Context

Likely the most influential writer in all of English literature and certainly the most important playwright of the English Renaissance, William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England. The son of a successful middle-class glovemaker, Shakespeare attended grammar school, but his formal education proceeded no further. In 1582, he married an older woman, Anne Hathaway, and had three children with her. Around 1590 he left his family behind and traveled to London to work as an actor and playwright. Public and critical success quickly followed, and Shakespeare eventually became the most popular playwright in England and part owner of the Globe Theater. His career bridged the reigns of Elizabeth I (ruled 1558-1603) and James I (ruled 1603-1625); he was a favorite of both monarchs. Indeed, James granted Shakespeare's company the greatest possible compliment by endowing them with the status of king's players. Wealthy and renowned, Shakespeare retired to Stratford, and died in 1616 at the age of fifty-two. At the time of Shakespeare's death, such luminaries as Ben Jonson hailed him as the apogee of Renaissance theatre.

Shakespeare's works were collected and printed in various editions in the century following his death, and by the early eighteenth century his reputation as the greatest poet ever to write in English was well established. The unprecedented admiration garnered by his works led to a fierce curiosity about Shakespeare's life; but the paucity of surviving biographical information has left many details of Shakespeare's personal history shrouded in mystery. Some people have concluded from this fact that Shakespeare's plays in reality were written by someone else-Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford are the two most popular candidates--but the evidence for this claim is overwhelmingly circumstantial, and the theory is not taken seriously by many scholars. In the absence of definitive proof to the contrary, Shakespeare must be viewed as the author of the 37 plays and 154 sonnets that bear his name. The legacy of this body of work is immense. A number of Shakespeare's plays seem to have transcended even the category of brilliance, becoming so influential as to affect profoundly the course of Western literature and culture ever after. Richard II is one of Shakespeare's so-called "history" plays: It is the first part of a tetralogy, or four-part series, which deals with the historical rise of the English royal House of Lancaster. (The plays that round out the series are Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, and Henry V.) The play was probably composed around 1595, and certainly no later than 1597. It was used by the Earl of Essex to try make a point shortly before his unsuccessful rebellion in 1601; Queen Elizabeth, no dummy, commented "I am Richard II, know ye not that?" In this case, however, the historical precedent did not hold--Elizabeth, unlike Richard, retained her crown. For details on the life of Queen Elizabeth, see the SparkNote Biography. The play has fascinated critics down through the centuries, although it has long been considered inferior to Shakespeare's other history plays. King Richard's deeply poetic and "metaphysical" musings on the nature of kingship and identity mark a new direction for Shakespeare; indeed, much of Richard II reads like a run-up to the more fully developed intellectualizing of Hamlet. The play's formal qualities are also interesting:

it is often highly stylized and, in sharp contrast to the "Henry" plays that follow it, contains virtually no prose. Shakespeare makes good use of grand metaphors--such as the famous comparisons of England to a garden, and of its reigning king to a lion or to the sun--and opens up rich, complex themes such as the nature of kingship and of identity.

Summary
Richard II, written around 1595, is the first play in Shakespeare's second "history tetralogy," a series of four plays that chronicles the rise of the house of Lancaster to the British throne. (Its sequel plays are Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, and Henry V.) Richard II, set around the year 1398, traces the fall from power of the last king of the house of Plantagenet, Richard II, and his replacement by the first Lancaster king, Henry IV (Henry Bolingbroke). Richard II, who ascended to the throne as a young man, is a regal and stately figure, but he is wasteful in his spending habits, unwise in his choice of counselors, and detached from his country and its common people. He spends too much of his time pursuing the latest Italian fashions, spending money on his close friends, and raising taxes to fund his pet wars in Ireland and elsewhere. When he begins to "rent out" parcels of English land to certain wealthy noblemen in order to raise funds for one of his wars, and seizes the lands and money of a recently deceased and much respected uncle to help fill his coffers, both the commoners and the king's noblemen decide that Richard has gone too far.

Richard has a cousin, named Henry Bolingbroke, who is a great favorite among the English commoners. Early in the play, Richard exiles him from England for six years due to an unresolved dispute over an earlier political murder. The dead uncle whose lands Richard seizes was the father of Bolingbroke; when Bolingbroke learns that Richard has stolen what should have been his inheritance, it is the straw that breaks the camel's back. When Richard unwisely departs to pursue a war in Ireland, Bolingbroke assembles an army and invades the north coast of England in his absence. The commoners, fond of Bolingbroke and angry at Richard's mismanagement of the country, welcome his invasion and join his forces. One by one, Richard's allies in the nobility desert him and defect to Bolingbroke's side as Bolingbroke marches through England. By the time Richard returns from Ireland, he has already lost his grasp on his country. There is never an actual battle; instead, Bolingbroke peacefully takes Richard prisoner in Wales and brings him back to London, where Bolingbroke is crowned King Henry IV. Richard is imprisoned in the remote castle of Pomfret in the north of England, where he is left to ruminate upon his downfall. There, an assassin, who both is and is not acting upon King Henry's ambivalent wishes for Richard's expedient death, murders the former king. King Henry hypocritically repudiates the murderer and vows to journey to Jerusalem to cleanse himself of his part in Richard's death. As the play concludes, we see that the reign of the new King Henry IV has started off inauspiciously.

Characters

King Richard II - The King of England when the play begins, Richard is a young man who has not matured much since his adolescence. Stately and poetic, he enjoys the trappings of kingship and has an extraordinary flair for poetic language. However, he is disconnected from his land and its people. He is overthrown by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, and eventually assassinated in the remote castle of Pomfret. Henry Bolingbroke Duke of Herford - In some texts, thanks to the vagaries of Renaissance spelling, Bolingbroke is called "Bullingbrook," and Herford is "Hereford." He is also occasionally referred to by his nickname, "Harry." Bolingbroke is King Richard's cousin and the son of Richard's uncle, John of Gaunt. He is less poetic but far more pragmatic and capable than his cousin. He returns from his banishment abroad, sways the loyalties of both the English nobility and the common people to his side, and stages a revolution against Richard II. He is eventually crowned King Henry IV. John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster - Called either "Gaunt" or "Lancaster." An important nobleman, John of Gaunt is Richard's uncle and the father of Richard's banished cousin Bolingbroke, who eventually usurps the throne. Gaunt is very old when this play begins, and he dies in Act II, scene i, after his son's banishment--but not before delivering a withering curse on Richard. Edmund of Langley Duke of York - Called "York." Richard's uncle, and a brother of John of Gaunt and of the late Thomas of Gloucester. He is made Lord Governor of England by King Richard while he is away at war, but is eventually convinced by Bolingbroke to defect and join his rebel army. A traditionalist who is loyally devoted to the crown, he is deeply upset by any kind of treason against the crown. The Duke of Aumerle - Also called "Rutland" late in the play, since he is the Earl of Rutland. He is the son of Edmund, Duke of York, and thus a cousin to both King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke. He remains loyal to Richard throughout the war and, after Richard's deposition, is involved in a failed scheme against the life of the newly crowned King Henry IV. Thomas Mowbray Duke of Norfolk - Mowbray, sometimes called "Norfolk," is a nobleman whom Henry Bolingbroke accuses, early in the play, of treason against the state and of complicity in the earlier death of Thomas, Duke of Gloucester (the uncle of the current King). Mowbray is banished at the same time as Bolingbroke and dies in exile. Bushy, Bagot, and Green (also called Greene) - Richard's friends and loyal backers in the court. Bushy and Greene are trapped by Bolingbroke and executed in Act II, scene ii; Bagot, also captured, turns informer in Act IV, scene i and apparently survives the play. (These three names are sometimes mentioned alongside that of the mysterious Earl of Wiltshire, a character whom Shakespeare apparently meant to be another of Richard's friends but failed to write into any actual scenes.) Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland; Lord Ross; and Lord Willoughby - Noblemen who join Bolingbroke's rebel army early to fight against King Richard. Northumberland (occasionally called "Percy") is the father of young Harry Percy (also called "Percy"). Duchess of York - The wife of the Duke of York and mother of the Duke of Aumerle. She goes before King Henry to plead for her son's life. Duchess of Gloucester - The aged widow of the late Thomas of Gloucester, and the sister-inlaw of John of Gaunt and the Duke of York. She resides in a house at Plashy. We learn of her death in Act II, scene ii.

