That Ain’t No Fight

Act One, Scene Three of Richard the Second begins on the day of the trial by combat between Bolingbroke and Mowbray. Each combatant enters and states his case. King Richard tells Bolingbroke that he needs to be right in his accusations because if he isn’t (and thus is killed in the just fight), the King will not be able to “revenge” (I.iii.58) his death.

The fighters ready, but just before the fight begins, Richard stops it. He delivers his “decree” (I.iii.122): he will not allow “our kingdom’s earth (to) be soiled // With that dear blood which it hath fostered” (I.iii.125-126). Instead, he banishes both men. Bolingbroke must leave England for “twice five summers” (I.iii.141). Mowbray, however, has “a heavier doom… ‘never to return'” (I.iii.148, 152) to England. Not only do they not get the chance to prove their cases, but they’re kicked out of their own country… it’s enough to make two guys want to join forces. But Richard has an answer for that, too:

You never shall, so help you truth and God,
Embrace each other's love in banishment;
Nor never look upon each other's face;
Nor never write, regreet, nor reconcile
This louring tempest of your home-bred hate;
Nor never by advised purpose meet
To plot, contrive, or complot any ill
'Gainst us, our state, our subjects, or our land.

— I.iii.183-190

Richard effectively kills discussion of the death of Gloucester and removes the two people who had seemed bent on exposing the truth (or at least had known the truth). After Mowbray leaves, and Richard sees John of Gaunt’s “grieved heart” (I.iii.209), the King reduces the sentence to only six years banishment.

When John and Bolingbroke (and their followers) are left on stage by Richard, they discuss what has transpired, and Bolingbroke comes off like a mature version of Romeo:

Must I not serve a long apprenticehood
To foreign passages, and in the end,
Having my freedom, boast of nothing else
But that I was a journeyman to grief?

— I.iii.271-274

hmmmm, nothing like a little Act One foreshadowng, eh?

He’s upset, but he’s not on the floor, crying. And to this his father advises, “Think not the king did banish thee, // But thou the king” (I.iii.279-280).

Bolingbroke accepts his banishment and in his final speech of the scene bids “adieu… (to his) mother, and (his) nurse” (I.iii.306-307), England.

In the short Act One, Scene Four, Richard receives news of Bolingbroke’s departure. And then he says of the departed Bolingbroke,

Ourself and Bushy, Bagot here and Green
Observed his courtship to the common people;
How he did seem to dive into their hearts
With humble and familiar courtesy;
What reverence he did throw away on slaves,
Wooing poor craftsmen with the craft of smiles
And patient underbearing of his fortune,
As 'twere to banish their affects with him.
Off goes his bonnet to an oyster-wench;
A brace of draymen bid God speed him well
And had the tribute of his supple knee,
With 'Thanks, my countrymen, my loving friends';
As were our England in reversion his,
And he our subjects' next degree in hope.

— I.iv.22-36

In this speech, we hear snippets of Richard’s real reason to banish Bolingbroke: fear. The King doesn’t like Bolingbroke’s ability to “dive into (the common people’s) hearts // With humble and familiar courtesy.” Richard scorns his “craft of smiles” which wins him the love of the commoners, as if Richard’s England is “in reversion” Bolingbroke’s.

what was I saying about first act foreshadowing?

But with him gone, the King can focus on the wars in Ireland, for which Richard is “enforced to farm our royal realm” (I.iv.45), taxing the citizens to refill the “coffers … (which have) grown somewhat light” (I.iv.43,44). This troubling news is somewhat lightened by word from Bushy that “Old John of Gaunt is grievous sick” (I.iv.54). At least, Richard has this working for him, as “the lining of (John’s) coffers shall make coats // To deck our soldiers for these Irish wars” (I.iv.61-62).

And thus Act One ends.

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