Richard II | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard II | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Bolingbroke has landed in Gloucestershire, England, and he and Northumberland are leading an army. Northumberland's son, Harry (Henry) Percy, is with them. Percy reports the Duke of York is at a nearby castle with a small number of soldiers, but many soldiers have sided with Bolingbroke. Ross and Willoughby arrive, ready to support Bolingbroke.

Lord Berkeley arrives with a message from York, who wants to know why Bolingbroke has returned from banishment. Then York arrives to ask Bolingbroke this question in person. Bolingbroke says he has come to claim his father's property. The other lords agree with Bolingbroke's position, but York does not, even though Bolingbroke appeals to him as a father figure: "You are my father, for methinks in you / I see old Gaunt alive. O, then, my father, / Will you permit that I shall stand condemned / A wandering vagabond, my rights and royalties / Plucked from my arms perforce and given away / To upstart unthrifts?" York agrees Richard was wrong to take Gaunt's wealth, but he considers it treason to disobey the king, let alone lead an army against him. But he also says he will take a neutral position in the conflict, so he invites Bolingbroke, Northumberland, and the others to stay at Berkeley Castle. Bolingbroke accepts, though he will go first to Bristol to "weed and pluck away" the "caterpillars of the commonwealth"—the king's friends who are hiding there.

Analysis

This scene introduces Harry Percy, who will become more central to the next installment of the Henriad, Henry IV Part 1. In that play Percy, also called Hotspur, is a favorite of Henry Bolingbroke, who has become King Henry IV. Henry IV prefers Percy to his own son, Hal—who later kills Percy and goes on to become Henry V. Percy's appearance in this scene of Richard II, which emphasizes family dynamics, is a preview of the conflict and themes of Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V.

To defend his return from banishment, Bolingbroke says he was "banished Herford"—that is, when his title was Duke of Hereford—but now he is coming "for Lancaster"—the title Duke of Lancaster, which is his after his father's death. The banishment should not apply if he is now Duke of Lancaster. This verbal separation of the title from the man who inhabits it ties in to Richard II's ability to play the role of king but his inability to govern as a king should.

At the end of the scene, Bolingbroke says he will go to Bristow Castle to deal with "the caterpillars of the commonwealth" whom he has "sworn to weed and pluck away." These "caterpillars" are Bushy, Bagot, and their allies. "Caterpillar" is an insult meant to suggest these men feed off the commonwealth, but it also hearkens back to the metaphor of England as a garden of Eden, which Gaunt so beautifully used to describe his nation in Act 2, Scene 1. Bushy and Bagot are like pests who feed on and destroy the garden.

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