and thus the uncle of young Harry Percy. Bolingbroke is accusing Thomas Mowbray. general participation in conspiracy against the king for the past eighteen years. Earl of Worcester .A clergyman loyal to Richard. he acknowledges that he was aware of the scheme to kill Gloucester--and that he once laid an unsuccessful plot to kill the king's uncle. he is the son of John of Gaunt. taking the servants of the king's house with him. the king's aged and distinguished uncle. He brings Richard the bad news of Bolingbroke's invasion when Richard returns from Ireland. Worcester also resigns his stewardship and defects to Bolingbroke. Mowbray denies all these charges. although he does so in rather ambivalent terms: for instance. for which he is arrested. but the King pardons him and sends him away from the court. Sir Stephen Scroope . John of Gaunt--but he denies actual responsibility for . but is a powerful figure to whom other characters frequently refer." He does not appear in the play. He speaks out against Bolingbroke's usurpation of the throne in Act IV. scene v. After trying unsuccessfully to manage Richard's troops in Wales.A nobleman loyal to Richard.A lord loyal to King Richard. a royal headquarters near London.Queen Isabel . The Lord Steward of the king's household. scene iii. Thomas Percy. He is later beheaded for his part in the conspiracy against the life of the newly crowned King Henry IV. and also throws his weight around in Act V. Abbot of Westminster . a proud young nobleman named Henry Bolingbroke. scene vi Act I.King Richard's wife. one of whom has accused the other of treachery. These crimes include embezzlement. Lord Berkeley . he is also the brother of Henry Percy. Bishop of Carlisle . he joins Richard in Wales after Richard returns from Ireland. He is loyal to King Richard. scene i. The accuser is the king's cousin. scene i Summary As the play opens.The ruler of Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. Sir Piers Exton . scene i. and--by far the most serious--Mowbray's participation in the successful conspiracy to murder another of the king's uncles (the late Thomas of Woodstock.A minor lord who throws down a gage sometime during Act IV. Earl of Northumberland. Lord Salisbury .A clergyman loyal to Richard. of several heinous crimes against his king and country. There he is to arbitrate a dispute between two noble courtiers. He is later indicted in the conspiracy against King Henry's life. the young King Richard II has just arrived at Windsor Castle. where York's army meets Bolingbroke's army in Act II.Called "Worcester. She was born into the French royal family and flees to France when Richard is deposed. the Duke of Norfolk. believing he is acting under King Henry's orders Lord Fitzwater . When Northumberland is declared a traitor for having joined Bolingbroke's army. also called the Duke of Herford.A nobleman who assassinates the former King Richard in Pomfret Castle in Act V. Duke of Gloucester) a short time before. He is beheaded for his participation in the conspiracy against King Henry's life.

It is important to bear in mind that this play and its events are part of a larger context: that is. hot-tempered. "High-stomach'd are they both and full of ire. the morass of dark court secrets. but to my own disgrace / Neglected my sworn duty in that case" (133-134). We also see instantly that the play will be very heavily influenced by events which have occurred in the past: these two young noblemen. hasty as fire" (ll. in order to settle the challenge. Mowbray and Bolingbroke insult each other in increasingly angry. but the lack of clarity surrounding Bolingbroke's accusation and Mowbray's rebuttal introduces the atmosphere of official hypocrisy. and evetually throw down their "gages" (that is. tries to convince the two to reconcile. and unwilling to listen to reason. especially in regard tot he death of Gloucester: "I slew him not. / In rage. This scene is confusing. . We can tell from the very start that this play will be full of characters who are nursing old grudges. involved in his uncle's death. their hoods or hats) at each other's feet. In Shakespeare's history plays. which Shakespeare's audiences would have been familiar with in the form of folklore or history books. but they both refuse as a point of honor. in part. all the action is informed by earlier events. Mowbray and Bolingbroke call each other liars and traitors. are accusing each other of committing crimes which have happened before the play even began. and he charges Mowbray with having conspired in the murder of the king's uncle. deaf as the sea. traditional duel. they are part of the long continuum of English history. busy. because it actually centers around an unspoken truth that no one dares speak aloud: everyone is aware that King Richard II himself was. both men are rash. and who carry contradictory interpretations of past and current events. and belong to a tradition of documents and literature that chronicle the wars and the dynasties of English royal houses. heated and creative terms: as Richard says of them. he claims that Mowbray has been instigating plots against the King for eighteen years (the historical reference is to Wat Tyler's rebellion in 1381). King Richard. So Richard sets a date--St. and the looming shadow of the past which will affect events at court and in the kingdom throughout the play. and confusing scene has two main functions: it both throws us into the action in medias res--that is. 18-19)-that is. We will learn this fact explicitly from John of Gaunt in the scene which follows. in the middle of things--and provides us with some background information about the meaning of the events that are occurring. On the surface. and says he has repented all his bad intentions. nothing happens in a vacuum.Gloucester's death. Bolingbroke and Mowbray's mutual accusations are complicated for various reasons. Mowbray's rebuttals are framed in ambiguous language. Thomas of Gloucester. with the help of Bolingbroke's father John of Gaunt. Commentary This crowded. Lambert's Day--for the two to have a formal. challenging one another to a traditional chivalric duel in order to settle the accusations. in fact. Bolingbroke and Mowbray. what Bolingbroke says is simple enough: he accuses Mowbray of having embezzled the money which the King gave him to raise and supply his armies.

dear my liege. / Then. and characters often begin to speak in rhymed couplets for no apparent reason. and my life is done. refuses to take action. both grown in one. Bolingbroke's father. but because Gaunt believes that the King of England has been appointed by God. scene i. is actually weaker than it seems). she believes. We also learn an important secret that Shakespeare's audiences already knew. This occurs often in Act I. the old Duchess of Gloucester. nearly everyone begins to speak in rhyme. She urges Gaunt to take revenge for his brother's death. Richard II is noted for its lyricism. as we are beginning to see. Gaunt refuses to rise against Richard. The Duchess. Edmund Duke of York (another of Richard's uncles). mine honour let me try. when Richard tries to reconcile the quarrelers near the end of the scene. For instance. Bolingbroke says. and those wronged by the king must leave it up to God to wreak vengeance. for instance: "Mine honour is my life. saying that the two of them must leave the punishment of the murderers up to God: "Put we our quarrel to the will of heaven" (6). not out of fear of the king's power (which. however. because if Gaunt lets the murder go unavenged. both had a part in the death of her husband Gloucester--and prays that both parties will die in their fight. has a visit from his sister-in-law. out of family loyalty and a sense of justice. disappointed. its richness of metaphor and symbolism. she says. and she has an ax to grind about Gloucester's death.The poetic rhetoric of this scene also set the stage for the remainder of the play. the dramatic purpose is usually to mark a moment of great importance or emotional intensity. he will be indicating that he himself is an easy target for political assassination--showing murderers "the naked pathway to thy life" (31). behind the entire play: the reason Gaunt cannot take action against Gloucester's murderers is that King Richard himself is widely known to have been involved in the conspiracy to kill his uncle. / In that I live. bids Gaunt farewell as he departs to watch Bolingbroke and Mowbray fight it out in the lists. Finally. her home near London. and the "formality"--or carefully structured rhymes and parallel constructions--found in its language. The Duchess is the widow of Gaunt's murdered brother Thomas of Gloucester. She curses both the younger noblemen--who. Gaunt. and for that will I die" (181-185). He also ought to act. scene ii Summary While the court is waiting for Bolingbroke and Mowbray to settle their mutual accusations of treason in the lists (that is. . as Gaunt leaves. scene i--and. the place in which knights duel on horseback). and which looms large behind the action of Act I. Act I. she asks him to send her greetings to his brother. Treason against the king would therefore be blasphemy against God. There is hardly any prose in the play. John of Gaunt. and to ask York to visit her at Plashy. / Take honour from me. in fact.

