Scene by Scene Synopsis
Act I, Scene 1: Henry Bolingbroke appears before his cousin King Richard II and accuses Thomas Mowbray of treason for having embezzled funds, hatched unspecified plots, and murdered Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, Bolingbroke and the king's uncle. Mowbray claims innocence and demands a trial by combat. Despite Richard's appeals seconded by Bolingbroke's father, John of Gaunt, the two noblemen insist on fighting; Richard gives in and designates a time and place for the encounter.
Act I, Scene 2: The Duchess of Gloucester, widow of Thomas, demands that Gaunt avenge her husband's murder, but he replies that, since the murder was ordered by the king. God's deputy, vengeance can be exacted only by God. The Duchess then prays that Mowbray shall be killed in the trial by combat.
Act I, Scene 3: Mowbray and Bolingbroke prepare for the trial by combat, but at the last moment the king rules that the two disputants shall be banished from England—Bolingbroke for 10 years, Mowbray for life. Before departing, Mowbray asserts that Bolingbroke's disloyalty will eventually surface, to Richard's regret. Richard, seeing Gaunt's despair at his son's banishment, reduces the sentence to six years, but Gaunt replies that he shall die before that time is up. The king, unmoved, departs. Gaunt attempts to cheer up his disheartened son, but to no avail.
Act I, Scene 4: The Duke of Aumerle, who has pretended friendship with Bolingbroke, reports to the king that that nobleman has left England. Richard reveals his enmity towards Bolingbroke, on account of the latter's wide spread popularity. Sir Henry Greene remarks that a rebellion in Ireland requires the king's attention and Richard says that he will lead an army there. This expedition will be financed by selling to entrepreneurs the right to collect taxes and by forcing loans from wealthy noblemen. Sir John BUSHY brings news that John of Gaunt is very sick and has asked to see the king. Richard hopes for his immediate death so that he may confiscate his wealth for the Irish campaign.
Act II, Scene 1: The dying Gaunt confides to his brother the Duke of York his desire to give good counsel to Richard before he dies, and he goes on to rage against the king's shady financial practices. The king arrives with a group of nobles. Gaunt reprimands him, and the angry Richard reminds his uncle of his power to have him killed; Gaunt dares him to do so, accusing him of the murder of Gloucester and asserting that the shame the king has brought on the family will kill him in any case. Gaunt retires to bed, asserting that he will soon die. The Earl of Northumberland brings word that Gaunt has in fact died, and Richard immediately declares that he will confiscate his late uncle's wealth. York, horrified, chastises the king for this illegal seizure, comparing it ominously with the usurpation of a crown. He then exits. The king, ignoring this outburst, plans his departure for Ireland and appoints York to be governor of England in his absence. He leaves with his entourage. The remaining nobles—Northumberland, Lord Ross and Lord Willoughby—discuss the king's abuses. They fear that the seizure of Gaunt's estate will set a precedent that threatens all aristocrats. Northumberland reveals that Bolingbroke is returning to England with an army, and the noblemen decide to join him.
Act II Scene 2: The Queen speaks to Bushy and Bagot other strange grief and depression, stimulated by Richard's departure for Ireland. Greene arrives with news that Bolingbroke has invaded England and been joined by several noblemen. York arrives, bewailing the difficulty of defending the realm when Richard has taken all available armed forces with him. A Servant brings word of the death of the Duchess of Gloucester, from whom York had hoped to borrow money. York, undone by this news, wishes Richard had cut off his head so that he would not have to deal with his present dilemma: both king and invader are his kinsmen, and he feels he owes loyalty to each of them. Uncertain what to do, York leaves with the Queen. Bushy, Bagot, and Greene decide to flee realizing that trouble lies ahead for the king's favorites.
Act II, Scene 3: Bolingbroke and Northumberland, on the march, meet Northumberland's son Harry Percy, who brings news that York and a small force are stationed nearby at Berkeley Castle. Ross and Willoughby also join the invading army. Lord Berkeley enters. He bears York's demand that Bolingbroke explain his presence in England. York himself follows, and he castigates his nephew for disloyalty to the king. Bolingbroke insists that he has returned only to claim what is rightfully his—the estate of his father, Gaunt. Bolingbroke's supporters back him up. York continues to insist on the treasonous nature of their opposition to the king, but he declares that he will remain neutral, lacking power enough to oppose them, and he offers them the hospitality of the castle. Bolingbroke says that he must first go to Bristol to capture Bushy and Bagot.
Act II, Scene 4: A Welsh Captain tells the Earl of Salisbury that his troops cannot be prevented from deserting Richard's cause, after 10 days with no word from the king. He tells of rumors that Richard is dead and cites dire omens that seem to support them. Salisbury foresees Richard's fall.
