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MonkeyNotes-Richard II by William Shakespeare
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Act II, Scene 4

This scene moves to Wales, where a conversation takes place between the Lord of Salisbury and a Welsh captain. The captain informs Salisbury that his army has anxiously waited for some news from the king for ten days and that now he will disband the army. Salisbury exhorts him to maintain his troops for one more day, saying, "The king reposeth all his confidence in thee." But the captain is adamant and plainly refuses, stating that he believes in the widespread rumor of the king's death. He says that the rumor is corroborated by the recent spate of unnatural occurrences which portend the death or fall of kings: the withering of the bay trees, the appearance of meteors, the bloody aspect of the moon, and so forth. He says that his countrymen are "all gone and fled," believing that their king has indeed died. Left alone onstage, Salisbury bemoans Richard's downfall: " I see thy glory like a shooting star / Fall to the base earth from the firmament." He reflects that all of Richard's friends have deserted him in his time of woe.


Notes

This short scene serves to confirm Richard's defeat by Bolingbroke. The Welsh forces have also deserted Richard, as they believe the rumor that their king has died. Salisbury sadly reflects on Richard's decline and associates it symbolically with the sun setting in the west. Richard is often associated in this play with fire and sun: "Thy sun sets weeping in the lowly west, / Witnessing storms to come, woe and unrest."

Richard's decline is symbolized by the occurrence of unnatural phenomena. This is a common feature in the history plays, where the death or defeat of a leader is foretold by unusual events. Here, the withering of bay trees, the appearance of meteors and the bloody color of the moon serve as indications of Richard's decline. In the Renaissance it was believed that political order was a reflection of the cosmic order. Any disturbance in the hierarchy of the state would cause disturbances in all three spheres of creation. Salisbury refers to Richard as a "shooting star," thereby reinforcing his image of a king with some heroic aspirations. The meteor image also emphasizes the fact that Richard is falling from a great height, and his decline will leave a lasting impact on the lives of all Englishmen.

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