/ Or seven fair branches springing from one root" (11-13). she is using a very old metaphor which Elizabethans often invoked to describe their ancestral relations (and which we still use today when we talk about "family trees"). she bases her demands on the idea that his murder was both a crime against the family honor and a sin against nature and God. But the analogy between the royal family and the tree. The poetry of this scene introduces several important metaphors and symbols which will also recur throughout the play. When the Duchess uses the metaphor of a tree's roots and branches. but rather because he believes. "I may never lift / An angry arm against His minister" (40-41). but he was descended from royal blood. John of Gaunt. ought to behave. would like to be able to have revenge. His reasoning introduces another very important theme in the play: the idea that the King is divinely appointed by God. the king's dead uncle. The question of whether it is blasphemy to mount in arms against the king will continue to be a key issue throughout the play. then Heaven must revenge it. or a king. she reminds him. Thus. Gaunt refuses to raises arms against the King. and the precious liquor spilt. refuses to take action against Richard. which hangs heavy over the early scenes of this play. and when the Duchess urges Gaunt to take revenge. however.Commentary This scene--a surprisingly small and intimate one after the scene of pomp and royal arbitration that has just ended--gives readers a window onto two major issues that lie behind both the action and the rhetoric of Richard II. whereof thyself art one. too. Later. although he. as do many of the play's other characters. and murder's bloody axe" (19-21). If Richard has caused Gloucester's death.. by the fact that the murderer is himself the ultimate royal figure--the King. The king's "sacred blood" is an important idea in medieval and Renaissance thought. and his summer leaves all faded" (20). for Richard is the Lord's "substitute.. because the person who is most to blame for Gloucester's murder is Gaunt's nephew. nor out of fear for the power of the king. When the Duchess tells Gaunt. "That which in mean men we intitle . Gaunt says. First is the murder of Thomas of Gloucester ("Woodstock"). His death casts a long shadow over the play. by envy's hand. He refuses to attack the murderers of his brother. we will see other characters specifically refer to the way in that Richard's bad management of the country has left the crops dying and the plants withering. not out of loyalty to him as a relative. that the King of a nation was appointed by God. / Were as seven vials of his sacred blood. Thomas of Gloucester--the uncle in whose murder Richard is implicated--was not a king. When the Duchess of Gloucester tries to spur Gaunt to vengeance. But now Gloucester's vial has been "crack'd. These are important and recurring metaphors for the seven sons of King Edward III. the Duchess's complaint about the earlier spilling of royal blood is trumped. in Gaunt's eyes. We are also introduced to another of the play's central themes: the question of how a nobleman. also introduces the idea that the royal family is linked to the natural world--and. "Edward's seven sons." and. that it is linked to the cycles of nature. with the dead Thomas being a branch "hack'd down. King Richard. and that an act of rebellion against the king would therefore be blasphemous. to refer to the sons of the old king Edward III. specifically.

Bolingbroke continues to lament his exile. imagining that he has banished the king and not the king him: "For gnarling sorrow hath less power to bite / The man that mocks at it and sets it light" (292-3)." or the field of ritual combat. answers that misery cannot be vanquished by imagination. and they leave the stage together under a cloud of sadness. not to return for ten years. Commentary The precise logic behind the political events of this scene. Both lament their sentences. Bolingbroke and Mowbray. Bolingbroke is the accuser. their joy in the fight and their certainty of victory. even outside of England. why does he banish Mowbray and Bolingbroke. she is bringing up the assumed differences between standards of behavior for commoners and the nobilitiy. but notes that he is so old that he will be dead before his son returns. The question of how a king ought to behave is a crucial issue for Richard throughout the rest of the play. After the King and his retinue depart. but to no avail: Richard refuses to alter their punishment. Act I. Both Bolingbroke and Mowbray make dramatic speeches restating their own innocence. After consulting with his advisors. Gaunt thanks the King. the two challengers. Mowbray (here called "Norfolk") is banished for life. whether the sentence is ten years or six. King Richard formally questions them both and has them repeat their accusations against one another. Bolingbroke's father John of Gaunt. is somewhat obscure: why exactly does Richard stop the fight. however. by ritually throwing down his "warder" (or umpire's baton) and ordering the duel to stop. in anger and unhappiness. Bolingbroke. and why does he banish Mowbray for life and Bolingbroke only for a few years? Richard's speech here is rhetorically powerful. but Richard suddenly decides to reduce Bolingbroke's span of exile from ten years to six." Aided by the traditional officer of the duel (the Lord Marshal). Heralds and trumpets announce the fight's beginning--but then King Richard interrupts it before either can raise a weapon. his father counsels him to be philosophical and bear it like a man. scene i.patience / Is pale cold cowardice in noble breasts" (33-34). saying that he takes pity upon his saddened uncle. and then forces them both to swear upon his sword that they will never again have contact with one another. but it does not actually address any of these questions." in recognition of his title of nobility) is banished from England. the criminality of their opponent. He seems simply to imply that allowing the men to stay in England would open up the . Mowbray departs in grief. John of Gaunt blesses his son Bolingbroke and King Richard wishes good luck to both. like those in Act I. enter fully armed into the "lists." and Mowbray the "defendant. or "appellant. scene iii Summary At Coventry. King Richard returns and decrees a sentence of banishment upon both noblemen: Bolingbroke (whom Richard here addresses as "Herford. or plan treachery against the English throne.

/ And for our eyes do hate the dire aspect / Of civil wounds plough'd up with neighbours' sword. / Or wallow naked in December snow / By thinking on fantastic summer's heat?" (ll. insisting instead on the realistic: "O. they felt that Richard had stirred up the controversy himself--he should have kept peace between the two. by the time Bolingbroke returns. As the play progresses. / And blindfold Death not let me see my son" (221-225).. Gaunt's advice to Bolingbroke consists largely of a kind of metaphysical double-think. / My inch of taper will be burnt and done. but. and interpret the objects of the world to be different from what they actually are: "Suppose the singing birds musicians.. This insistence on the failure of the imagination to alter the real shape of the world is one of key Bolingbroke's key traits. as we see in this scene. Bolingbroke. more importantly. / What is thy sentence then but speechless death. however. For similar reasons. / The flowers fair ladies.. Bolingbroke. As in Act I. / Therefore we banish you our territories" (125-139). say I sent thee forth to purchase honor.. Bolingbroke... scene i. Richard becomes increasingly poetic. he says that. "My oil-dried lamp and time-bewasted light / Shall be extinct with age and endless night. unable or unwilling to face the harsh realities of the world. is his opposite--pragmatic and hard-headed. the characters slip into rhymed couplets at dramatically important moments. scene iv ... by which he tries to show Bolingbroke how to bear his banishment more easily. For example. is an interesting philosophical sermon which contains certain phrases which have since become proverbs: "All places that the eye of heaven visits / Are to a wise man ports and happy havens. who can hold a fire in his hand / By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?. refuses to view the world from this idealistic perspective. The actual reasoning behind the events seems to have been complicated. in which the idea is that exile will be made easier to bear if the banished party pretends that he has left the country of his own accord: "Go.possibility of civil war: "For that our kingdom's earth should not be soil'd / With that dear blood which it hath fostered. and it puts him in direct contrast with Richard. Therefore. a popular favorite. when John of Gaunt protests that he will never see his son again. and thy steps no more / Than a delightful measure or a dance" (288-291). The common people were hostile toward both Mowbray and Richard because of the parts that they supposedly played in the death of Thomas of Gloucester. had to get the lighter sentence.. / Teach thy necessity to reason thus: / There is no virtue like necessity" (275-79). The scene's formal and poetic qualities are interesting. Act I. Richard felt he had to prevent the duel in order to reduce resentment among the Londoners. 294-299). Gaunt also suggests that Bolingbroke try to re-shape reality to what would please him. he articulates beautiful poetry instead. / Which robs my tongue from breathing native breath?" John of Gaunt's advice to his son. / And not the king exil'd thee" (282-83). Mowbray also makes use of an interesting metaphor when he protests that he will never have the chance to use his native tongue again: "[N]ow my tongue's use is to me no more / Than an unstringed viol or a harp.

for they grow stronger with time. But. Richard expresses to his friends an ominous doubt that Bolingbroke will ever return to England again. Bushy suddenly enters with important news: old John of Gaunt. accompanied by two of his friends and allies. Richard's account of Bolingbroke's departure from London shows us the difference between the ways he and his now-banished cousin interact with the people of London. he plans to seize his money and property in order to fund the war in Ireland. he is going to engage in some complicated methods of medieval taxation. King Richard's cousin. The commoners love Bolingbroke. Greene reminds Richard that. Richard announces that he will himself sail to Ireland to supervise the war there. When asked how the two parted. Whether Bolingbroke behaves this way out of a cunning sense of politics or out of an innate humbleness and good nature. and the king must act quickly to suppress them. We learn that Bolingbroke paid "courtship to the common people" (24). my countrymen. but important--it gives us a look at the contrasts between Richard and Bolingbroke." he says to his companions (27). describing in great detail to his allies what he and another nobleman. Clearly afraid of Bolingbroke's popularity among the people. saw when they watched Bolingbroke leaving London: they beheld his "courtship to the common people" (24). and a popular favorite of the lower classes of London. implying that Bolingbroke has wasted his courtesy by squandering it on such inferior people. there is other work to be done: there are rebels against the crown in Ireland. lies on his deathbed. Everyone then heads off to visit John of Gaunt at the castle of the Bishop of Ely. where the latter has taken ship for Europe. However. King Richard returns from Coventry to his court. the noblemen Bagot and Greene. Richard then begins to muse. Commentary This scene is short. the uncle of the King and the father of Bolingbroke. we cannot tell. that is. Richard feels that Bolingbroke was behaving as if he were in line to be the next king of England. although Bolingbroke bade him farewell. . due to the costs of maintaining a court bloated with attendants and the king's wasteful spending habits. Richard is going to "rent out" the realm of England. now that Bolingbroke is gone. saying "'Thanks. saying that as soon as Gaunt is dead. Bushy. he took off "his bonnet to an oyster-wench" (31). has just returned from escorting Bolingbroke down to the sea. he is courteous and friendly to them. the Duke of Aumerle (son of Richard's uncle the Duke of York). and bowed to a "brace of draymen" (a pair of horse-groomers) who greeted him. and also lays the groundwork for Bolingbroke's return later in the play. Richard rejoices to hear the information. we can be sure that Richard thinks himself far above such behavior--"What reverence he did throw away on slaves. Aumerle reports that. he himself (Aumerle) was cool to Bolingbroke and was glad to see him on his way. the royal treasury is low on funds.After Bolingbroke has been banished from England. To raise money to pay for the Irish war. He plans both to demand money from the wealthy and to borrow large sums of money from wealthy people in exchange for a later giving them cut of the royal taxes--taxes that come from the commoners. my loving friends' " (33-35). where he lies dying.