Act III, Scene 1: Bushy and Greene are prisoners of Bolingbroke, who condemns them to death, asserting that they have misled the king and caused bad relations between the king and his queen. Further, Bolingbroke alleges that they caused the king to banish him and that they then took his property in his absence.
Act III, Scene 2: Richard, having returned from Ireland, responds to news of Bolingbroke's successes with wild emotional swings, veering between confidence in divine support and dark despair. Finally, informed that York has joined Bolingbroke, he subsides into resignation and concedes defeat.
Act III, Scene 3: Bolingbroke, outside Flint Castle, learns that the king has sequestered himself within, and he sends Northumberland to negotiate with him, offering to submit completely to Richard provided that Gaunt's estates are restored to him and that his banishment is repealed. Richard appears with kingly pomp and arrogance, but he immediately agrees to Bolingbroke's terms. Awaiting Bolingbroke himself, Richard falls into despair, ranting about his own deposition and death. When Bolingbroke appears, Richard accepts the successful rebel's pretended submission but remarks that he has merely yielded to strength.
Act III, Scene 4: The disconsolate Queen hides herself in a garden, hoping to overhear political news in the conversation of the Gardener and his assistants. The Gardener tells of the executions of Bushy and Greene and speculates that the king, having been seized by Bolingbroke, will soon be deposed. The Queen erupts in anger, demanding to know why the Gardener thinks this; he asserts that Richard's situation is common knowledge in London. The Queen, enraged and in despair, leaves for the city.
Act IV, Scene 1: In Westminster Hall Bolingbroke holds court. Bagot, who has turned informer, accuses Aumerle of having plotted to murder the Duke of Gloucester. After much argument, the debate is postponed, to be settled at a future trial by combat. York brings word of Richard's willingness to abdicate. The Bishop of Carlisle speaks against the deposition of God's appointed ruler, predicting civil war as a consequence. He is arrested by Northumberland and placed in the custody of the Abbot of Westminster. Richard is summoned, and he reluctantly surrenders his crown and scepter to Bolingbroke. Looking in a mirror, he reflects on the fragility of kingly glory, and he smashes the glass to prove his point. Richard is taken away, and Bolingbroke, departing with his entourage, sets the date for his own coronation. Aumerle, the Abbot, and Carlisle are left behind, and they agree to plot against Bolingbroke's usurpation.
Act V, Scene 1: The Queen intercepts Richard as he is escorted to the Tower of London and tries to raise his spirits. He recommends patient resignation. Northumberland appears with a change of plans: Richard is to be taken to Pomfret Castle, and the Queen is to be banished to France. Northumberland resists their pleas that they be permitted to remain together, and the royal couple bid each other an emotional farewell.
Act V, Scene 2: The Duke of York, after describing Bolingbroke's triumphant entry into London to the DUCHESS (4), asserts his adherence, however dismayed, to the new king. He discovers that his son, Aumerle, is part of a plot against Bolingbroke, and he sets off to warn the king and, to alleviate the stain on his honor, turn in his son. The Duchess fails to persuade him against this course; she then tells Aumerle to ride at top speed and reach the King before his father can and plead for mercy.
Act V, Scene 3: Bolingbroke laments that his delinquent son, the Prince, spends his time with criminals and harlots, but he hopes for better behavior in the future. Aumerle enters and extracts a promise of a pardon for an offence that he wishes to confess. York arrives and warns the king of the plot against him, recommending severity. The Duchess enters and pleads for mercy for Aumerle, and Bolingbroke grants it.
Act V, Scene 4: Sir Piers Exton, reflecting on remarks made by Bolingbroke, believes that the new king wants Richard killed, and he resolves to do the deed himself.
Act V, Scene 5: Richard, in his prison cell, meditates on his lonely, defeated state. A former Groom of Richard's appears, offering sympathy and raising the prisoner's spirits. However, he is ousted by the Keeper, who brings Richard's meal. The Keeper refuses to taste the food for poison, as is his usual practice, citing orders from Exton. Aggravated, Richard strikes him, and the Keeper's cries summon a group of murderers, led by Exton, who assault Richard. He fights back but is killed. Exton, conscience stricken, regrets the deed.
Act V, Scene 6: Bolingbroke receives word of the final defeat of resistance to his rule, including that of the Bishop of Carlisle, who is brought in as a prisoner. Bolingbroke forgives him magnanimously. Exton arrives with a coffin bearing Richard. He expects thanks, but Bolingbroke repudiates him, deploring the deed and regretting that his words had sparked it. He declares that he will lead a crusade to the Holy Land to atone for his part in Richard's death.
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