Richard II | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard II | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary



Bushy and Bagot console the queen, who is bereft because her husband has gone to Ireland; she feels as though "[s]ome unborn sorrow ripe in Fortune's womb / Is coming towards me." Green arrives and reports Bolingbroke has returned from banishment with an army and has been joined by several noblemen.

The Duke of York arrives. He worries he cannot defend against Bolingbroke's army because so many soldiers went with Richard to Ireland. He sends a servingman to ask the Duchess of Gloucester for a loan to raise an army against Bolingbroke, but he learns she is dead. Then he puts out a call for soldiers. However, York remains conflicted about the rising tension between Richard and Bolingbroke; he believes the king was wrong to seize Gaunt's wealth, but he also thinks it is wrong to act against the rightful king. In addition, both Richard and Bolingbroke are family: "Both are my kinsmen. / T' one is my sovereign, whom both my oath / And duty bids defend; t' other again / Is my kinsman, whom the King hath wronged, / Whom conscience and my kindred bids to right."

After York and the queen leave, Bushy, Bagot, and Green worry they will suffer for their association with Richard, since the public largely sides with Bolingbroke. Bushy and Green decide to take refuge at Bristow Castle, but Bagot decides to join Richard in Ireland. They say farewell, noting that they may never meet again.


The queen is not a significant character in the play, but her grief here is prophetic. She herself notes it is more than the usual grief of being parted from a spouse, saying it feels more as if she is being approached by a tragic fate: "Now hath my soul brought forth her prodigy, / And I, a gasping new-delivered mother, / Have woe to woe, sorrow to sorrow joined."

The Duke of York's internal conflict in this scene is the same conflict Gaunt grappled with—the central conflict and theme of the play: what do you do when the king, someone you believe God has chosen, is a poor king? York feels it is wrong to oppose the king, as Bolingbroke is doing, but he also knows Bolingbroke has been terribly wronged by the king. To make matters worse, both Richard and Bolingbroke are York's family members. When devotion to family, devotion to country, and devotion to God leave you with no acceptable option, how can you make a choice?

Regarding the news of the Duchess of Gloucester's death, her plea in Act I that the Duke of Lancaster avenge his brother and her husband's death represents one crack in Richard's authority. In this scene Richard is now under attack from an array of forces, and York can only mourn the death of his sister-in-law, who might have foretold the situation, because her death prevents him from getting money to buttress Richard's shaky power.

In contrast with York's moral deliberations, Bushy, Bagot, and Green approach the problem more pragmatically. They know they have benefited from the king's favor, and they know popular sentiment supports Bolingbroke. Rather than muse on the situation's implications, they quickly assess what it means for them and take action.

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