David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHARD II: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 1-2

— 5.1 —

The former Queen — King Richard II had been deposed — and her ladies appeared on a street leading to the Tower of London.

The former Queen said, “This is the way the true King will come; this is the way to the Tower that Julius Caesar began building and that was built for evil ends. Proud Bolingbroke sentenced my condemned lord to be a prisoner in the Tower’s flinty bosom.

“Here let us rest, if this rebellious earth has any resting place for her true King’s Queen.”

Richard, formerly King of England, arrived under guard.

The former Queen said, “But wait a moment, see, or rather do not see, my fair rose wither.”

The rose was the King of flowers, just as the lion was the King of beasts.

She continued, “Yet look up, behold, that you — me, myself — in pity may dissolve to dew, and wash him fresh again with true-love tears. Ah, you, Richard, are the ground-plan where old Troy stood.”

She was comparing the ruined Richard to the ruin of a city: the city of Troy, famous for its role in the Trojan War. London was sometimes known as Troynovant — New Troy — because a descendant of the Trojan Prince Aeneas was thought to have founded it.

The former Queen continued, “You are the map and image of honor. You are King Richard II’s tomb, not King Richard II. You most beauteous inn, why should hard-favored grief be lodged in you, when triumph has become an alehouse guest?”

She was comparing Richard to a beautiful hotel in which Grief was a guest, and Henry Bolingbroke to a common alehouse in which Triumph was a guest.

Richard said to her, “Join not with Grief, fair woman, don’t do that because it would make my end too sudden. Learn, good soul, to think our former splendor a happy dream from which we awakened and discovered that the truth of what we are shows us to be only this: I am sworn brother, sweetheart, to grim Necessity, and he and I will maintain an alliance until death.

“Take yourself to France and cloister yourself in some religious house. Our holy lives must win a new world’s crown; our profane hours in this world here have struck down our crowns.”

The former Queen said, “Is my Richard both in body and mind transformed and weakened? Has Bolingbroke deposed your intellect? Has he been in your heart and taken away your courage? The dying lion thrusts forth its paw, and wounds the earth, if nothing else, with rage at being overpowered. Will you, like a student, take your punishment mildly, kiss the rod, and fawn on rage with base humility when you are a lion and a King of beasts?”

“I am a King of beasts, indeed,” Richard said. “The people who deposed me are beasts. If I had been the King of anything but beasts, I would have still been a happy King of men.

“Good, former Queen, prepare yourself to leave for France. Pretend that I am dead and that even here and now you are taking, as from my deathbed, your last living leave of me.

“In winter’s tedious nights sit by the fire with good old folks and let them tell you tales of woeful ages that happened long ago; and before you say good night, to requite their tales of griefs tell them the lamentable tale of me and send the hearers weeping to their beds.

“Yes, indeed, the senseless firewood will sympathize with the sorrowful accent of your moving tongue and in compassion weep the fire out. Their resin will seep out like tears. Some pieces of firewood, once burnt, will mourn in ashes, some coal-black, as in wearing mourning clothes, for the deposing of a rightful King.”

The Earl of Northumberland and some other men arrived.

The Earl of Northumberland said to Richard, “My lord, Bolingbroke has changed his mind. You must go to Pomfret Castle in Yorkshire, not to the Tower of London.”

He then said to the former Queen, “And, madam, arrangements have been made for you. With all swift speed you must go away to your native France.”

Richard said, “Earl of Northumberland, you have been the ladder by which the mounting Bolingbroke ascends my throne. The time shall not be many hours older than it is before foul sin gathering head like a boil shall break into corruption and ooze pus. You shall think, even if he were to divide the realm and give you half, it is too little a share for you because you helped Bolingbrook to win it all, and he shall think that you, who know the way to plant unrightful kings on the throne, will know again how to do that. Bolingbroke will think that, for only a very little cause, you will know another way to pluck him headlong from the usurped throne.

“The love that wicked men have for each other turns to fear; that fear then turns to hate, and hate turns one or both wicked men into first being a justifiable danger and then getting a deserved death.”

“May my guilt be on my head, and let that be the end to this discussion,” the Earl of Northumberland said. “You two take your leave of each other and part from each other; for you must depart quickly.”

“Doubly divorced!” Richard said. “Bad men, you violate a twofold marriage: one between my crown and me, and the other between me and my married wife.”

He said to his wife, the former Queen, “Let me unkiss the oath of marriage between you and me. And yet we cannot do that, for with a kiss our marriage was made.”

He then said, “Part us, Earl of Northumberland; I will go toward the north, where shivering cold and sickness afflicts the region. My wife will go to France, from whence she set forth in pomp. She came to England adorned like sweet May, and she will be sent back to France adorned like Hallowmas — November 1 — or like the shortest day.”

The former Queen asked, “And must we be divided? Must we part?”

