King Richard has departed for Ireland to put down the rebellion there. Back at Windsor Castle, near London, Queen Isabel mourns his absence. Bushy and Bagot, loyal advisors of the king, try to comfort her, but Isabel says she is haunted by foreboding and despair. She feels as though something terrible is going to happen: “Some unborn sorrow ripe in Fortune’s womb / Is coming towards me, and my inward soul / With nothing trembles. At some thing it grieves” (2.2.10–12).

Greene enters to give them all bad news: Henry Bolingbroke has landed with his army at Ravenspurgh, on the northeast coast of England. Unfortunately, Richard has already departed for Ireland and taken his army with him, so there is no one to stop him. Moreover, many English lords have defected from Richard and joined Bolingbroke: Northumberland, his young son Harry Percy, Lord Ross, Lord Willoughby, and others. When these lords were declared traitors by Greene, yet another lord departed for Bolingbroke’s side—the Earl of Worcester, who is the brother of Lord Northumberland. The loss of Worcester is a particularly bad sign, as he was the Lord Steward of the king’s household and took all the king’s household servants with him when he left.

The Duke of York then enters, obviously upset. He has been left in charge of the government while Richard is away, but a combination of stress, old age, and a moral dilemma as to whether he ought to be supporting Richard or Bolingbroke has left him uncertain about what to do. We learn that his son, Aumerle, has already left to join Richard in Ireland. Moreover, when York sends a servant to ask for financial assistance from his sister-in-law, the Duchess of Gloucester, he discovers that she has died earlier that day. Unable to figure out how to raise money to repel Bolingbroke’s attack, York departs, much upset, to go to Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire (in south-central England) to try to raise an army. He takes Queen Isabel with him.

Left alone, Bushy, Bagot and Greene consult with each other. They all agree that they are now in danger: raising an army large enough to deflect Bolingbroke in the absence of the king seems impossible. As known favorites of Richard, they are now in danger from the common people, who have turned against Richard and his supporters. All three decide to flee Windsor: Bushy and Greene decide to go to Bristol Castle, to the west, while Bagot declares his intention to join Richard in Ireland. They bid each other farewell, troubled by the possibility that they may never meet again.

Read a translation of Act 2: Scene 2.


Isabel’s foreboding fits in with the general sense of doom that has pervaded the play since act 1, scene 2, when John of Gaunt told the Duchess of Gloucester that she would have to leave it to heaven to “rain hot vengeance on offenders’ heads” when the time was ripe (1.2.8). We have the sense that Richard is about to get what he deserves—that is, punishment both for his mismanagement of the country and for his part in the Duke of Gloucester’s death. The metaphors Bushy uses to try to convince Isabel to stop grieving are characteristic of the play’s sometimes abstract and complex language. His comparison of Isabel’s grief-stricken eyes to a picture painted in “perspective” is admirably intricate, though also difficult to make sense of on a first reading. We also see, in Isabel’s “nameless woe,” the kind of melancholy that Richard himself will increasingly display over the course of the play.

The torrent of bad news that breaks over the queen and her allies during this scene is only a taste of what is to follow. After this point, Richard’s fall appears to be inevitable. We learn in quick succession of the invasion of Bolingbroke, the defection of the nobility, the departure of the Earl of Worcester, and the death of the Duchess of Gloucester. It is little wonder that the Duke of York feels himself incapable of defending the country that Richard has left in his charge, or that Bushy, Bagot, and Greene privately agree that the effort is hopeless: “Alas, poor duke, the task he undertakes / Is numb’ring sands and drinking oceans dry” (2.2.152–53). It is also no wonder that Isabel, losing hope, seems to take a certain relish in resigning herself to the worst. Indeed, at times she seems almost to luxuriate in her woe: “I cannot but be sad—so heavy sad / As thought, on thinking on no thought I think / Makes me with heavy nothing faint and shrink” (2.2.31–33). The self-reflexive language on display here makes these lines challenging to parse. Even so, it’s evident that the queen is eloquent and long-winded on the subject of her grief.

As for York, he has begun to face down the moral dilemma that will occupy him for much of the rest of the play. A loyalist to the last, he, like John of Gaunt, has difficulty imagining himself raising arms against Richard, the divinely appointed king. And yet, he also knows that Bolingbroke’s complaint is justified. What makes his position so challenging is that both Richard and Bolingbroke are his cousins. Furthermore, he can’t decide whether it’s better to honor his oath to England’s sovereign or to defend the rights of a man who has so clearly been wronged. Not yet able to make a firm choice, he struggles to make sense of a world where “all is uneven, / And everything is left at six and seven” (2.2.128–29). The seeds of doubt have been planted.