Richard II | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard II | Act 2, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

The Earl of Salisbury, still loyal to Richard, speaks with a Welsh captain at a soldiers' camp. The Welsh soldiers have so far stayed loyal to Richard, but now they want to leave because the king has not communicated with them for 10 days. Salisbury asks the soldiers to wait one more day, but their captain refuses. He tells Salisbury there are rumors the king is dead. People have seen signs in nature associated with a king's death, such as meteors, withered bay trees, and a "pale-faced moon" that "looks bloody on the Earth," all of which make them believe the rumor. Salisbury knows this is not good news for Richard, and he ends the scene lamenting, "I see thy glory like a shooting star / Fall to the base earth from the firmament. / Thy sun sets weeping in the lowly west, / Witnessing storms to come, woe, and unrest. / Thy friends are fled to wait upon thy foes, / And crossly to thy good all fortune goes."

Analysis

Although Bolingbroke has not made a claim to the throne, Act 2 is full of the rising action that will lead to Richard's overthrow. The king has made several missteps, the most egregious being his seizure of Gaunt's wealth, which stokes public sympathy for Bolingbroke, calls into question the concept of rightful inheritance, and gives Bolingbroke an excuse to return to England with soldiers to help him claim what is his.

This scene relies on supernatural signs and heavenly imagery to foreshadow what will happen to Richard. The Welsh soldiers observe signs and omens that supposedly auger a king's death, and though Richard is not yet dead, he will be by the end of the play. Salisbury also sums up Richard's dark future with figures of speech involving heavenly bodies. Salisbury's two metaphorical descriptions of Richard's fate—"a shooting star / Fall to the base earth from the firmament" and his sun "sets weeping in the lowly west"—both depict something high and wonderful falling to a lower place. These images poetically describe what is happening to Richard, evoking a sense of grief and loss. In the next act this descent will be enacted both literally and figuratively as Richard loses power and Bolingbroke gains it.

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