His plan to go overseas to Ireland while taxing the English and renting out English land shows us a typical Shakespearean flaw in kings: a willingness to ignore one's duty to the country in favor of one's personal interests. He goes on to lament. scholarship. in retrospect. Act II. as if he were the heir to the throne. / This blessed plot. / This earth of majesty. the King is too much surrounded by flatterers. if that is the case. Richard's callous remarks about John of Gaunt's illness indicate his lack of respect for anyone besides himself--including the elders of his own family. but his eagerness to wage war in Ireland and his astounding blindness to the precariousness of his position cause him to depart. he could not make the punishment too severe for fear of angering Bolinbroke's supporters. in the play's most famous speech. fertile. This self-centeredness will help lead to his downfall. even outside of England. and too interested in the follies and fashions of the world. this earth. then he has very good reason to want to get him out of England--but. worldly pleasures.. / Is now leas'd out--I die pronouncing it-. "This royal throne of kings. by the same token./ Like to a tenement or pelting farm" (40-60). Leaving for foreign shores will be his final downfall--by the time Richard returns. or his own selfaggrandizement--is bound to be overthrown. . on Richard's decision to banish him: if Richard is afraid of his cousin's popularity and ambition.. / For violent fires soon burn out themselves" (33-34). and divinely favored country of England has been rented out. he will already have effectively lost England to Bolingbroke. demi-paradise. with his dying breath. / This other Eden. talks with the Duke of York while he awaits the arrival of King Richard. Richard's callousness in the remainder of the scene also demonstrates to us his inherent weaknesses as a ruler. he must prophecy with his last breath that Richard is headed for doom: "His rash fierce blaze of riot cannot last. / And he our subjects' next degree in hope" (35-36)--that is. this seat of Mars. Richard is aware that Bolingbroke is in a position to potentially supplant him as king of England: he says that Bolingbroke greeted the common folk "[a]s were our England in reversion his. Gaunt hopes that. Richard clearly should not be leaving England at such a turbulent time. York says that that is unlikely. scene i Summary John of Gaunt.Bolingbroke's popularity among the commoners casts light.. Finally. gives us a clue to his willingness to turn a blind eye to certain unpleasant realities. Richard's inability to perceive that Bolingbroke remains a threat to him. A king who focuses on anything other than the government of his kingdom--be it foreign affairs. Gaunt replies that. this scepter'd isle.. he will be able to give the foolhardy young King Richard some advice that he will listen to. that the beautiful. ill and dying in his house. this England. this realm.

and that he will make his York Lord Governor of England while he himself is gone. completely infuriated. Northumberland confides to the other two that he has secret news: Bolingbroke. and they depart together for Ravenspurgh. and Lord Willoughby--remain behind. "Live in thy shame.King Richard arrives with a large train of followers--Queen Isabel. Greene. After Richard leaves with his attendants. the Duke of York. taxing the people too heavily. in scalding terms. Bagot. saying that were Gaunt not of the royal blood. protests vehemently. Their plan is to invade England's northeast shore and stage a royal coup. Richard. and curses issued by the elderly or the dying are especially potent. Bushy. since curses in Shakespeare nearly always come to some kind of fruition. will eventually return to England to claim it. pointing out that Gaunt was a loyal subject and that his estate should by rights now belong to his son Bolingbroke. in the north. But Richard will not listen to him. but Richard. . raging and made bold by the knowledge that he is dying anyway. tells his allies that tomorrow he plans to set sail for Ireland. so unpopular that it turns Northumberland. for the ways in which he has been wasting money. He then goes on to admonish Richard. blithely ignoring his powerful uncle's distress and concern. the three agree that England is being ruined under Richard's reign. plans to sail for England as soon as Richard leaves for Ireland. Commentary This long scene is a turning point in Richard II. When Richard inquires casually after Gaunt's health. York tries to make excuses for Gaunt's behavior to Richard. Richard promptly announces his intention to seize all of Gaunt's worldly goods in order to finance his war in Ireland. and letting himself be flattered by his power-hungry and self-interested advisors. where Bolingbroke plans to land. and Willoughby against him. too. Lord Ross. It also triggers in his devoutly loyal uncle York a process of self-questioning which will eventually drive him. Gaunt bitterly rebukes Richard for the exile of his son Bolingbroke. he would destroy him. but Gaunt. Aumerle. but die not shame with thee! / These words hereafter thy tormentors be!" (135-36). When Gaunt says to Richard. or "prophecy" (as Gaunt calls it in lines 31-32). points out to Richard that he has not hesitated to shed the blood of royalty before and brings up the king's involvement in the death of his uncle Thomas of Gloucester. Gaunt's dying curse upon Richard is an extremely bad omen for his future. apparently begins to come true almost immediately: Richard's earlier decision to seize Gaunt's goods to help fund the Irish war is. understandably enough. Ross. and one of the two or three most important scenes in the play. the curse. three lords--the Earl of Northumberland. though currently in exile. He finishes by cursing Richard with his dying breaths and walking out on the king. The Earl of Northumberland comes in to tell the company that Gaunt has died. Indignant at Richard's latest injustice. His uncle. The three decide to join him. as he should have expected. with many English allies and with with ships supplied by the King of Brittany. It is a sign of Richard's foolishness that he chooses to ignore the advice of his dying uncle. who. interrupts his uncle. allowing the country to go to ruin. and York departs. is not in a very good mood. and more. Richard.

Marcellus's famous line from Hamlet--"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Moreover. implies already the inevitable outcome: Richard's deposition and defeat at the hands of Bolingbroke. and that which the land produces: its people and its fertile crops. References to a decaying or a rotting land should alert us as readers that something very ominous is being foreshadowed. John of Gaunt's speech early in the scene is among the most famous in all of "Richard II. The ideal of good kingship put forward in many of Shakespe are's plays seems to be based in an organic.. scene ii .iv. this little world. safe from harm from the outside world." England "hath made a shameful conquest of itself" (64-66). the idea of decay and rebirth of the land was linked ot the idea of the sacrifice of the ruling king. 51). demi-paradise. through his comparison of the nation both to a fertile garden and to a mother: "This other Eden. The "renting out" of parts of England--what Richard referred to when he said in I. This nurse. and his replacement by another--the "Green Man" myth . Gaunt's speec h also suggests an organic. for instance. this earth. it should set off warning bells that the death and replacement of the king may be imminent. this England" (40-50)--have become cliches. natural unity within the country. This scene has important reverberations both in the remainder of the play. This organic wholeness is apparently being eaten away from within by the leases Richard has issued: with "inky blots and rotten parchment bonds. this is the case in Hamlet. By the time the scene closes." In ancient. and it is also the case in Richard II.i. As the language of organic unity in this scene suggests. the land. and in scenes which have already passed.. This theme will continue to crop up during "Richard II. the concept of subletting any part of the country seems to be anathema in Shakespeare. In Shakespeare. can on ly be conquered by internal dissension and corruption--and that is the path with Richard is on. Gaunt's curse also suggests the shadow of a dynastic and cross-dynastic curse. this realm. consider. such as Henry IV Part 1). The idea is that England. when a king finds his land decaying around him." most notably in the Bishop of Carlisle's prophecy in IV. Certain phrases from it--"this scepter'd isle." "[t]his blessed plot. but will hang over the "Henr y" plays which are sequels to this one. laying the first groundwork upon which Shakespeare will build in the sequels to this play: Richard's shame will in fact not die with him." "[t]his happy breed of men. combined with what we already know about Bolingbroke's popularity and Richard's merited unpopularity with the English commoners. this teeming womb of royal kings" (42. we have learned of the imminent invasion of England by Bolingbroke's forces--a piece of information which.to Bolingbroke's side. Sub-dividing the kingdom in any way is a very bad idea (and one that the losing si de in a battle for England attempts more than once in other plays. The metaphor of the decaying land also appears in other Shakespeare plays. "We are inforc'd to farm our royal realm"(45)--carries an enormous weight of symbolic importance. fully integrated relationship between the king." and has been often quoted down through the centuries as a stirring invocation of English patriotism. pagan England. Act II.

