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Oh Fates, always savage! Oh my bitter lot, equally evil when it rages and when it is sparing! Mischievous Fortune greatly insults human affairs, whirling everything on her swift wheel. Those whom at one moment she places on the top, suddenly she tramples and kicks with her foot. Who does not see that this powerful household is overthrown by a sudden attack of tottering destiny?
First, my only son has died (oh harsh Fates, my exceedingly gloomy lot!), who could have hoped to inherit his dead father’s glorious kingdom, like the little bull-calf who accompanies the great herd, whose brow is scarcely shaded by horns — suddenly he lifts aloft his neck and holds his head erect, leading his father’s herd and governing it. O sweet pledge, oh great ornament of the royal family, oh the death of your England, oh, alas, your father’s empty hope! For you I foolishly used to pray for Achilles’ martial glory and Nestor’s years. God despoiled you of the light. Never will you happily wield the scepter with a powerful hand or give laws to the English people and subjugate conquered nations. Never will you overmaster retreating French backs or bring rebellious Scotsmen within your rule. Unhappy boy, you will lie enclosed in your tomb, without glory.
The Earl of Richmond prepares a fearful war, collecting troops in the hope of snatching my scepter. See how the common folk are baying for my blood! And furthermore this exile, lurking within the confines of Brittany, fans their anger, a far too persistent fellow. Madness arms these agents of evil for my destruction. Some are desirous of helping this upstart Richmond with soldiers, some to place strong garrisons in their castles, some to hide away armed men in their homes. Some hateful men are attempting to wheedle my subjects into mutiny. I have wished to ignore this activity. As long as I could, I cheerfully pretended not to perceive these furtive enterprises, plots, treacheries, musters of soldiers, sense them though I could. But when I learned that the Duke of Buckingham was the head of this madness and the source of all this evil, I attempted either to best him in open battle or to seduce him by friendly entreaties, lest he break faith with me. In the same spirit I wrote to the Duke, that in his good fortune he should hasten to Court. The Duke smelled out my trick and wove pretexts for delay. He feigned a troubled gut. I commanded him to set aside all delay. He refused to come to “the enemy of the nation,” and this worst of Dukes is collecting soldiers and stirring up an unspeakable war against me.
What am I to do? The man who was my best friend is seeking to depose me. He who once greatly fawned on me now greatly loathes me. Ah, the impious crime, the Duke, worthy of consignment to deepest Hell! But the common people, like a whirlwind, are banding together and seeking their sovereign’s death. They make up songs describing Richard alone as the cause of evil. Now what remains to be done? Whom can I consult? Nobody can undo that which has been done. If the people hate me, I am a dead man. But my popularity must be preserved. Let only this stain be removed by which, alas, I have gained my criminal reputation, so that if any evil befalls England I shall not be blamed. Now I shall be kindly, humane, pious, and liberal to my subjects, and I shall purge my name of impious crime. Walls will rise up, to the accompaniment of a hundred sacrifices, so that the populace, freed from their concerns, may turn to pious prayers. And I shall pass laws that are useful for my country. Perhaps the people will flock to my side, induced my false piety. The fickle crowd is moved by heaps of gold and kindly words. [Enter a messenger.]
MESS. I bring news that the Duke of Buckingham has fled and that his forces are scattered.
RICH. What was the cause of this sudden rout?
MESS. After he had reviewed his enormous band of Welshmen, he arrogantly began his march on the road which stretches through the Forest of Dean, hastening to cross the noble Severn in order to join forces with the Courtenays. But while the Duke was breathing threats with his horrid crew — do the gods not look after us mortals? — when his soldiers had caught sight of the river but had not yet touched its high banks, a heavy downpour struck the land and a humid south wind sent down many a cloudburst. Deep water flooded the fields. Fish were cast up into the unfamiliar air. Men sleeping in their beds became lodged in trees, in the middle of fields. They were amazed by overturned buildings floating everywhere. A babe in his cradle drifted through the fields, in the mountains beasts went a-swimming. For ten days water covered the land. The soldiers were stymied, since the flood scarcely permitted them to join with the Courtenays’ forces. But the mob of Welshmen, serving the Duke against their will and having no pay, wretched without provisions, soon deserted. This Welsh force could not be induced by threats or entreaties to remain as participants in the war or to continue farther. The Duke, left as an exposed prey for his enemies, unhappily made his escape.
