Summary: Act 2: Scene 3

In the wild highlands of Gloucestershire, in south-central England, we find Henry Bolingbroke and Lord Northumberland riding toward Berkeley Castle, where they intend to meet up with the Lord Ross and Lord Willoughby. The two have had a long journey from Ravenspurgh in the northeast, where Bolingbroke landed, but Northumberland flatters his companion, saying that his company has made the trip easy. The two men are met unexpectedly by Northumberland’s young son, Harry Percy. From him they learn what we, as readers, already know: that Northumberland’s brother, the Earl of Worcester, has left Richard’s court to join Bolingbroke. Percy also tells them that Northumberland and the other defectors have been declared traitors (this was the cause of Worcester’s own defection), and that Worcester had sent him to scout Berkeley Castle and learn what sort of army York is raising there. Northumberland introduces Bolingbroke to his young son. Percy swears allegiance to him, and Bolingbroke swears eternal friendship and gratitude to Percy.

The party turns out already to be very near Berkeley Castle, and we learn from Percy that York’s army is small—only three hundred men—and has very few noblemen in it (only the Lords of York, Berkeley, and Seymour). Lord Ross and Lord Willoughby arrive on horseback to join Bolingbroke, at which point the Duke of York emerges from the castle.

Bolingbroke is highly respectful and affectionate toward his uncle York, but York chides him for disturbing England’s peace through his invasion. Bolingbroke makes an eloquent speech, declaring that Richard has done him wrong, pleading his right to the titles denied him, and arguing that he is unable to seek redress any other way. York, clearly moved, explains that, regardless of his own feeling about the matter, he cannot condone a rebellion against the lawful king. However, he also concedes that he does not presently have the manpower or the personal strength to repel Bolingbroke and his allies. Thus, he declares himself neutral and invites Bolingbroke and his allies to spend the night in Berkeley Castle. Bolingbroke accepts, and he attempts to persuade his uncle to come with him the next day to Bristol Castle, where he intends to find and destroy Bushy and Bagot.

Read a translation of Act 2: Scene 3.

Summary: Act 2: Scene 4

Meanwhile, we discover, there is bad news waiting for Richard in Wales. On the coast where Richard intends to land upon his return from Ireland, a large Welsh army has been waiting, under the supervision of Richard’s ally Lord Salisbury. Richard is meant to lead this army against Bolingbroke when he returns. However, after ten days of waiting with no news from the king, the army’s Welsh captain explains to Salisbury that there are bad omens in the surrounding landscape and in the sky, and that he and his men are convinced Richard is dead. The Welshmen then begin to disperse despite Salisbury’s pleas for them to remain. In despair, he declares that he can see Richard’s star falling, like one of the Welshmen’s bad omens, from the sky down toward the earth.

Read a translation of Act 2: Scene 4.

Analysis: Act 2: Scenes 3 & 4

Bolingbroke’s invasion has already met with a fair amount of success. By this point, he has ridden most of the way across England to reach the highlands of Gloucestershire. The encounter between Bolingbroke and young Harry Percy is far more interesting one than is immediately apparent. Young Percy, who swears allegiance in this scene to Bolingbroke, will (along with his father) become a key player against Bolingbroke in Henry IV, Part 1, which continues the story of Richard II. Percy’s statement that his youth will be, by “elder days,” “ripen[ed] and confirm[ed] / To more approved service and desert” (2.3.45–46), and Bolingbroke’s promise that “as my fortune ripens with thy love, / It shall be still thy true love’s recompense” (2.3.50–51), are thus both laden with irony.

York and Bolingbroke’s exchange of words outside the castle eloquently demonstrates both the complexity of the political and personal issues involved in this war and Shakespeare’s artistry in depicting that complexity. It is increasingly unclear which party, if any, has “right” on its side. York condemns Bolingbroke as a traitor and tells him that if he were young again, he would give his nephew a sound whipping to show him the error of his ways. Bolingbroke, however, pleads his case in very convincing terms. The king has cheated him out of his inheritance and his title of nobility. To make matters worse, the king has also revoked the “letters patents” (2.3.234) that had guaranteed his legacy, thereby blocking him from using the law to appeal the theft. He asks:

“What would you have me do? I am a subject, / And I challenge law. Attorneys are denied me, / And therefore personally I lay my claim / To my inheritance of free descent” (2.3.137–40).

Bolingbroke also plays the kinship card, telling York that he sees the image of his own father in him—“I see old Gaunt alive” (2.3.122)—and pointing out that if York had died instead of Gaunt, and York’s son Aumerle had been similarly wronged, Gaunt would have acted as a father to him and helped him defend his rights.

York still cannot fully approve of an insurrection that chafes against his values and sense of order: “To find out right with wrong, it may not be” (2.3.149). Still, he is clearly swayed by Bolingbroke’s arguments. He also realizes that he simply does not have the strength to repel his invasion. His decision to remain “neuter” (2.3.163)—at once neutral and impotent—is tantamount to defecting to Bolingbroke’s side. York acknowledges this implicit defection when he invites Bolingbroke and his companions to sleep in the castle for the night. Bolingbroke’s political adeptness has won him, and cost Richard, another ally.