while Bagot declares his intention to join Richard in Ireland. on the northeast coast of England. many English lords have defected from Richard and joined Bolingbroke: Northumberland. to the west. We learn that his son. When these lords were declared traitors by Greene. Bushy and Bagot. Greene enters to give them all bad news: Henry Bolingbroke has landed with his army at Ravenspurgh. Moreover. and a moral dilemma as to whether he ought to be supporting Richard or Bolingbroke has left him him uncertain of what to do. try to comfort her. the Duchess of Gloucester. troubled by the possibility that they may never meet again. but Isabel says she is haunted by foreboding and despair. who have turned against Richard and his supporters. at some thing it grieves" (10-12). and my inward soul / With nothing trembles. punishment both for his mismanagement of the country and for his part in the Duke of Gloucester's death. We have the sense that Richard is about to get what he deserves--that is. old age. Left alone. Aumerle. they are now in danger from the common people. to go to Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire (in south central England) to try to raise an army. his young son Henry Percy. York departs. moreover. but a combination of stress. scene ii. She feels as though something terrible is going to happen: "Some unborn sorrow ripe in Fortune's womb / Is coming toward me. obviously upset. when John of Gaunt told the Duchess of Gloucester that she would have to leave it to heaven to "rain hot vengeance on offenders' heads" when the time was ripe. who is the brother of Lord Northumberland. He has been left in charge of the government while Richard is away. They bid each other farewell. he discovers that she has died earlier that day. They all agree that they are now in danger: raising an army large enough to deflect Bolingbroke in the absence of the King seems impossible. and others. has already left to join Richard in Ireland. Commentary Isabel's foreboding fits in with the general sense of doom which has pervaded the play since Act I. The loss of Worcester is a particularly bad sign: he was the Lord Steward of the King's household and took all of the king's household servants with him when he left. Bagot and Greene consult with each other. Queen Isabel mourns his absence. loyal advisors of the King. The confused metaphors Bushy uses to try to convince Isabel to stop grieving are characteristic of the play's sometimes overly abstract and complex language--his comparison of Isabel's grief-stricken eyes to a picture painted . As known favorites of Richard. much upset. The Duke of York then enters. Bushy. Unable to figure out how to raise money to repel Bolingbroke's attack. Richard has already departed for Ireland--and taken his army with him--so there is no one to stop him. Lord Ross. Unfortunately. All three decide to flee Windsor: Bushy and Greene decide to go to Bristol Castle. when York sends a servant to ask for financial assistance from his sister-in-law. Back at Windsor Castle. near London. yet another lord departed for Bolingbroke's side--the Earl of Worcester. Lord Willoughby. He takes Queen Isabel with him.Summary King Richard has departed for Ireland to put down the rebels there.

and we learn from Percy that York's army is small--only three hundred men--and has very few noblemen in it (only the Lords of York. has left Richard's court to join Bolingbroke. he also concedes that he does not presently have the manpower nor the personal . We learn in quick succession of the invasion of Bolingbroke. where they intend to meet up with the Lord Ross and Lord Willoughby. explains that. where Bolingbroke landed. seems to take a certain relish in resigning herself to the worst. Harry Percy. York himself has begun to face his own moral dilemma: a loyalist to the last. declaring that Richard has done him wrong. The seeds of doubt have been planted. Act II. he knows that Bolingbroke's complaint is justified--and both Bolingbroke and Richard are his cousins. like John of Gaunt. losing hope. and arguing that he is unable to seek redress any other way. clearly moved. or that Bushy. We also see. After this point. the divinely appointed king. the departure of the Earl of Worcester. and Bolingbroke swears eternal friendship and gratitude to Percy. but York angrily chides him for disturbing the peace of England through his invasion. It is also no wonder that Isabel. Bolingbroke is highly respectful and affectionate toward his uncle York. and Seymour).in "perspective" is admirably complex. in Isabel's "nameless woe. They are met unexpectedly by Northumberland's young son. And yet. he cannot condone a rebellion against the lawful king. scenes iii-iv Summary In the wild highlands of Gloucestershire. Bolingbroke makes an eloquent speech. he." the kind of melancholy that Richard himself will increasingly display over the course of the play. Percy swears allegiance to him. poor Duke! the task he undertakes / Is numb'ring sands and drinking oceans dry" (144-45). The torrent of bad news that breaks over the Queen and her allies during the course of this scene is only a taste of what is to follow. pleading his right to the titles denied him. and the death of the Duchess of Gloucester. and that Percy himself was sent by Worcester to scout out Berkeley Castle and learn what sort of army York is raising there. but difficult to make sense of on a first read-through. the defection of the nobility. Richard's fall appears to be inevitable. the Earl of Worcester. and then the Duke of York himself emerges from the castle. already know--that Northumberland's brother. However. Lord Ross and Lord Willoughby arrive on horseback to join Bolingbroke. The two have had a long journey from Ravenspurgh in the northeast. It is little wonder that the Duke of York feels himself incapable of defending the country that Richard has left in his charge. regardless of his own feeling about the matter. in south central England. From him they learn what we. but Northumberland says the trip has not been difficult. Percy also tells them that Northumberland and the other defectors have been declared traitors (this was the cause of Worcester's own defection). has difficulty in imagining himself raising arms against Richard. we find Henry Bolingbroke and Lord Northumberland riding toward Berkeley Castle. Northumberland introduces Bolingbroke to his young son. York. Berkeley. Bagot and Greene privately agree that the effort is hopeless: "Alas. as readers. The party turns out to already be very near Berkeley Castle.

and declares that he will thus remain completely neutral on the matter. Gaunt would have acted as a father to him and helped him defend his rights. . he declares that he can see Richard's star falling. "What would you have me do?" he asks. Commentary Bolingbroke's invasion has clearly met with a fair amount of success. there is bad news waiting for Richard in Wales: on the coast of Wales-where Richard intends to land upon his return from Ireland--a large Welsh army has been waiting. Young Percy. like one of the Welshmen's bad omens. "I am a subject. where he intends to find and destroy Bushy and Bagot. and also blocked by him from appealing that theft through any legal course of action. he has ridden most of the way across England in order to reach the highlands of Gloucestershire. under the supervision of Richard's ally Lord Salisbury. if any.strength to repel Bolingbroke and his allies. Percy's statement that his youth will be. / And I challenge law. we discover. Bolingbroke also plays the kinship card. / And therefore personally I lay my claim / To my inheritance of free descent" (131-35). he would give the lad a sound whipping to show him the error of his ways. telling York that he sees the image of his own father in him--"I see old Gaunt alive" (117)--and pointing out that if York had died instead of Gaunt. By this point. and that he and his men are convinced Richard is dead." "ripen[ed] and confirm[ed] / To more approved service and desert" (43-44). are both laden with irony. and York's son Aumerle had been similarly wronged. and Bolingbroke's promise that "as my fortune ripens with thy love. / It shall be still thy true love's recompense" (48-49). and he attempts to persuade his uncle to come with him the next day to Bristol Castle. who swears allegiance in this scene to Bolingbroke. the army's Welsh captain explains to Salisbury that there are bad omens in the surrounding landscape and in the sky. In despair. by "elder days. After ten days of waiting with no news from the King. Meanwhile. Bolingbroke and his allies are invited to spend the night in Berkeley Castle. It is increasingly unclear which party. York and Bolingbroke's exchange of words outside the castle eloquently demonstrates both the complexity of the political and personal issues involved in this war Shakespeare's artistry in depicting that complexity. from the sky down toward the earth. attorneys are denied me. has "right" on its side. The Welshmen then begin to disperse despite Salisbury's pleas for them to remain. for Richard to lead it against Bolingbroke when he returns. pleads his case in very convincing terms: he has been cheated by the king out of his inheritance and his title of nobility. will (along with his father) become a key player against Bolingbroke in the next two plays of this series (Henry IV Parts 1 & 2). Bolingbroke accepts. Bolingbroke. The encounter between Bolingbroke and young Harry Percy is far more interesting one than is immediately apparent. York condemns Bolingbroke as a traitor and tells Bolingbroke that if he himself were young again. however.

