The garden


The garden scene in act three and Richard's mirror scene in act four are two emblem scenes that Shakespeare entirely invented. (Gurr, 12)

Their centrality to the creation of the meaning of the play needs no longer stressing. The Gardener projects an alternative utopian social order, a model which the king was supposed to have followed: "Oh what a pity is it/ That he had not so trimmed and dressed his land/ As we this garden" (52-54) Because he has notoriously failed to do so, his England is in a state of total disorder with "weeds choking the fairest flowers", with "trees unpruned and hedges ruined". (44-45)

The Gardener's conversation shows the same smooth communication or even commingling between the physical and ethical or social that we noticed when discussing the imagery of blood. The language of gardening is easily translated into that of political governance. The "dangling young apricots" are associated with "unruly children" which make their "sire stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight" (30-31), the "noisome weeds" are the profiteers. The principle most praised is order and "due proportion". The latter was a key principle in designing Renaissance gardens and at the same time it meant obedience towards one's superiors. The scene can therefore be considered as "an elaborate political allegory". (Tillyard, 250)

What is striking about the model of governance proposed is the importance attached to violence in maintaining social and political order. The text insists upon the methods of "cutting and binding" employed in gardening to convey the idea that ideal governance necessitates violence. Various forms of punitive or disciplinary actions have to be enforced: the heads of the "too fast growing sprays" have to be cut off, the weeds "plucked up root and all", the barks need "wounding", "superfluous branches" are "lopped away". This is the only way to "keep law and form and due proportion" (41). The Gardener' language bristles with images of undisguised brutality and ruthlessness.

The text highlights the imbrication between law, order and violence. Law enforcing forms of violence are not only inevitable but are highly desirable. The idea of violence as law enforcing and interior to power and to institutional authority of a system was fully theorised by Walter Benjamin.[22] His term, the German word Gewalt, points out that violence does not have to be exterior to the self, but it is a condition of the establishment of the self. Gewalt means the use of external force against the self (the violation of the self); at the same time it designates the institutions and authorities that are internal to the social self as they organise and run it. It is this internal use of violence, intrinsic to law and to the preservation of the establishment that the Gardener refers to.

The words the Gardener and his help use are not amiss, even if we read them merely literally. Renaissance gardeners literally employed "cutting and binding" to achieve perfect geometrical shapes. The highly abstract and intellectual design of Renaissance gardens was conceived of in a language of domination. The geometrical forms of the gardens signified man's capacity to control and tame the wild nature both inside and outside him. Gardens were in fact loci of power; their perfect symmetries, proportions and uniformities indicated domination as much as the reflection of the ideal universal order. (Parret, 165) The philosophy underpinning discourses on gardening did not stand out as an exception in Renaissance thinking. The forms of violence humanist thinkers thought to be necessary in order to enforce an ideal order, whether textual or political, have been persuasively been analysed by Stephanie Jed.[23]

The need to use force is tied up with both the innovating and the conservative features of the Gardener's political allegory.

Let's start with the innovating aspects. In the first place the ideal order that the Gardener and his servants propose is shown to be man-made and secular in origin and purpose. No mention is made of its divine sources nor of the divine right of the prince. Richard's claim of a magic order sustaining him as God's deputy on earth is completely ignored. The state symbolised as a garden is conceived of as an artefact which is not governed by transcendental ordinances. Natural images do legitimise the solutions proposed. (This is one of the rhetorical strategies most ideological discourses employ). The nature these images refer to is a secularised one; it is not projected as the manifestation of God's design.

Though to some extent utopian, (Renaissance gardens always functioned as utopian places outside time and space)[24] the Gardener's idea of commonwealth is pragmatic. The major criterion used in judging the quality of governance is its efficiency in maintaining power and order. The Gardener's pragmatic understanding of power and order, his readiness to use force/violence to maintain it come very close to Machiavelli's views on lo stato and on governance as an undisguised form of domination.

