person and your followers against the state and profit of this land, so that, by hearing you confess them, the souls of men may deem that you are worthily deposed.”

“Must I do so?” King Richard II said. “And must I unravel and make clear my weaved-up, intertwined follies? Gentle Northumberland, if your offences were recorded, would it not shame you in so fair a troop of people to read them out loud?

“If you should read them out loud, you would find there one heinous article, containing the deposing of a King and cracking the strong warrant of an oath, marked with a blot, damned in the book of Heaven.”

The Earl of Northumberland had sworn an oath of loyalty to King Richard II, who continued, “Nay, all of you who stand here and look at me, while my wretchedness torments me, although some of you, as did Pilate, wash your hands and put on an appearance of pity, yet you Pilates have here delivered me to my bitter cross, and water cannot wash away your sin.”

The Earl of Northumberland said, “My lord, be quick. Read out loud these articles.”

King Richard II said, “My eyes are full of tears, I cannot see, and yet salt water does not blind my eyes so much that they cannot see a pack of traitors here. Indeed, if I turn my eyes upon myself, I find that I am a traitor with the rest because I have given here my soul’s consent to undeck the ceremonially dressed body of a King, I have made glory base and sovereignty a slave, I have made proud majesty a subject, and I have made splendor a peasant.”

“My lord —” the Earl of Northumberland began.

King Richard II interrupted, “I am no lord of yours, you haughty, arrogant, insulting man, nor am I any man’s lord. I have no name, no title. No, I don’t even have that name that was given to me at the baptismal font — even it has been usurped.”

Followers of Henry Bolingbroke were spreading the rumor that King Richard II was a bastard. They said that his real name was Jehan, aka John, and that his father was a priest of Bordeaux, where Richard had been born.

He continued, “Alas, this heavy, sorrowful day. I have worn so many winters out, and I don’t now know what name to call myself!

“Oh, I wish that I were a mockery King made of snow, standing before the Sun of Bolingbroke, so I could melt myself away in water-drops!

“Good King, great King, and yet not greatly good, if my word is still sterling — valid and current — in England, let my word command that a mirror be brought here immediately so that it may show me what a face I have, since it is bankrupt of its majesty.”

Henry Bolingbroke ordered, “Go some of you and fetch a looking-glass.”

An attendant exited to obey the order.

The Earl of Northumberland said to King Richard II, “Read out loud this paper listing your sins and crimes until the mirror is brought here.”

“Fiend, you torment me before I arrive in Hell!” King Richard II shouted.

Henry Bolingbroke said, “Leave him alone, my Lord Northumberland.”

“The commons — the commoners — will not then be satisfied,” the Earl of Northumberland said. “They want his sins and crimes to be publicly announced.”

“They shall be satisfied,” King Richard II said. “I’ll read enough, when I see the very book indeed where all my sins are written, and that’s myself — my sins are written in my face.”

The attendant returned, carrying a mirror.

King Richard II said, “Give me the looking-glass, and in it I will read what I see.”

He looked in the mirror and said, “No deeper wrinkles yet? Has sorrow struck so many blows upon this face of mine, and made no deeper wounds? Oh, flattering looking-glass, similar to my fair-weather followers when I was prosperous, you beguile and deceive me! Was this face the face that everyday under his household roof kept and fed ten thousand men? Was this the face that, like the Sun, made beholders shut their eyes? Was this the face that faced — countenanced — so many follies, and was at last out-faced — discountenanced — by Bolingbroke? A brittle glory shines in this face. As brittle as the glory is the face.”

He threw the mirror on the floor, and the mirror shattered.

King Richard II continued, “For there it is, cracked in a hundred slivers. Note carefully, silent King, the moral of this entertainment: How soon my sorrow has destroyed my face.”

Henry Bolingbroke said, “The shadow of — the darkness cast by — your sorrow has destroyed the shadow — the image — of your face.”

He was contemptuous. King Richard II was acting like a Drama Queen, and Henry Bolingbroke wanted to get the abdication over and done with so he could be King Henry IV.

King Richard II replied, “Say that again. ‘The shadow of my sorrow!’ Ha!

“Let’s see. It is very true that my grief lies all within my soul, and these external manners of laments are merely shadows to the unseen grief that swells with silence in the tortured soul. In my soul lies the substance as opposed to the shadow or appearance, and I thank you, King, for your great bounty that not only gives me cause to wail but also teaches me how to lament the cause.

“I’ll beg one boon — favor — from you, and then I will be gone and trouble you no more.

“Shall I obtain the boon I ask for?”

“Name it, fair cousin,” Henry Bolingbroke replied.

“‘Fair cousin’?” King Richard II said, “I am greater than a King, for when I was a King, my flatterers were then only subjects, but now that I am a subject, I have a King here to be my flatterer. Being so great, I have no need to beg.”

“Yet ask me,” Henry Bolingbroke said.

“And shall I receive what I ask for?”

“You shall.”

“Then give me permission to go.”

“To go where?”

“Wherever you want me to go, as long as I am away from your sight and the sight of the others in this room.”

Henry Bolingbroke ordered, “Go, some of you convey him to the Tower of London.”

“Oh, good!” King Richard II said. “Convey? Conveyers are you all, who rise thus nimbly by a true King’s fall.”

One meaning of the word “convey” was “steal.” King Richard II was saying that these men were thieves — Henry Bolingbroke had stolen the crown and the rest had been his accomplices. Thieves are said to have nimble fingers.

King Richard II, who was soon to be just Richard, exited, accompanied by some lords and a guard.

Henry Bolingbroke, who was soon be King Henry IV, said, using the royal plural, “We solemnly set down Wednesday next as the date of our coronation. Lords, prepare yourselves for it.”

Everyone exited except for the Bishop of Carlisle, the Abbot of Westminster, and the Duke of Aumerle.

The Abbot of Westminster said, “We have here beheld a woeful spectacle.”

The Bishop of Carlisle said, “The woe’s to come; children yet unborn shall feel that this day is as sharp to them as thorn.”

The Duke of Aumerle said, “You holy clergymen, is there no plot, no plan, to rid the realm of this pernicious blot?”

The Abbot of Westminster said, “My lord, before I freely speak my mind on that matter, you shall not only take the sacrament and swear on it to keep secret what I intend, but also you will swear to help make happen whatever plot I shall happen to devise.

“I can see that your brows are full of discontent, your hearts of sorrow, and your eyes of tears. Come home with me to supper; and I’ll lay before you a plot that shall show us all a happy day.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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