Richard II | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard II | Act 3, Scene 4 | Summary



The queen is in her garden with her ladies. The gardener and two assistants come in, and she hides, hoping to overhear news of the king. As the men discuss what is happening with Richard and Bolingbroke, they compare the kingdom to a garden. If Richard had tended his kingdom as they tend this garden, Richard would not be in trouble. Hearing this, the queen reveals herself, and the gardener tells her Richard is now a prisoner of Bolingbroke. The queen decides to go to London. When she leaves, the gardener says he will plant some rue, an herb associated with sorrow and remorse, where she shed her tears.


This scene picks up the metaphor begun by John of Gaunt comparing England to a garden. Being gardeners, they approach the metaphor from a slightly different perspective—much more actively and practically. The gardener and his men discuss ruling a kingdom as if the task is like caring for a garden. It isn't so much a paradise, as Gaunt painted it, but an unwieldy garden with weeds and pests that must be constantly tended and defended from harm. This is more in line with Bolingbroke's attitude: a man of action, he is more likely than Richard to aggressively tend the garden. It is no accident the gardeners echo here Bolingbroke's reference to caterpillars. The gardener's man sadly notes the kingdom's "wholesome herbs" are "swarming with caterpillars." Bolingbroke has already stated his intention to rid the kingdom of "caterpillars of the commonwealth" (Act 2, Scene 4).

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