With respect to the conservative views embraced in the garden scene mention must be made of the insistence on patriarchal relations based on obedience ("due proportions"). Thomas Beacon's declaration could function as an apposite comment on this order:

As it is required by law and reason that children bear the honour and reverence to their natural parents which is commanded; so it is necessary.... that all subjects show the duty of honour and obedience to their Lords, Princes and Kings.[25]

The Gardener allows no transgression against this principle. Firm action is taken against "unruly children that make their sire/Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight".

His view of order is hostile to social mobility and reproduces the dominant Tudor ideology where ambition and the pursuit of self-interest are anathema. Individualistic social climbers, acting in keeping with the new values of the market, are demonised and held responsible for the destabilisation of order in the English society. They have to be duly punished:

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. (32-35)

The "uniformities" of Renaissance gardens neatly correspond to the egalitarian order of traditional rural communities. ("All must be even in our commonwealth"). David Underdown has shown that these rural communities were the most conservative ones in Elizabethan England. (Underdown, 14)

Another source of danger are the squanderer's and profiteers who are guilty of the capital sin of putting self-interest above public interest — the "noisome weeds", the "caterpillars", and "the superfluous branches".[26] The scene identifies them as the king's suitors— Bagot, Bushy and Green — whom Bullingbrook earlier called "upstart unthrifts" (2.3,121) and caterpillars of the commonwealth. (2.3.165). As was mentioned above, the king's suitors stand for the consumerist, Europe oriented new aristocracy. Their extravagance was considered to be highly threatening to the traditional order. Bullingbrook's action of plucking up "these weeds, roots and all" is fully endorsed and praised. The Gardener calls Richard "a wasteful king", which echoes Gaunt's earlier complaints. In a way the scene could be seen as a continuation of Gaunt's indictment in act III. His fall is thought to be an inevitable consequence of his acts: "he that hath suffered this disordered spring/ Hath now himself met with the fall of leaf" (48-49).

Considering the emphasis the Gardener places upon the preservation of the traditional, patriarchal order, it is surprising that the usurpation of the king is not vilified but seems to be tacitly endorsed. The Gardener does not come out with a response similar to the one Bishop Carlisle had in act four:

What subject can give sentence on his king,

And who sits here that is not Richard's subject?

Thieves are not judged but they are by to hear

although apparent guilt be see in them,

And shall the figure of God's majesty,

His captain, steward, deputy, elect,

Anointed, crowned, planted many years,

Be judged by subject and inferior breath

And he himself not present? (4.1.120-129)

The Gardener has no right to judge the king as the queen rightfully reminds him. At the same time, considering the views the gardener and his help have expressed on hierarchy and on the status quo, why do they not pass judgements on Bullingbrook's transgression? Does Bullingbrook not qualify as one of those "unruly children" or as one of the "too fast-growing sprays", who violates the rules of obedience. Surprisingly, Bullingbrook is deemed to be a good gardener. Richard may be bemoaned but Bullingbrook's weeding and pruning the garden of the commonwealth are more than welcomed. For all the insistence on the preservation of patriarchal relations and of the established order, it is a "new prince" (as Machiavelli defined and called him) who is preferred over the one sanctioned by the traditional order.

The queen overhears their conversation and contests the Gardener's judgements. She denies him the authority he indirectly derives from the mythical symbolism of the Garden of Eden. The reference to the Biblical Adam helps her to relate the gardeners to the rebellious peasants of Wat Tyler's uprising in 1371 and to their famous slogan " When Adam delved and Eve span/ Who was then the gentleman". The emblematic quality of the garden as an image of the ideal commonwealth appears to be thus politically questionable. The queen's protest, however, only emphasizes her own and her husband's inability to influence the course of events. The Gardener stresses this truth by planting rue, a plant of sorrow and regret, in memory of the sad queen.