Richard asks Scroope what has happened to his allies--Bagot. at whose house she is staying. His decision to remain "neuter. eloquent. Bushy and Greene are defiant but resigned. of having given Richard deliberately bad advice--and recites a list of charges against them: he says that they have stirred up trouble between the king and his queen and that their advice was the reason that Richard "misinterpret[ed]" Bolingbroke and subsequently banished him (18). will do the enemy's work for him. no rebel stands a chance. Richard agrees. accompanied by the Duke of Aumerle. Lord Scroope then enters to give Richard the news that. Meanwhile. he say. Bolingbroke accuses them of having "misled a prince"(8)--that is. Aumerle points out that.) Richard responds. grieving. but then recovers his royal self-assurance. it may not be" (144). Bolingbroke's political adeptness has won him. all the common people acknowledged him as lord and joined his forces--men. Bolingbroke sends greetings to Queen Isabel via the Duke of York." or neutral (158). women and children alike. is tantamount to defecting to Bolingbroke's side--as he well realizes. Henry Bolingbroke and his men have apprehended Bushy and Greene. Having dispatched this piece of business. dispersed from where they had been waiting for him and fled to Bolingbroke. Lord Salisbury enters. and some soldiers. and cost Richard. as Bolingbroke made his way through England. and. but do not have up-to-date news on his progress. He thus condemns them to be executed. but the Bishop of Carlisle tells him to recover hope: giving in to fear and despair. Richard gives a long.York still cannot fully approve of an insurrection that chafes against his sense of values and order: "To find out right with wrong. Northumberland leads them away to die. But Scroope has yet . he is clearly swayed by Bolingbroke's arguments. he also realizes that he simply does not have the strength to repel his invasion. delivers terrible news to Richard: only the day before. (The King and his party seem to be aware that Bolingbroke has landed in England. that since he is the rightful king. Richard is now without an army. and they will easily sweep Bolingbroke out of England. Richard curses and damns them in ferocious terms--but then Scroope explains that he means they have been executed. Whe Scroope tells him that they have "made peace with Bolingbroke" (127). scenes i-ii Summary At Bristol Castle in southwestern England. Richard greets the earth and air of England in poetic terms. Bushy. at "Barkloughly" Castle (actually called Harlech). a short distance south of Berkeley Castle. and despairing monologue. King Richard has landed on the coast of Wales. Bolingbroke grows stronger in power. who remain loyal to King Richard. Act III. another ally. particularly when he invites them to sleep in the castle for the night. and declares that he will ride against Bolingbroke despite his losses. the Bishop of Carlisle. and the Earl of Wiltshire. Still. believing Richard to be dead. in powerful language. while they delay. the army of twelve thousand men of Wales. Greene. Richard momentarily succumbs to despair. God is on their side. and gathers up his men to fight some rebellious Welsh before heading to the main battle.

they are masked by a wall of words. there is no turning back. ". is one of the most crucial scenes in the play. "Not all the water in the rough rude sea / Can wash the balm off from an anointed king. too. the real political maneuverings here are never openly acknowledged. or merely a human being like any other? At the beginning of the scene. is brief but serves two important purposes. From here. him one by one--or have been executed. Richard. everyone involved--Bolingbroke. First. At the same time. scene iii. Instead.. scene iii. Act III. announces his final intention to give in to despair and declares that he will go to Flint Castle. It marks a transformation for Richard: from here on in.. Richard's speeches in this scene address one of the play's central themes: What is a king? Is he divinely anointed and invulnerable. He continues to claim loyalty to the king and refers to him only in terms of respect. As in the scenes of political challenge in Act I. He implies that Richard is a good kind who has been led astray.more bad news: the Duke of York has defected to Bolingbroke. scene ii. / By you unhappied and disfigured clean" (8-10). often considered one of Shakespeare's most eloquent characters. a royal king. however. and the importance of that which is never stated aloud. and all the King's castles in the north and his allies in the south are in Bolingbroke's possession or on his side. Richard is secure in his divine power as King--the same power that John of Gaunt respected in Act I. / The breath of worldly men cannot depose / The deputy elected by the Lord" (54-57). scene ii. scene i. This is a thoroughly . and the play's readers--know that Bolingbroke's intentions are not nearly so pure: his real motivation for executing Bushy and Greene is to weaken Richard so that Bolingbroke himself can take the crown. scene i. / A happy gentlemen in blood and lineaments. Second. and of duel and banishment in Act I. when he refused to rise against him. "You have misled. will metamorphose into a brilliant and effective poet. the way in which Bolingbroke justifies his execution of Richard's two friends points to an important issue surrounding Bolingbroke's invasion of England--the issue of hypocrisy. it shows us the escalation of events that is building towards the inevitable outcome of the war: King Richard's capitulation to Bolingbroke at Flint Castle in Act III." he says to the men. in northeastern Wales. Commentary Act III. he will become increasingly selfabsorbed and abstracted from the realities around him. hearing this and realizing that he has no hope left. and who has ignored the words of so many of his advisors. However. From here until the end of the play Richard's poetry will become increasingly exalted. and that he (Bolingbroke) is actually attempting to protect the king by disposing of his corrupt and wicked advisors. and his wordplay obviously superior to that of anyone around him. his followers. Note that Bolingbroke arrests and executes Bushy and Greene in the name of the king. Bushy and Greene. Richard tells Aumerle. the king who has spoken so carelessly and rudely. which shows us Richard's return from Ireland and his discovery that he has lost England in his absence. Richard's supporters have defected from. to "pine away" (209). in which Bushy and Greene are executed.

medieval way of thinking about kingship--the king as a direct deputy of God. and the Bishop of Carlisle. and all. claiming that he is there simply to demand that his rights as Gaunt's heir be restored to him. Richard proudly. Lord Northumberland. sharply warns his nephew not to presume too far when he disdains . Commentary This scene marks a turning point for the balance of power in the play. but it is haunted throughout by an unstated fear: that the overthrow of a rightful king is blasphemous. but he realizes--as he says. Bolingbroke calls upon Richard to come down from the castle and parley with him. or whether he is committing a grievous sin for which he must eventually be punished. Bolingbroke quickly denies that he has come to seize the throne. and Bolingbroke says yes. is deeply disturbed about the possibility of divine retribution for the impending overthrow of the king. and Richard and his attendants obediently descend. to which King Richard has fled. are Bolingbroke's. the heavens and the King will rain vengeance upon him. Richard agrees to Bolingbroke's demands. rides toward Flint Castle (in northeastern Wales). and is prepared to surrender his army if< the lands and title which Richard seized from John of Gaunt at his death are returned to Bolingbroke. and ceremonious duty. who is Gaunt's rightful heir. and Bolingbroke acknowledges his concerns. Lord Salisbury. But. Bolingbroke sends Northumberland to Richard with a message: that he.. with all the authority of a king. in highly dramatic and despairing language. / Tradition. Young Harry Percy brings the party the news that King Richard is holed up inside the castle with several allies--Aumerle. along with the Duke of York. before Northumberland can enter the castle. Act III. agrees. Bolingbroke will wage war against the King. However. although he has now joined forces with Bolingbroke. as Richard learns that he has already lost his kingdom. Bolingbroke will certainly not let him retain the crown. our lives. / I live with bread like you. need friends" (151-2. form. / [T]hrow away respect. feel want. but Richard asks whether he must go with Bolingbroke and his army to London. All the characters inwardly debate the question of whether Bolingbroke has the right to take the crown from the politically incompetent Richard. immortal and invulnerable. York. to his attendants--that his reign as king has ended. / Taste grief. Otherwise. Bolingbroke never says aloud that his intention is to take the crown. his rhetoric changes rapidly: "Our lands. York. King Richard and his allies appear upon the high walls of the castle. thunderingly tells Northumberland to relay a message to Bolingbroke: if Bolingbroke dares try to usurp the throne. who is still conflicted about whether he has done the right thing in joining Bolingbroke. / For you have but mistook me all this while. Bolingbroke. has come as a loyal subject to his King. saying that it is clear he has no choice. Sir Stephen Scroope. scene iii Summary Bolingbroke.. and their attendants. He also says that Bolingbroke will not possess the crown in peace until the fields of England have been stained with blood. Richard. 172-76).

