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This is Richard's first appearance after a considerable period of time. His departure for Ireland was timed at a wrong moment. It was extremely dangerous for him to leave England after antagonizing both the nobility and the commoners through heavy taxation and the imposition of fines for past misdemeanors. But Ireland also required attention. Ireland had been first conquered by Henry II in the twelfth century. Ever since, it had always posed a problem. Richard had established English rule in Ireland by subduing a revolt there in 1394 and by reordering the relationship between the English overlords and the Irish chieftains. A new rebellion broke out in Ireland in 1398-1399 and threatened to ruin all of Richard's early efforts. Thus he had to go to Ireland at a time when his presence in England was of great importance.
There has been a tremendous change in Richard's character. His mood shifts frequently, and he loses confidence very easily. He lacks strength of character and the resolve to pursue a course of action. He has to be coaxed into action by his supporters. He does not exhibit any kingly characteristics. Critics have often noted that the Richard who returns from Ireland is not compatible with the earlier Richard.
In Richard's first speech he greets the earth of England. Its patriotism is surprising: his words recall the dying speech of Gaunt, in which he praises England. But Richard's claim over England is inferior to Gaunt's reverence. He tells the earth of England to generate spiders, toads and adders to destroy the rebels and prevent them from treading on its surface. This personification of nature as a mother who will protect her child from the onslaught of the enemies is jarring. It is a display of self- conscious sentiment, as opposed to Gaunt's expression of true feeling. It is as if Richard is begging England to give him the kingly quality that he does not naturally possess; that of prowess in battle.
The tragedy of Richard's situation is that he is a mortal who is unfit for his role, yet he believes he deserves heaven's favor. He reaches the height of poetic intensity in a famous speech (ll. 144- 177) in which he observes: "I live with bread, like you; feel want, / Taste grief, need friends. Subjected thus, / How can you say that I am a king?" After having described the lives of kings at the beginning of his speech, he suddenly differentiates himself from them and admits to human limitations.
This speech has led critics to charge Richard with wallowing in self-pity. Richard performs as an actor for his audience in an endeavor to gain their sympathy by calling attention to his own disaster. By the end of this scene, Richard has lost all regal bearing and appears as a pathetic figure. Bolingbroke is approaching, and the action moves towards the inevitable end. It seems that Richard is delivering himself into the hands of his enemies. He dismisses the remainder of his soldiers and announces his decision to spend the rest of his days in Flint Castle.