Richard replied, “Yes, hand from hand, my love, and heart from heart.”

The former Queen said to the Earl of Northumberland, “Banish us both and send the King — my Richard — with me.”

The Earl of Northumberland said, “That would be a great favor to you, but it would make little sense for us politically.”

If Richard and the former Queen were sent to France, they could raise an army and fight a war to get the throne back.

The former Queen said, “Then where he goes, there let me go.”

Richard said, “So we two, together weeping, would make one woe. Weep for me in France, and I will weep for you here: Better far off than near, be never the nearer. We might as well be far away from each other than to be near each other and yet never be any closer to seeing each other.”

He believed that even if his wife were to stay near him in England, they would not be allowed to see each other.

He continued, “Go, count your way with sighs; I will count my way with groans.”

“Then the longest way shall have the longest-lasting moans,” the former Queen said.

She had the longer journey to make. Her destination in France was farther distant from London than Pomfret Castle was.

Richard replied, “Twice for one step I’ll groan, my way being short, and prolong my way with a heavy heart. Come, come, in wooing sorrow let’s be brief, since, wedding it, there is such length in grief. One kiss shall stop our mouths, and in silence we will part.”

By kissing each other, they metaphorically gave each other their hearts.

He kissed her and said, “Thus I give you my heart, and thus I take your heart.”

The former Queen said, “Give me my own heart again; it would be no good part — no good action — for me to keep and kill your heart.”

She felt that she would die from sorrow, and that therefore she would kill Richard’s heart if she had it when she died.

She kissed him and said, “So, now I have my own heart again, be gone, so that I might strive to kill my own heart with a groan.”

She felt that since she had her own heart again, it was OK to die from sorrow — she would be killing with sorrow her own heart, not Richard’s.

Richard’s final words to her were these: “We make woe wanton and unrestrained with this fond and foolish delay. Once more, adieu; the rest let sorrow say.”

— 5.2 —

The Duke and Duchess of York, aged husband and aged wife, talked together in the Duke of York’s palace.

The Duchess of York said, “My lord, you told me you would tell the rest, when weeping made you break the story off, of our two cousins — Richard and Bolingbroke — coming into London.”

“Where did I leave off?” the Duke of York asked.

“At that sad stop, my lord, where rude, unruly hands from high windows threw dust and rubbish on King Richard II’s head.”

“Then, as I said, the Duke of Lancaster, great Henry Bolingbroke, mounted upon a hot and fiery steed that seemed to know his aspiring rider, and with slow but stately pace kept on his course, while all tongues cried, ‘God save you, Bolingbroke!’

“You would have thought the very windows spoke, so many greedy looks of young and old through casements darted their desiring eyes upon his visage, and that all the walls with painted imagery had said at the same time, ‘Jesus preserve you! Welcome, Bolingbroke!’”

Wall hangings of the time sometimes had word balloons depicting what the figures in the wall hangings — the painted imagery — were saying.

The Duke of York continued, “While he, from the one side to the other turning, bareheaded, bowing lower than his proud steed’s neck, spoke to them thus: ‘I thank you, countrymen.’ And always acting like this, thus he passed along.”

“Alas, poor Richard!” the Duchess of York said. “What was his ride like while this was happening?”

“Imagine being in a theater, where the eyes of men, after a talented and popular actor leaves the stage, are idly and indifferently bent on the actor who enters next, thinking his prattle to be tedious. Even so, or with much more contempt, men’s eyes scowled at gentle Richard; no man cried, ‘God save him!’ No joyful tongue gave him a welcome home from Ireland and Wales. But dust was thrown upon his sacred head, which with such gentle sorrow he shook off, his face continually combating with tears and smiles, the badges of his grief and his patience, that had not God, for some strong purpose, steeled the hearts of men, they must necessarily have melted and barbaric people themselves would have pitied him.

“But Heaven has a hand in these events, and to Heaven’s high will we submit our calm happiness. To Bolingbroke are we sworn subjects now, whose high position and honor I always will accept.”

“Here comes my son, the Duke of Aumerle,” the Duchess of York said.

“He wasthe Duke of Aumerle, but he lost that title because he was Richard’s friend. Richard gave him that title, and the new King took it away. Therefore, madam, you must call him the Earl of Rutland now.

“I am in Parliament the pledge — guarantor — for his loyalty and lasting obedience to the new-made King.”

As the pledge of his son’s loyalty, the Duke of York would be in danger if his son were to be disloyal to the new-made King. The Duke of York called Bolingbroke “the new-made King” to emphasize that he had been madeKing; he had not inherited the title.

The former Duke of Aumerle walked over to his parents.

“Welcome, my son,” the Duchess of York said to him. “Who are the violets now that strew the green lap of the new-come spring? Who are the favorites of the new-come King?”

