This scene takes place on the coast of Wales. Here Richard is thrilled to return to his kingdom (from Ireland), despite the fact that it is now filled with rebels. He urges the earth of England itself to be hostile to Henry and those who would usurp Richard’s crown. After this speech, Carlisle reassures the king, saying that the power that made him king (i.e. God) has the power to ensure that he stays king.
Richard invokes the power of England itself, hoping that it will support him. However, he is more focused on his kingly understanding of England as opposed to believing England to be made up of the common people, who mostly support Henry. Carlisle, though, reassures Richard by restating the belief that, despite what any citizen might think, Richard still has the divine right to the throne.
Richard lashes out, saying that when the sun is on the other side of the globe (symbolizing a king’s absence from his country), thieves and murderers (rebels) sneak out. But when the sun returns, he says, light shines over all of the guilty men, and all of the traitors are shown for what they truly are. Thus, he says, he need not fear Henry.
Richard uses figurative language to describe the way that his detractors have shown themselves during his absence in Ireland. According to his metaphor, his return will shine light on the evil men, revealing them as traitors and securing his position on the throne.
What’s more, Richard argues, nothing on earth, nor all the water in the sea can wash the royal “balm” from a king appointed by God. For every soldier Henry has, Richard says, God has an angel that will defend him.
However, this optimism is quickly dispelled when Salisbury enters and informs the king that the Welsh army has dispersed. Immediately, Richard turns pale, saying that the blood of those thousands of men has rushed from his face. But he forgets himself for only a moment, and then again reminds himself that he is king.
Again, though, Richard is deflated, as he braces for the worst possible news (his own death) when Scroop enters. Scroop says that as Henry marches through the country, people both old and young have been flocking to his cause and joining the rebellion. What’s more, Bagot, Bushy, and Green are all with Henry. Though first it seems they have defected and betrayed Richard, Scroop clarifies that they have been executed.
In an emerging pattern, Richard becomes deflated again by bad news, as Henry has received popular support and very little resistance. What’s more, the allies of the king are dead. England itself seems to be ignoring Richard’s call to resist Henry’s campaign for the throne.
With this news Richard feels completely defeated. He says that they should all begin preparing their wills, and that their lands and lives and everything are all now Henry’s. The only thing that they possess for themselves now is death and their skin. He utterly gives up and consigns to sit on the floor and tell stories of the deaths of kings, some of which seem to echo other Shakespeare plays. It is here that he refers to himself as flesh and blood, and asks, since he is so subjected, how can he be called a king?
Richard here begins to grasp the inevitability of his defeat. He now believes that the only things he owns are his death and his skin, a morbid image suggesting the despair he feels in this situation. In a meta-theatrical moment, Richard starts referencing tales about kings dying, some of which sound like other Shakespeare plays. Finally, in a break from earlier imagery in which he was figured as the sun, Richard admits to being just flesh and blood, a mere human subject instead of a divinely appointed king.
After this lengthy speech, Carlisle tells Richard that fearing and wailing only strengthen their enemies, and that the king needs to prepare to fight. It’s much better to fight and die, he says, then to simply die afraid. Richard agrees and decides he will fight Henry, but almost immediately again he is broken with the bad news that York has joined up with the potential usurper. Richard cries out, asking what could possibly make him feel better now, and then he decides to retreat to Flint Castle and allow his soldiers to disperse.
Carlisle encourages Richard, though he knows the situation is still utterly dire. The pattern of Richard’s spirits rising and falling (which mirrors the continuous thematic imagery of rise and fall surrounding Henry and Richard) continues, as Richard is again deflated by the news that York has defected. At this point he is devoid of hope, and he gives up any attempt of waging war to defend his crown.