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Act III, Scene 4
In the meanwhile, in the garden of the Duke of York, Queen Isabel seeks some amusement to distract her from her worries. She is accompanied by two lady attendants who try to alleviate her grief, but she rejects all of their suggestions, professing that such diversions would only make her remember "more of sorrow." As they continue talking, the queen sees a gardener arrive with his two servants. She decides to hide in the foliage of the trees nearby as she is certain that they will discuss England's troubles.
The gardener instructs his servants to bind the dangling apricots "which, like unruly children, make their sire / Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight." He likewise tells them to "cut off the heads of too fast-growing sprays" as an executioner does of those that "look too lofty in our government." He himself goes and plucks weeds out by their roots because they steal the soil's fertility but do not yield anything. The first servant wonders why they should take pains with their garden while disorder prevails in England. He draws an analogy between the garden he tends and the "sea-walled garden" that is England. The gardener tells him to hold his tongue and reveals that Richard has been taken captive by Bolingbroke. He retorts that if Richard had tended his garden as zealously as they do theirs, he would not be faced with the loss of his crown
At this point Queen Isabel makes her presence known and rebukes the wretched gardener for discussing the deposition of the king. The gardener begs her pardon but asserts that it is common knowledge that Richard has been taken captive by Bolingbroke, who is bringing him to London. The Queen decides to leave for London immediately "to meet at London London's king in woe." She curses the gardener for being the bearer of bad news and prays that his plants may never grow. She then exits along with her attendants. The gardener sympathizes with the Queen and tells his men that he will plant "a bank of rue, sour herb of grace" in remembrance of the queen in the place where she had shed her tears.
This scene shifts the focus of the play from action to reflection. The queen wants to drive away her melancholy mood but is unable to divert her attention from her grief. The gardener and his servants discuss the very issues that trouble the queen. The commoners here reveal a conservative attitude toward matters of state: they do not want to overthrow their king, but they do want a strong king.
The gardener draws an analogy between governing the state and maintaining a garden. The importance of his message cannot be emphasized enough. He provides political commentary in metaphorical terms: just as the gardener beheads the "too fast- growing sprays," so should the state have limited the power of King Richard's influential friends.
Shakespeare was not promoting democratic ideals in this scene. When the gardener refers to equality in the commonwealth, he means that the king's corrupt favorites should be eliminated. Bushy and Green are the fast-growing sprays who have disrupted the equilibrium and peace of the commonwealth. The "noisome weeds" refers to traitors like Wiltshire, among others. It is essential to remove these weeds, which are damaging the soil. Richard had struck at the wrong people when he cut off the superfluous branch of Gloucester. The gardener represents the common man, who may have cooled towards Richard. However, the gardener is not a proponent of revolt and deposition; he only accepts that the change in government from Richard to Bolingbroke is inevitable.
The queen is incensed at the gardener's impudence. She attacks the gardener in a speech that is filled with religious imagery: "Thou, old Adam's likeness, set to dress this garden, / How dares thy harsh rude tongue sound this unpleasing news? / What Eve, what serpent hath suggested thee / To make a second Fall of cursed man?" According to the bible, man has to labor because of the fall of Adam. This brings up the question of the king's responsibility for the fall of England. The queen sympathetically draws a comparison between Adam, who was betrayed by Eve and the serpent, and Richard, who has been betrayed by his favorites in his hour of need. This view coincides with that of a number of characters who hold the courtly favorites responsible for Richard's degeneration. Northumberland had stated earlier that the king was misled by flatterers.
The scene ends with the queen cursing the gardener that may his plants never grow. But the gardener does not show any anger. He is on the contrary sympathetic to the queen and pities her condition.