The Sun

As the official emblem of the king of England, the sun symbolizes the king and his reign. This association first becomes clear in act 1, scene 3, where Bolingbroke assents to the king’s command of banishment: “This must my comfort be: / That sun that warms you here shall shine on me, / And those his golden beams to you here lent / Shall point on me and gild my banishment” (1.3.146–49). Richard, as king, symbolically borrows the sun’s “golden beams” and directs them wherever he wishes—in this case, Bolingbroke hopes Richard will shine those beams on him during his exile and thereby “gild [his] banishment.” As the play proceeds, however, the symbolism of the sun transfers from Richard to Bolingbroke, thus paralleling the transfer of kingly power. In act 3, scene 3, Bolingbroke again likens Richard to “the blushing discontented sun,” then describes himself as “the envious clouds [that] are bent / To dim his glory” (3.3.65, 67–68). Finally, once Richard has been dethroned, the sun imagery transfers fully to Bolingbroke. Richard completes this transfer himself when he laments: “O, that I were a mockery king of snow / Standing before the sun of Bolingbroke, To melt myself away in water drops” (4.1.271–73).

The Garden

Act 3, scene 4, takes place in the garden on the Duke of York’s estate. Though very little happens in this scene by way of plot, the dialogue between the gardener and his assistant is significant for the way it envisions the garden as a microcosm of England. The gardener suggests this symbolic connection when instructing his assistant to “bind . . . up young dangling apricokes / Which, like unruly children, make their sire / Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight” (3.4.32–34). The heavy apricots cause the boughs to bend under the “oppression” of their weight. Likewise, the kingdom’s courtiers—those “unruly children” who place too heavy a burden on the king’s coffers—oppress their “sire”: the kingdom itself. The gardener’s assistant takes this symbolism further when he refers to England as “our sea-wallèd garden” with “Her fruit trees all unpruned, her hedges ruined, / Her knots disordered, and her wholesome herbs / Swarming with caterpillars” (3.4.46, 48–50). Here, the assistant complains about Richard’s leasing of crown lands, his unfair taxation schemes, and the all-consuming “caterpillars” of the court. In this degraded condition, the garden of state is, like the biblical Garden of Eden, poised for a fall.

The Warder and the Mirror

Over the course of the play, King Richard casts down two objects, both of which are symbols of kingly power. In act 1, scene 3, Richard throws down his warder to stop the single combat between Bolingbroke and Mowbray. A warder is a short staff that symbolizes the king’s office. By casting the warder down, the king brings an abrupt halt to the action, thereby demonstrating his power. However, this same act powerfully foreshadows his later fall from grace. By casting down the very symbol of his status, he symbolically resigns the power granted by his office. A similar occurrence takes place in the immediate aftermath of Richard’s official dethroning, in act 4, scene 1. He requests a mirror and uses it to reflect on the changes in his face. Though not a symbol of office, in Shakespeare’s time the mirror was often used as metaphor for discussing politics and statecraft. For instance, a 1555 work titled A Mirror for Magistrates collected Tudor-era poems that reflected on the lives and deaths of major historical figures, including kings. When Richard casts the mirror down and shatters the glass, he also symbolically shatters his identity as king.