The Importance of the Garden Scene in Shakespeare’s Richard II
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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...
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...Nature was so much more a facet of the lives of English men and women 400 years ago, it held a sense of wholeness and order. Shakespeare often linked the violation of order within the realm of kings and kingdoms with a congruent dissolution of order in nature. In the Garden Scene, while no horses turn and eat one another, no hurricanoes blow, yet the basic concept of an interconnectedness between mankind and nature is deftly and effectively utilized.
The Garden Scene is Shakespeare at his metaphorical best, a deceptively simple little scene that yields so much more than simply an opportunity for a costume change. It provides perspective on the cyclical nature of the machinations of man.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Richard The Second. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Alfred Harbage. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969.
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