RICH. This fortunate news strikes my ears. Happy divinities uplift me, who was previously reeling. Let soldiers block all the ports so that the Duke cannot break out to foreign parts. He is seeking to find out what the Earl of Richmond is preparing to do, and also whether he should abandon his enterprise or persevere with his threats. As ruler, I pledge my honor that the man who brings him to me as a captive will receive a worthy prize. If a bondsman, I shall manumit him; if free, I shall pay him a thousand pounds. Let the fleet patrol the Sea of Brittany lest Richmond the exile attack England. [Exit the messenger.] Dare crime, lest this evil grow worse. It is right to vindicate with the sword what prayers cannot achieve. Whatever partner in this crime comes into our hands, with his blood he will atone for this criminal undertaking. [Enter another messenger.]
MESS. The captive Buckingham is in chains.
RICH. Let us celebrate this happy day with pious prayers. Oh gods, kind to me, albeit tardily! Tell me by what wiles he was taken.
MESS. When the Duke saw he was bereft of his Welsh soldiers, he was immediately stupefied. Dumbfounded by such grave misfortune, he all but despaired of his life, devoid of any plan, but nonetheless he maintained his self-confidence. Shaking, he secretly fled to the home of Bannister, a man whom the Duke had greatly favored in the past and whom he had always amplified with dignities. He intended to remain secretly in that hall until he had reorganized his forces and his threat of war. Alternatively, he could flee over the Sea of Brittany and join himself to Richmond as a companion. But, as if some god were hostile to the Duke, he could not avoid the evil in store for him. His retainer Bannister, either fearful for his life or induced by your rewards, betrayed the Duke to Mitton, the Sheriff of Shropshire. That man, accompanied by a band of soldiers, hastened there and apprehended the Duke in a woods not far removed from his servant’s hall, as he was brooding on his fate in solitude. And, a loyal man, he now brings the captive to you. [Exit.]
RICH. If sacred faithfulness does not keep me on my throne, I shall attempt to secure my kingdom with blood and shall govern savagely with a hard rule. Now, therefore, let the Duke pay the highest penalty. Let a sad sword strike off his noxious head, let the executioner make no delay in punishing him. He who fears odium does not know how to rule. [Enter Lord Stanley.] Lord Stanley, your loyalty to me has not been in doubt. The Earl of Richmond thirsts for my honors, your step-son has promised himself my scepter. The Countess his mother seeks to give over the scepter, seized with a conquering hand, to her son. Hasten to Lancaster. There you must immediately shut her up. Let none of the woman’s servants have access to her. The mother must send no letters to her son, lest in her madness she create some calamity for her country, and, being a rebellious woman, take the scepter away from me. But leave behind your honorable son, Lord Strange, as hostage for your faith. The boy will guarantee his father’s steadfastness. Nature has endowed the female mind with cunning, filled their hearts with tricks. But she has denied them strength, so that such a great evil can nevertheless be overcome.


Oh the elusive glory of alluring Fortune, oh the disastrous outcome of this horrid war! Alas, alas, mankind is cheated by the Fates. Who can pledge himself something so assured that a fearful day cannot destroy it? I, whose name lately shone bright amongst the English, am now wretchedly thrust down to the wan waters. Alas, why are the Fates pleased to overthrow great spirits, who have been ruined by the radiance of the deceitful Court? Fortune’s gifts are too seductive. The ocean does not heave with flooding waters, the Euxine Sea is not so swollen with waters roiling up from below, as greatly as Fortune sets in motion the downfall of great men. Alas, Richard’s friendship is murderous and dire. Why should I unhappily deplore those days when the gnashing boar got himself a kingdom with his bloody tusk, relying on my advice? See, now I am done in by his atrocious goring. Soil of my birth, great glory, oh England, what ferocious fates await you now that the tyrant has you under his yoke? Alas, in my misery I am being thrust down to the waters of the Styx, a cruel axe awaits my neck.

Go to Act IV of the Third Action