scene ii. that his leader has only come to reclaim his inheritance and has no thought of becoming king. then he will never possess the crown until that war has wracked the land. or lesser than my name! / O that I could forget what I have been!" laments the king. Richard follows this up with another dark prophecy: if Bolingbroke insists upon treasonously opening "[t]he purple testament of bleeding war" (94). / As doth the blushing discontented sun / From out the fiery portal of the East. Bolingbroke. clearly an equivocation at best and an outright lie at worst. Richard's anticipated "rising" has come to pass. since much of the underlying political maneuvering is masked by half-truths. sets the stage for the horrors that follow when Bolingbroke breaks that vow. Richard does.the power of the still-reigning king: "Take not. indeed.50-53). still claim that they have come to face Richard for no other reason than to restore to Bolingbroke his ancestral titles. "Methinks King Richard and myself should meet / With no less terror than the elements / Of fire and water. and his ally Northumberland. seem positively elemental when he appears on the castle's ramparts to challenge Bolingbroke and his party.ii. The events of this scene also point to the hypocrisy of politics. Knowing his reign is at an end. farther than you should. yet everyone present is fully aware that Bolingbroke will not be satisfied until he sits on the throne of England. scene i. This claim. or usurp" (79-81). / When he perceives the envious clouds are bent / To dim his glory and to stain the track / Of his bright passage to the occident" (62-67). upon seeing him appear. Richard. "O that I were as great / As I have been. good cousin. Although Richard's . / Not able to endure the sight of day" (II. / Lest you mistake: the heavens are o'er our heads" (16-17). and to which we saw Isabel succumbing in Act III. when their thund'ring shock / At meeting tears the cloudy cheeks of heaven" (54-57). Bolingbroke. but it does not work out exactly as he had predicted. Bolingbroke realizes that he is quite capable of putting out Richard's sun. realizing this. invokes the traditional concept of the divine sanction conferred upon a king: "[W]ell we know no hand of blood and bone / Can gripe the sacred handle of our sceptre. / Unless he do profane. Shakespeare's audience would have recognized this as a foreshadowing of the civil wars that lay ahead in the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V. scene ii: Richard claimed that when Bolingbroke "[s]hall see us rising in our throne the east. King Richard doth himself appear. see. staining "[h]er pastures' grass with faithful English blood" (100). / His treasons will sit blushing in his face. The famous image he invokes of himself and Aumerle digging their own graves with their tears (160-169) marks a new level of fanciful thought. Bolingbroke muses. by the royal blood and the dead bodies of Richard and Bolingbroke's ancestors. Northumberland does not help matters when he speaks up on Bolingbroke's behalf and swears. steal. He is clearly suggesting that God is watching closely to see what Bolingbroke does next. Far from being unable to endure the brilliant shining of the rightful king. Richard indulges again in the elaborate language of despair that first appeared at Act III. Bolingbroke's words recall Richard's own description of himself in Act III. invokes the ubiquitous metaphor of the king as the sun: "See. Both Richard and Bolingbroke invoke powerful metaphors of kingship in this. their first meeting since Bolingbroke's banishment.

singing. sadness and foreboding weigh very heavily upon he. dancing. and. Why. it has become apparent. Isabel. no longer able to contain herself. An aged gardener and his assistant enter the garden to tend to some of the plants. she will discover that what he says is true. It seems almost certain that the king will soon be removed from power.despair has been transformed into extraordinary poetry. summons her ladies to come with her to London to meet the captured Richard. and storytelling. The gardener apologetically confirms that it is: King Richard is in Bolingbroke's custody. and that King Richard himself has been caputed by Bolingbroke. The Queen rejects all these ideas. She has noticed that the common folk have been discussing affairs of state. / Pray God the plants thou graft'st may never grow" (100-101). in comparing the resources of the two sides. in the place where he saw her tears fall. He adds that if Isabel will go to London. scene iv Summary While Richard. But the good-natured gardener takes pity upon the queen instead of getting angry. should the two of them bother to maintain order within their garden. Queen Isabel has been staying at the house of the Duke of York (at Langley. bearing the news that the King's allies-.Bushy. He informs the assistant that letters came last night to a friend of the Duke of York's. As Northumberland says. lamenting her misfortune and the sorrow that lies in her future. She casts upon the gardener a halfhearted. Queen Isabel. and the two then begin to talk about the state of the country. grief-stricken curse as she departs: "[F]or telling me these news of woe. bursts from her hiding place to ask the gardner if what he says is true. he no longer seems capable of taking much action in the real world. when the country surrounding it has been allowed to sprout weeds and be infested by insects (a reference to Richard's mismanagement and his unpopular advisors)? The elder gardener tells him to keep quiet. using the garden as a metaphor. a madman). Bolingbroke holds the loyalty of all the English noblemen. As she walks in the Duke's garden with her waiting-women. she and her ladies conceal themselves in the shadow of a grove to overhear what the men will discuss. since the person who caused the country's disorder has "met with the fall of leaf" (49)--that is. . as if expecting an imminent change in the government. and the Earl of Wiltshire--are dead. Although she has not yet heard the news of Richard's capture by Bolingbroke. the herb of sorrow. Bolingbroke. not far from London). he speaks "fondly like a frantic man" (that is. saying that making any attempt to forget her grief would only add to it. and their respective allies have been having their fateful encounters in the west of England and in Wales. the assistant asks. The older gardener tells his assistant to bind an apricot tree against a wall. Act III. they try to cheer her up by suggesting of games. he decides to plant a bed of rue. At the Queen's suggestion. while Richard has nothing left. Greene. King Richard has been overthrown.

what does it mean that Richard's leaves now are falling too? Already the king's assassination in Act V. The metaphor of England as a garden. is forced to borrow someone else's so that he. and his summer leaves all faded / By envy's hand. too. has come up before-most notably in Act II. scene iii.Commentary This apparently small and insignificant scene carries great metaphorical importance and has interested critics for a long time. This mixing of the "low" classes with the high is developed in much fuller and more interesting ways in the "Henry" plays which follow (Henry IV. Immediately thereafter. then Lord Surrey throws down his gage on Aumerle's side. the same word Bolingbroke uses to refer to them in Act III. and the captured party of King Richard have returned from Wales to London. . Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V). The verbal echo seems to be loaded with ominous foreboding: if Gloucester died violently and mysteriously. who is out of gages. in John of Gaunt's speech. setting off a gage-throwing chain reaction which eventually involves six people: Aumerle begins by declaring that Bagot is a liar and throwing down his gage (a glove or a hood) to challenge him to single combat. not as the sober and perceptive people Shakespeare gives us. While other. Commoners usually get short shrift in plays about kings and noblemen. scene i. contemporary plays in the "high style" certainly had scenes involving commoners. Moreover. we see into the minds of the skilled laborers who maintain the grounds of the Duke of York's palace--a far cry from the aristocracy of the vast majority of the play's characters. / Is hack'd down. the king's advisors Bushy and Greene are called "caterpillars" here (47). Lord Percy. as through a half-opened window in the street. in Westminster Hall. There. his allies. into the minds and thoughts of everyday people.. Aumerle heatedly denies it.. some of the same figures and images are used: for instance. Bagot claims that the Duke of Aumerle was central in the conspiracy. asking him who conspired with Richard to kill Thomas.ii. Lord Fitzwater. can throw down his gage again. Duke of Gloucester. scene i Summary Henry Bolingbroke. and of Richard as a bad gardener. here. they call on Bagot to give testimony. and another unnamed lord all throw down gages against Aumerle. and murder's bloody axe" (I. scene i. but also of the metaphor the Duchess of Gloucester used to refer to the death of her husband Thomas of Gloucester: "One flourishing branch of [Edward III's] most royal root. they were usually presented as comic relief. and the trigger-happy Fitzwater throws down his gage again--and Aumerle. Critic Marjorie Garber refers to scenes like this as "window scenes" that give us a glimpse. we see once again the metaphors which associate the king with the land: the description of Richard defeat as "the fall of leaf" (49) reminds us not only of John of Gaunt's rich garden analogies in Act II.18-21). scene v--the groundwork for which has been laid nearly from the play's beginning--is starting to look inevitable. Act IV. Indeed.