If the Gardener is credited to "give both the pattern and the moral of the play" as Tillyard thought, (250) then this moral seems rather befuddling. Nor can we contrast the "directness and simplicity of his [the Gardener's] political solutions to the uncertainty and nervousness of Richard or Bullingbrook" as Derek Cohen thinks. (Cohen, 18) The image of the ideal government the garden is supposed to instantiate is traversed by contradictory positions and discourses.

It is these contradictions and slippages in what is projected as an ideal order as well as the erosion of the beliefs underpinning it that account for the emphasis on law enforcing violence. The play stages the dissolution of rituals and ceremonies underpinning the traditional patriarchal order, a dissolution that reaches its climax with the king's own undoing. Andrew Gurr has further noticed that kneeling — signifying obedience and acknowledgement of degree— is very rare and most problematic in the play.

The idea of the beneficial effects of blood-letting (phlebotomy) that would purge the body politic from noxious substances and would restore its balance is reiterated in terms of the language of gardening. Although it is used with reference to vegetal tissue, which was not supposed to be sentient, the bluntness with which the violence is described is shocking. The Gardener reproaches Richard with not having inflicted the purging violence in time and describes their own practices:

Oh what pity is it

That he had not trimmed and dressed his land

As we this garden! We at time of year

Do wound the bark, the skin of our fruit trees,

Lest being overproud in sap and blood

With too much riches it confound itself....

.....Superfluous branches

We lop away, that bearing boughs may live.( 55-64) (my italics)

Daniel espoused a similar view on violence as curative bloodletting in his Civil Wars:

O War, begot in pride and luxury...

Unjust-just scourge of men's iniquity,

Sharp easer of corruptions desperate,

Is there no means but that a sin-sick land

Must be let blood with such a boist'rous hand?[27]

The irony of it is that Richard himself had tried to use these methods and "wound the bark" and "lop away" dissenting voices , by having his brother Gloucester imprisoned and probably murdered. The Elizabethan audience was quite familiar with these events both from Hall's and Holinshed's works and in particular from a highly popular if controversial play, called Woodstock. One of the reasons why Richard's "purging violence" failed to have the expected effect is that it was not directed against an external enemy that could easily be scapegoated, no was fully legitimated by any institution. Bullingbrook runs the same risks. His " purging blood-letting", though initially welcome will backfire and trigger off a chain of rebellions. What the two Henry IV plays actualise and what is already anticipated at the end of Richard II is not the Gardener's ideal order but Carlisle's grim prophecy:

The blood of English shall manure the ground

And future ages groan for this foul act.

Peace shall go sleep with Turks and infidels,

and in this seat of peace tumultuous wars

Shall kin with kin and kind with kind confound.

Disorder, horror, fear and mutiny

Shall here inhabit, and this land be called

the field of Golgotha and dead men's skulls. (4.1.137-144)

Is the Gardener's ideal ruler a "just repressor of vice" or a ruthless tyrant ? Or both? No simple answer can be given. One thing comes out clearly from the scene, namely that violence appears to be the one and only efficient means that can ensure order and that an ideal commonwealth simply cannot do without its various punitive or disciplinarian forms. Violence alone can both revive eroded values and substantiate new ones.[28] This is why the ideal ruler should be " like an executioner" and not shy away from repressive violence.

The plot of the play does not negate but reinforces the desire that the Garden scene creates, namely the desire for the institutionalised Gewalt, for the strong authoritarian state that can legitimately claim the monopoly of violence and suppress the self-destructive impulses in human nature. This alone can impose a rational, secularised and pragmatic order. Violence is shown in this play to have broken a rigid and static order and violence is further looked upon to restore the ensuing unstable order by instituting a system that anticipates Hobbes' political vision of the state.

The play holds up two models as solutions out of the crisis the political system has plunged in: one is the nostalgic past of feudal, chivalric value. The other is the utopian, rationally balanced order of Renaissance gardens or of the mythical Eden, an image which re-enacts both former communitarian ideals and humanistic views on governing. Both models are shown to be embroiled in violence. Both have an unacknowledged debt to Machiavellian views on government.


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