theme of nature

Nature is a theme that I found throughout the first two acts. The metaphor of the tree and its “seven fair branches” is something that seems important to this play. It is obvious that the root of the tree is John of Gaunt’s father who had seven children one of which was murdered.  Duchess, the wife of the murdered Thomas of Woodstock, points out that nature can either take its course, “some of those seven are dried by nature’s course / Some of those branches by the destinies cut” or can be influenced by outside sources like man (1.2.14-15). By her stating this it shows that even royalty cannot escape nature. But the Duchess’s husband’s branch was, “hacked down, and in his summer leaves all faded / By envy’s hand and murderer’s bloody axe” (1.2.20-21). I think it is interesting how Shakespeare uses the season summer when explaining when the Duchess’s husband’s branch was hacked. During the summer time trees are full of life and leaves which could mean that when Thomas of Woodstock was murdered he was in a good place and was full of life. Also by using a natural metaphor is brings the royalty down to earth and makes them part of the cycle of nature that no one can escape from.  The theme of seasons is used a lot. When King Richard is banishing Bolingbroke and Mowbray he uses the seasons to explain the times that each must be banished away. Bolingbroke is banished and cannot return until, “twice five summers have enriched our fields” (1.3.135) the theme of summer continues when Bolingbroke explains that he hopes where he goes, “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” (1.2.139-141) reading these lines it seems that Bolingbroke is not very upset about being banished and by using light,  sun, and warmth it makes the banishment seem less harsh. Also summer is a season that goes fairly quickly and is mostly bright with shorter darkness at night.  Mowbray’s banishment in the other hand uses the season winter and when King Richard explains his banishment to him phrases like, “sly slow hours, dateless limit, and hopeless word” are used making the banishment seem long and endless. Mowbray is banished for six winters and winter feels like the longest season of the year which makes Mowbray’s banishment feel endless. Also winter is full of darkness and the days are much shorter and the nights full of darkness much longer. While Bolingbroke makes his banishment seem not so bad, Mowbray takes it as, “thy sentence then but speechless death / which robs my tongue from breathing native breathe” (1.3.166-167). I am curious to see how each character plays out throughout the rest of the play and if the theme of winter and summer continues to be associated with each character and throughout other aspects of the play.
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3 thoughts on “theme of nature

  1. Brittany M

    I agree that Shakespeare’s use of nature’s qualities within the play is definitely something to pay attention to. As you mentioned, the Duchess’s speech is rich with comparisons to nature when she is describing the murder of her husband, whose branch on the family tree was “hacked down, and his summer leaves all faded” by the atrocity (1.2.20-21). By using the phrase “his summer” Shakespeare is able to place emphasis on the prematurity of Thomas of Woodstock’s death, because summer is associated with vibrancy, fruitfulness, and warmth. If Shakespeare had said “his winter leaves all faded,” it would correlate with the natural cycle of the seasons. Since winter is usually associated with death, lethargy, and coldness, symbolizing the end of prolificacy, this would make Woodstock’s death seem more natural and timely.

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  2. Megan Kalmes

    I also took note of the multiple mentions of nature throughout the first two acts of “Richard II”. One of the passages that I found the image of nature most striking was in scene 2.1. It is here where John of Gaunt says “His rash, fierce blaze of riot cannot last,/ For violent fires soon burn out themselves./ Small showers last long, but sudden storms are short” (2.1 33-35). This quotation possibly foreshadows the conflict that may arise in the text later on. I believe that one of Shakespeare’s main reasons for using such a large amount of natural images throughout the play is to highlight perhaps on the helplessness of men in certain situations.

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  3. Darya

    I really enjoyed this observation of Shakespeare's focus on nature in terms of describing the length of time in banishment. He seems to do this a lot in his plays. The line when Richard says, "sly slow hours, dateless limit, and hopeless word" to describe the endlessness of the banishment reminds me very much of the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech from Macbeth, in which Shakespeare also extends time to creep in a petty pace to the last syllables of recorded time. Dragging time is perhaps the worst punishment out there, especially when spent in agony.

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