Pruning Politics

The Garden in Act 3 scene 4 enters us into a feminine realm, as seen by its occupants the Queen and first lady. This environment provides a relief from the masculine politics seen in the pervious scene, when Bolingbroke returns to the court with treasonous intentions. The garden is not so much a direct escape from affairs of state, but provides a different lens to view the events through.

The Gardener and his assistant step into the scene as the first commoners of the play, giving their two cents about the change in power. Using gardening discourse to explicate metaphor of the Richards place on the throne, the Gardner says, “Go, bind thou up young dangling apricots/ which, like unruly children, make their sire/ stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight./ Give some supportance to the bending twigs.” (3.4.30-33). The apricots in this quotation represent the fruits of King Richards rule, made heavy through the treasonous contempt of the court. Likewise the fruits need to be supported, which the Gardener tends to. “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) We can see how the gardener represents the “natural” sense of order in royal power. His pruning and tending of the garden is an allegory for maintaining political sanctity in an otherwise chaotic wildness (anarchy).

This notion is continued with: “noisome weeds which without profit suck the soils fertility from whole flowers” (3.4.39-40). The weeds are Bolingbroke and his men, who are invasive species endangering the “whole flowers”. The mentioning of “soils fertility” connects the idea of Land explore in class, that England is a holy place that nourishes the royal lineage. In replying to the request to de-weed the garden, the First man pans out enlarge the frame of the subject: “Why should we in the compass of a pale/ Keep law and form and due proportion/…When our sea-walled garden, the whole land,/ Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up” (3.4.41-45) The “sea-walled garden” alludes to England, likewise bordered by the oceans. This quotation calls to question why should they put effort in taming nature that’s so easily corrupted. The names “Bushy” and “Greene” are too relevant in the discourse of nature, and they’re deaths suggest the end of fecundity in Richard reign. The Gardener provides a seasonal metaphor of Richard: “He that hath suffered this disordered spring/Hath now himself met with the fall of leaf” (3.4.50-51). The tree’s experience with a “disordered spring” leads to “fall of leaf”, foreshadows the inevitable winter (death) to come for Richard.

The Gardner provides an idealistic notion of how power should be monitored: “We at time of year/ Do wound the bark, the skin of our fruit-trees,/ Lest, being over-proud in sap and blood,/ With too much riches it confound itself” (3.4.60-63) The “over-proud in sap and blood” is Richard, who is too confident in his inherited role as King. This idea that the shedding of blood, in both a literal and familial sense– is all apart of maintaining the balance of a garden (or England). The Gardener’s paradoxical view on “the order of nature” vs. “tending to nature” provides a different means to understand the politics of the play through.


4 thoughts on “Pruning Politics

  1. Ben Burgholzer

    The metaphors in this scene are great. I also thought it was noteworthy that this scene is the only time in the play that we see the "common man's" point of view of the events of the play, which is very interesting for Shakespeare to include.

  2. Cyrus Mulready

    This is a great examination of 3.4, Celina, and I'm glad that you took up this fascinating scene in your post this week. I particularly appreciate your attention to the garden as a feminine space–an idea that resonates with Gaunt's speech earlier in the play that calls England the "womb of kings." In both speeches, we get the sense of decline that has come to the state as a result of Richard's rule.

  3. Emily MacBrien

    What I also found interesting about this scene was the way the queen chose to interject on the conversation. She calls the gardener "Old Adam's likeness" and asks "What Eve, what serpent, hath suggested thee To make a second fall of cursed man?" She references a biblical betrayal to represent the current treacherous atmosphere in their own kingdom. But I found it interesting that she asked "what EVE" had prompted him to speak so. I felt as if possibly it was a way of putting the gardener in his place. Although she is a woman she out ranks him and she insinuates that like Adam, the gardener is incapable of formulating these volatile ideas on his own. He needs a woman, or a serpent to suggest them to him.

  4. kateconti

    We really do see the play through a very feminine lens at this point in the play. It is the one (and almost only) time that we are able to the women behind this political corruption. In the womans' kingdom, her home and garden, the gardener bringing up treason is a huge dishonor. She called him out quickly and really brought to reality how the affairs of the royal family effect everyone.


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