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The Importance Of The Garden Scene In Shakespeare’s Richard Ii

1327 words - 5 pages

Why is Garden Scene included in Shakespeare’s Richard II? What does it contribute to the overall flow and development of the play?  The Garden Scene (Act III, Scene IV) is an important and pivotal moment, providing plot update, allegory, exposition, and character contrasts.

The Garden Scene is important for several reasons, firstly, it occurs between two scenes in which Richard, Bolingbroke, and others are present, but between which some time has passed. This implies a costume change, and this little scene provides just such an opportunity. But this is far from the full measure of the scene's worth. In addition to its practical necessity, it also provides a much-needed respite from the increasingly mounting tension of the play; we are allowed to dally for a moment in the royal gardens before being thrust back into the action. We observe, for the better part of the scene, two humble gardeners, welcome company after three acts of nothing but kings and queens, lords and ladies, dukes and duchesses; particulary for any groundlings watching the play back in 1597, this was a pause in which to reflect and relate.

The gardeners in the scene provide not only menial services such as binding up the royal "apricocks," but are in fact far more valuable to the audience in their roles of, as it were, allegorical troubadours, offering a colorful and effective update to the plot thus far. This is made all the more delightful in that such high-flown metaphorical speech is unexpected; the queen has already announced to her ladies in waiting that the two men are sure to "talk of state, for everyone doth so/Against a change," (27-28) but our expectation, if we are not familiar with the play, is to hear some low, prosaic talk of politics from the point of view of the common man. Perhaps it was the convention in Shakespeare's day for menials in the service of the crown not to talk plainly about affairs of state, to shade their meanings in codes and circumlocution; in any case, the use of garden metaphors to describe recent events in the kingdom winds up being more effective, in a dramatic sense, than would be the case if the gardeners had engaged in casual conversation.

The first metaphorical reference is to the apricocks, which I took to refer to Richard himself, while the tree symbolizes England. His handling of the kingdom has caused it to "Stoop with oppression of their [his] prodigal weight." (31) Next, the main gardener instructs his man, "Go thou, and like an executioner/Cut off the heads of too fast growing sprays,/That look too lofty in our commonwealth:/All must be even in our government." (33-36) Here we see the first blatant reference to the state. These lines, at first glance, might seem to continue to refer to Richard, to his impending doom, yet the last line reveals that it is, in fact, the first of many references to the king's favorites, the Earl of Wiltshire, Bushy, and Greene. The gardener continues to speak of these three,...

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