Richard II: Novel Summary: Act 3 Scene 3

Act 3 Scene 3
Before Flint Castle, in Wales, Bolingbroke reviews the situation with Northumberland. Northumberland informs him that Richard is hiding nearby. He omits to refer to him as King Richard, which draws a protest from York. Percy enters, and informs them to their surprise that Richard is inside the castle, with Aumerle, Salisbury, Scroope, and a clergyman. Northumberland identifies the clergyman as Carlisle.
Bolingbroke instructs Northumberland to go to the castle and convey Bolingbrokes allegiance to Richard. Northumberland is to say that Bolingbroke will lay down his arms if his banishment is repealed and his lands restored. Otherwise he will use force. Bolingbroke then says he will march his army to the field near the castle, but without the threatening sound of drums. He wants to be seen as being conciliatory.
Richard, Carlisle, Aumerle, Scroope and Salisbury appear at the walls of the castle. Richard speaks with dignity and command, upbraiding Northumberland for his failure to kneel at the sight of his king. Then he speaks defiantly and majestically, saying that although the rebels may think that the king has been deserted by his followers, God will strike down with pestilence anyone who dares to lift a hand against him or his crown. He accuses Bolingbroke of treason and of starting a war, and warns of bloodshed to come.
In response, Northumberland speaks some gracious and conciliatory words, and repeats Bolingbrokes claim that he comes only for the restoration of his rights. Once he receives these, he will renounce his weapons and become a faithful subject of the king.
Richard responds graciously, saying that he grants all Bolingbrokes demands. He turns to Aumerle and admits that he feels humiliated by the position he is in. He wonders whether he should defy Bolingbroke, even though it would mean his own death. Aumerle advises him to continue his conciliatory policy, until they can muster some more military support. Richard gives way to despair, and then tries desperately to adjust to the situation. He knows he is going to have to renounce his crown, and he tries to accept the inevitable and make the best of it. He expects to die. The poignancy of his words produces tears from Aumerle, but as the king continues to expound on his sorrow, Aumerle ruefully laughs at Richards exaggerated expressions of woe and death. Richard turns to Northumberland and addresses him mockingly as “great prince.” Then he asks if “King Bolingbroke” will let him live. Northumberland replies that Bolingbroke awaits him in the courtyard. Richard descends, with defiant words.
In the courtyard, Bolingbroke kneels when Richard enters. Richard is not fooled by this show of courtesy and bids him stand up. Bolingbroke once more insists that he wants only what is his. But Richard knows this is not true. He accepts that Bolingbroke now has the power and can do with Richard whatever he wants. Richard knows he is bound for London, and Bolingbroke confirms this. They both know that in London, Richard will be deposed.
Bolingbroke has never stated openly that he wants the crown. In fact, he insists over and over that he merely wants the restoration of his rights. And yet, swiftly and surely, he moves to seize the crown. Is he duplicitous from the beginning? Or is he simply going with the flow of events, adjusting to new situations and ending up as king without ever really having had that ambition? Since Shakespeare never shows Bolingbroke speaking about his motivation in private, it is impossible to answer this question with any certainty. Every word Bolingbroke speaks is, as we would say today, for “public consumption.” Northumberland clearly expects Bolingbroke to become king, and Bolingbroke, a shrewd and practical man, must be keenly aware of all the forces that are sweeping him into power. He also knows that it would be unseemly, and still perhaps dangerous, to openly acknowledge any ambition for the throne.
As in the previous scene, Richard is more impressive as he loses power than he ever was when he wielded it. And Bolingbroke, who at first had won sympathy as a wronged man, increasingly seems hypocritical.