As Act Two of Richard the Second ended, Bolingbroke had returned to England (prematurely) from his exile, to take back his father’s lands and titles, or so he says. Because Richard had not returned from his Irish wars to confront this seeming rebellion, the front-line troops had begun to assume that Richard must be dead.
Act Three, Scene One finds Bolingbroke pronouncing sentence on the King’s buddies (as they seem too close to be mere political advisers), Bushy and Green. And it’s not a light sentence: “presently your souls must part your bodies” (III.i.3). And what is the crime?
You have misled a prince, a royal king,
A happy gentleman in blood and lineaments,
By you unhappied and disfigured clean.
You have in manner with your sinful hours
Made a divorce betwixt his queen and him,
Broke 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.
bad, Bushy and Green, bad!
They’ve given the king bad advice (“misled”), and completely changed (“disfigured clean”) a good man. He intimates something more sexual between Bushy and Green and the King, as Bushy and Green’s “sinful hours” have separated (“divorced”) the queen and Richard, even in their “royal bed.” They’ve also made the queen cry.
The speech starts off seemingly righteous (denouncing their misleading of the King), but it falls off from there, becoming salacious and sensationalistic in the remainder of those eight lines. It gets worse, however, in the TWELVE lines that follow, as we get to see a more personal reason:
Myself, a prince by fortune of my birth,
Near to the king in blood, and near in love
Till you did make him misinterpret me,
Have stooped my neck under your injuries,
And sighed my English breath in foreign clouds,
Eating the bitter bread of banishment;
Whilst you have fed upon my signories,
Disparked my parks and felled my forest woods,
From my own windows torn my household coat,
Razed out my imprese, leaving me no sign,
Save men's opinions and my living blood,
To show the world I am a gentleman.
This sounds an awful lot like petty revenge. Not a positive quality. So we have a deceitful king, one willing to snatch away a dead man’s titles, and a possible petty usurper. Not good for England.
Of course, Bushy and Green don’t have to worry about it, as Bolingbroke sends them off with Northumberland (Percy) for their execution, while he plans to fight the Welsh, led by “Glendower” (III.i.43). We know from the last scene in Act Two that the Welsh forces were in support of Richard. It looks like Bolingbroke is ready to fight the King’s forces… but must he to regain his titles?
That question hangs over the beginning of Act Three, Scene Two, where Richard has returned from Ireland and is in despair. He wants the earth itself to rise up and “do… annoyance to the treacherous feet // Which with usurping steps do trample thee” (III.ii.15-16). It’s obvious he doesn’t see Bolingbroke’s return as anything but boldface grab for the crown. His lords (including the “neuter” Duke of York’s son, Aumerle) attempt to cheer their King, telling him, “that Power that made you king // Hath power to keep you king in spite of all” (III.ii.27-28). God will out, they say.
The speeches work, as Richard says that Bolingbroke’s
treasons will sit blushing in his face,
Not able to endure the sight of day,
But self-affrighted tremble at his sin.
Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm off from an anointed king.
However, the cheer is short-lived. When he hears that the Welshmen (“hearing [Richard] wert dead” [III.ii.73]) have gone over to Bolingbroke’s side, the King momentarily falls into despair again. And thus it goes for the rest of the scene. The lords cheer him, he regains composure. Bad news comes, the King wails (at one point saying, “How can you say to me I am a king?” [III.ii.177]). And so on. When the final piece of bad news comes (the neutral York has joined Bolingbroke), it’s the last straw, and Richard discharges his supporters, and can foresee the change from “Richard’s night to Bolingbroke’s fair day” (III.ii.218).
Act Three, Scene Three takes us back to Bolingbroke’s camp where he learns that the Welsh have dispersed and Richard has returned to England with only a “few private friends” (III.iii.4). Respect for Richard has waned; much to York’s chagrin, Northumberland fails to use Richard’s title (III.iii.8).
Richard arrives and makes some show of strength before Northumberland, who states that Bolingbroke’s
coming hither hath no further scope
Than for his lineal royalties and to beg
Enfranchisement immediate on his knees:
Which on thy royal party granted once,
His glittering arms he will commend to rust
Bolingbroke once his lands are restored will give up his army, and Richard agrees. Once Northumberland is gone, however, the King is immediately sorry, saying, “We do debase ourselves, cousin, do we not, // To look so poorly and to speak so fair?” (III.iii.127-128). He reconsiders showing defiance to Bolingbroke, but descends further into his despair and pity party.
Northumberland returns and says that Bolingbroke will speak to the King, but Richard must come to him. Richard can only say, “Down, down I come” (III.iii.178), down from his kingly heights. And them comes a truly bizarre exchange:
Stand all apart,
And show fair duty to his majesty.
He kneels down
My gracious lord,--
Fair cousin, you debase your princely knee
To make the base earth proud with kissing it:
Me rather had my heart might feel your love
Than my unpleased eye see your courtesy.
Up, cousin, up; your heart is up, I know,
Thus high at least, although your knee be low.
My gracious lord, I come but for mine own.
Your own is yours, and I am yours, and all.
So far be mine, my most redoubted lord,
As my true service shall deserve your love.
Well you deserve: they well deserve to have,
That know the strong'st and surest way to get.
Uncle, give me your hands: nay, dry your eyes;
Tears show their love, but want their remedies.
Cousin, I am too young to be your father,
Though you are old enough to be my heir.
What you will have, I'll give, and willing too;
For do we must what force will have us do.
Set on towards London, cousin, is it so?
Yea, my good lord.
Then I must not say no.
Bolingbroke seems to speak only of his titles, but Richard seems to interpret these statements as if they are about the throne. Richard agrees to give what Bolingbroke wants (or what he thinks Bolingbroke wants).
In the fourth and final scene of Act Three, we see the queen in a pity party of her own in her garden. When the gardeners come, she hides and listens to what they say. They speak of the sorry state of the country: “our see-walled garden… is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up” (III.iv.43-44). And there is little doubt to who is at fault: “the wasteful king” (III.iv.55).
The Queen disparages the common workers for their statements, calling them “thou little better thing than earth… thou wretch” (III.iv.78,80), before heading out to “meet in London London’s king in woe” (III.iv.97). And once she leaves, we see the reaction of the “wretch”: it’s pity as he promises to plant a “bank of rue” (III.iv.105) in honor of this “weeping queen” (III.iv.107).
The common man comes off looking better than the nobles. Again.