Richard II

by: William Shakespeare

Act I, scene iii

Gaunt's advice to Bolingbroke consists largely of a kind of metaphysical double-think, in which the idea is that exile will be made easier to bear if the banished party pretends that he has left the country of his own accord: "Go, say I sent thee forth to purchase honor, / And not the king exil'd thee" (282-83). Gaunt also suggests that Bolingbroke try to re-shape reality to what would please him, and interpret the objects of the world to be different from what they actually are: "Suppose the singing birds musicians,... / The flowers fair ladies, and thy steps no more / Than a delightful measure or a dance" (288-291). Bolingbroke, however, refuses to view the world from this idealistic perspective, insisting instead on the realistic: "O, who can hold a fire in his hand / By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?... / Or wallow naked in December snow / By thinking on fantastic summer's heat?" (ll. 294-299). This insistence on the failure of the imagination to alter the real shape of the world is one of key Bolingbroke's key traits, and it puts him in direct contrast with Richard. As the play progresses, Richard becomes increasingly poetic; unable or unwilling to face the harsh realities of the world, he articulates beautiful poetry instead. Bolingbroke, as we see in this scene, is his opposite--pragmatic and hard-headed.