“Madam, I don’t know, nor do I greatly care,” the former Duke of Aumerle said. “God knows I should like just as much to be none than one.”

“Well, conduct yourself honorably in this new spring of time, lest you be cropped — cut down — before you come to prime,” the Duke of York said. “What news is there from Oxford? Will those jousts and tournament still be held there?”

“For anything I know, my lord, they will,” the former Duke of Aumerle said.

“You will be there, I know,” the Duke of York said.

“Unless God prevents it, I intend to,” the former Duke of Aumerle said.

He had a document inside his shirt, but the seal that was attached to the document could be seen.

The Duke of York said, “What seal is that, that is hanging outside your shirt? Do look you pale? Then it must be important. Let me see the document.”

“My lord, it is nothing,” the former Duke of Aumerle said.

“If it is nothing, then it doesn’t matter who sees it,” his father said. “You will do what I tell you to do; let me see the document.”

“I beg your grace to pardon me. It is a matter of small consequence, which for some reasons I would not have seen.”

“Which for some reasons, sir, I mean to see it,” his very suspicious father said. “I fear, I fear —”

“What should you fear?” the Duchess of York said. “It is nothing but an IOU for some money he has borrowed to buy gay apparel in preparation for Bolingbroke’s triumph day.”

“IOU?” the Duke of York said. “An IOU to himself? If he has borrowed money from someone, the other person will be holding the IOU.

“Wife, you are a fool.

“Boy, let me see the document.”

His son replied, “I beg you, pardon me; I may not show you the document.”

“I will be satisfied,” the Duke of York said. “Let me see it, I say.”

He grabbed the document and read it. Then he shouted, “Treason! Foul treason! Villain! Traitor! You slave!”

“What is the matter, my lord?” the Duchess of York asked.

“Ho!” the Duke of York said. “Who is within there?”

A servant entered the room.

The Duke of York ordered, “Saddle my horse. I pray to God for His mercy. What treachery is here!”

“Why, what is it, my lord?” the Duchess of York asked.

“Give me my riding boots, I say,” the Duke of York ordered the servant. “Saddle my horse.”

The servant exited to carry out the orders.

The Duke of York then said, “Now, by my honor, by my life, by my pledged loyalty, I will denounce and inform against the villain.”

“What is the matter?” the Duchess of York asked.

“Be quiet, foolish woman,” her husband replied.

“I will not be quiet,” the Duchess of York replied. “What is the matter, Aumerle?”

“Good mother, be content and calm,” the former Duke of Aumerle said. “It is no more than my poor life must answer for.”

“Your life answer for!” she said.

“Bring me my riding boots,” the Duke of York shouted. “I will ride to the King.”

The servant returned, carrying the boots.

“Strike the servant, Aumerle,” the Duchess of York ordered. She was frantic and did not want her son to die, and so she was interfering with the servant’s attempt to help the Duke of York put on his long riding boots.

The former Duke of Aumerle did not strike the servant.

She said, “Poor boy, you are perplexed and bewildered.”

She shouted at the servant, “Go away, villain! Never more come in my sight!”

“Give me my boots, I say,” the Duke of York said.

The Duchess of York said, “Why, York, what will you do? Won’t you hide the trespass of your own flesh and blood? Have we more sons? Are we likely to have more sons? Haven’t my child-bearing years been drunk up by Time? And will you pluck my fair son from my old age, and rob me of a happy mother’s name? Doesn’t he resemble you? Isn’t he your own son?”

“You foolish madwoman,” the Duke of York replied, “will you conceal this dark conspiracy? By reading this document, I know that a dozen conspirators have taken the sacrament, put their signatures on a document that each has a copy of, and sworn to kill King Henry IV at Oxford.”

“Our son shall not be one of the conspirators,” the Duchess of York said. “We’ll keep him here, and so then what is the conspiracy to him?”

“Get away from me, foolish woman!” the Duke of York said. “Even if he were twenty times my son, I would still denounce and inform against him.”

“If you had groaned for him in childbirth as I have done, you would be more pitiful,” the Duchess of York said. “But now I know your mind. You suspect that I have been disloyal to your bed, and that he is a bastard, not your son. Sweet York, sweet husband, don’t be of that mind: Don’t think that. He is as like you as a man may be. He doesn’t resemble me, or any of my kin, and yet I love him.”

“Get out of my way, unruly woman!” the Duke of York shouted.

He exited to get on his horse and ride to King Henry IV to inform on the traitors.

“Go after him, Aumerle!” the Duchess of York said. “Get to his horse first, mount it, and ride as quickly as you can and get to the King before he does, and beg your pardon from the King before your father accuses you of treason.

“I will follow. I’ll not be long behind; although I am old, I don’t doubt that I can ride as fast as York, and I will never rise up from the ground until Bolingbroke has pardoned you. Away, be gone!”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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