The Symbolism of Nature in Shakespeare’s Richard II example

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The Symbolism of Nature in Shakespeare’s Richard II

Any Shakespearean work can be analyzed on a variety of contextual levels, and Richard II is no different. Often the context lies in metatextuality, meaning that to understand a certain reference one has to be familiar with a different text or story. Western literature usually relies on two main sources: the Bible and ancient Greek mythology. Via understanding and analyzing of the intertextual symbols, it is possible to learn a deeper meaning to Bard’s words.

In particularly, Richard II has many symbolic mentions of gardens. In his deathbed monolog, Gaunt compares England to the Garden of Eden: “This other Eden, demi-paradise” (Shakespeare, trans.1975, 2.1.43). The Christian meaning behind it is quite obvious: it means the reminder of the golden age, worrisome past, a promise of a better life; but also the reminder of human sins, the danger of temptation and the inevitability of downfall. As in the Biblical counterpart, it was humans who brought down their own paradise; and in Gaunt’s vision, Richard is repeating their fate.

The garden is a symbol of paradise in many cultures. From a historical point of view, it has a clear explanation: on the dawn of mankind, people had to rely on gathering to survive. Thus the idea of fruitful lands gained a foothold as a synonym of secure life. “With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder” (Shakespeare, trans.1975, 2.1.38) – Gaunt warns, reaffirming the metaphor. A garden is the gifting force of nature, the source of life that got domesticated to serve the mankind, but remains primal at its core anyway. The archetype of Mother-nature is mentioned once more in the monolog: “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England, this nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings” (Shakespeare, trans.1975, 2.1.51-52).

When Gaunt (or, rather, Shakespeare) calls England “demi-paradise”, he means its origins coming from two realms, one obviously being divine. However, there are three in play: God, Nature, and Mankind. If nature and mankind are of one, then it enforces the idea of men as earthly creatures, prominent in theological worldview. However, if Nature and God are the same, which is more probable, then it invokes pagan symbolism. It is furthered by the point that through his monolog, Gaunt implies that England lives by pre-established rules, the laws of nature, and that Richard goes against them. This conflicts with Richard’s self-imagery as a God-chosen ruler: “As doth the blushing discontented sun” (Shakespeare, trans.1975, 3.3.65). Two ideologies use the same reasoning to support opposing ideas.

Another nature symbolism worthy of mentioning occurs in Act 3 Scene 4. Again, the gardener compared England to a garden; however, this time, it is a political allegory. He compares a good ruler to a good gardener, tending to his crops, pruning and weeding them. The queen, overhearing the conversation, condemns the gardener – “old Adam's likeness” (Shakespeare, trans.1975, 3.4.77). Doubting the king’s rule is doubting the God’s plan, which again, puts these two …

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