crown. However. Richard departs under guard. without explicitly answering no. generations yet to come will suffer and the ground will be soaked in English blood. scene i. becomes partly responsible for Richard's murder in Act V. saying that the challenges will have to wait. This scene also foreshadows the way in which Bolingbroke himself will re-enact Richard's crime and his fall. when he. when Bolingbroke and Mowbray challenged each other to the duel that resulted in Richard banishing them both. The exchange of thrown gages at the beginning of the scene hearkens back to Act I. After he leaves. apparently conspiring against Bolingbroke. as King Henry IV. his past sin can be brought back as a crime with which to charge him. Bolingbroke. agreeing to "adopt" Bolingbroke as his "heir" (109) and to yield the throne to him immediately. he delays giving Bolingbroke the crown with a long. breaking into a long speech in which he condemns Bolingbroke for his insurrection against the rightful king. The Duke of York abruptly enters to inform the company that King Richard has capitulated. Richard enters. scene v. but the Bishop of Carlisle interrupts him.As the gage-throwing grows to ludicrous proportions. and Aumerle begin to speak together. Bolingbroke sets the date of his coronation as the following Wednesday. he dashes it to the floor. and kingship. back from the exile to which Richard condemned him. Helpless and despairing. . Bolingbroke cuts them all off. uninterrupted staging is to create a sense of headlong action. grief-stricken monologue in which he surrenders land. The effect of this prolonged. however. the Abbot of Westminster. In reflecting this earlier scene. For the unacknowledged secret that lay behind Bolingbroke's accusation and banishment--the fact that King Richard himself was behind Gloucester's murder--has now been brought into the light. Now that Richard has been deposed. commands that Richard be taken to the Tower of London (the traditional place for holding political prisoners). but Richard resists the order. Bolingbroke summons Richard so that he may abdicate the crown to him in full view of the nobles. and. He tells Bolingbroke that if he takes the crown now from the true king of England. scene i also alters it. the Bishop of Carlisle. Bolingbroke agrees. Northumberland promptly arrests Carlisle on charges of high treason. He plans to bring Thomas Mowbray. Act IV. so that the people "may deem that you are worthily depos'd" (227). and Mowbray will help settle the truth of the matter. Duke of Norfolk. the Bishop of Carlisle tells them all that Mowbray has died while fighting valiantly in the Crusades. Northumberland asks him to read aloud a statement confessing his crimes against the kingdom. Richard asks Bolingbroke one final favor: that he be allowed to go away freely from the court. after staring into it and wondering aloud about his own identity now that he is no longer king. Commentary This extraordinarily long scene makes up all of Act IV. He then calls for a looking-glass.

Finally. scene i. He calls for a looking-glass (a mirror) so that he may behold whether he still exists. horror.ii. Carlisle then follows this by prophesying destruction for the usurper--a curse similar to that which John of Gaunt laid on Richard in Act II. / With mine own tongue deny my sacred state" (208-9). and Richard's own claim that "Not all the water in the rough rude sea / Can wash the balm off from an anointed king" (III. When Bolingbroke asks him straightforwardly if he is willing to turn over the crown. We hear echoes here of earlier speeches. He dramatically smashes the mirror upon the floor. is not quite ready to let go of it. the ineffectual man of words. scene ii. civil war will tear the realm apart: "Disorder. Richard enters into a long soliloquy in which he formally strips himself of his kingship: "With mine own hands I give away my crown. such as Gaunt's reference to the king as God's "deputy anointed in His sight" in Act I. nowhere is the contrast between Bolingbroke. Carlisle prophesies. As the two stand staring at each other. and which Richard himself delivered to Bolingbroke in Act III. foretold for Richard is now being prophesied for Bolingbroke. As Richard's ability to affect the course of events is reduced. curses and dark prophecies that have been accumulating since the play's beginning--but the darkness that was. and mutiny / Shall here inhabit. and Richard. causing him to sink. Staring at the face which is no longer the face of a king. destroyed him: "Mark.54-55). Bolingbroke himself rises higher. deputy elect. comparing himself to a snowman who stands before the sun (since Bolingbroke. the moral of this sport--How soon my sorrow hath destroyed my face" (290-91). full of water: as Bolingbroke pours out his water into Richard. more obvious than it is here. steward. York's defense of the king's rights in Act II. and is one of the play's key monologues. / Anointed. / His captain. and says that no subject has the right to overthrow his king. at first. Richard wonders aloud whether he has melted away and whether he has any identity any more. and perhaps literally. each with one hand resting upon the crown. . King Richard's several extraordinary speeches during the scene of his abdication are among the most famous passages in the play and are worth reading carefully. the man of action. planted many years" (125-27). shattering his reflection into shards. Richard's wordiness and theatricality in this scene contrast notably with Bolingbroke's quiet stoicism. This speech is the final culmination and most eloquent example of the series of warnings. The first is built around one of Richard's theatrical gestures: Richard. his dark prophecy hangs over the rest of the play. If Bolingbroke is crowned king. Carlisle calls the king "the figure of God's majesty. Although Bolingbroke and his men ignore the prophecy and arrest Carlisle on charges of treason. and this land be call'd / The field of Golgotha and dead men's skulls" (142-44). crowned. scene iii. scene iii.The Bishop of Carlisle's speech is placed centrally in the scene (between Bagot and Aumerle's challenges and Richard's abdication). silent king. Richard compares the crown to a well which balances the two princes like a pair of buckets. Carlisle starts out by invoking a familiar theme: a king's divine sanction and God's anger at the usurpation of his throne. he is overcome. even as he proffers the crown to Bolingbroke. fear. now king. he gets more poetic. has the right to refer to himself as the sun). His meaning is that Bolingbroke's usurpation of his kingship has symbolically.

tells her to think about the afterlife instead of this one. Commentary The formal and stylized language of the farewell scene hearkens back to some of the play's earlier passages of challenge and sorrow. Isabel. Richard and his guard ride into view. . "So longest way shall have the longest moans" (87-90). Northumberland replies curtly and orders him to take leave of Isabel: she is to be sent back to France immediately. / Take correction mildly. or rather do not see. angry and despairing. Richard tells Isabel. touching farewell.Act V. and asks her to tell his tragic tale as a fireside story on long winter evenings--a tale to make its hearers weep. / My fair rose wither" (7-8). in highly stylized language. near. / Which art a lion and the king . . He bids her imagine that her life has always been as it is now. and part to go their separate ways. where they have stationed themselves on a street leading to the Tower of London so that they may meet the deposed King Richard when he passes by on his way to the Tower. Richard no longer claims to be. and he must go to Pomfret. as well as his crown? Richard replies that it is no longer of any use to try to fight: his fate is settled and Isabel should think of him as dead. / Go count thy way with sighs. for instance. Here. I for thee here. He orders her again to go to France. The complex poetry of their leave-taking strikes some readers as very beautiful. I mine with groans. and instructs her to return to France (her native country) and enter a religious convent. uses the conventional Renaissance language of doomed lovers--groans. and weeping--to signal the grief of the pair at being forced to separate. but is instead to be taken to Pomfret Castle in the north of England. just as he has acknowledged Bolingbroke to be the sun in the preceding scene. written in a long passage of rhymed couplets. the lion--the traditional king of beasts. be ne'er the near. kiss the rod . kisses. Richard sees her and tries to comfort her. He has even given up the poetic metaphors that he so often used as king. Richard and Isabel bid each other a long. / Better far off than." Isabel replies. Northumberland enters and tells Richard that Bolingbroke has changed his mind about what is to be done with him: Richard is not to go to the Tower of London. "Weep thou for me in France. though others find it to be stiff and affected. "[W]ilt thou. asks Richard what has happened to his courage and righteous indignation: has Bolingbroke taken that from him. we see Richard as fully resigned to the loss of his kingship--not even Isabel's indignation can rouse him from his comfortable despair. Richard tells him--in something that sounds half like a curse. sighs. scene i Summary Queen Isabel and her attendants have arrived in London. half like an ominous prophecy--that the peace between him and Bolingbroke will not last long: Northumberland and the new king will be at each other's throats soon enough. telling her she must now learn to live with grief. The final farewell between the two. pupil-like. and Isabel laments to see her lord so changed: "[B]ut see.

but cheered wildly for Bolingbroke. near London. Parts 1 & 2. Aumerle tries to prevent his father from seeing it. and he mounts his horse to ride to King Henry and tell him everything. Throwing open the windows to watch him pass. will have a falling-out. At Windsor Castle. enters. will not listen. will remember his words when the truth of this prophecy unfolds during the course of Henry IV. The Duchess tries to reason with York. notices a letter that he is concealing within his shirt. the Duchess of York.of beasts?" asks Isabel angrily (31-34). Richard will not rise to the bait. Northumberland. and the one will rise in arms against the other. the son of the Duke and Duchess of York. a familiar one: the sins of the past will come back to haunt the current rulers. it turns out. pleading with him to keep Aumerle's involvement a secret since he is their only son and she is too old to bear more children. He immediately becomes highly agitated." says Richard (57-59). Bolingbroke! / . . Welcome. Aumerle. / That fear to hate. and tells her about the long day he has had: when Bolingbroke rode into London in triumph for his coronation. by now. he is now called "Rutland. York. The Duchess instructs Aumerle to ride after his father and try to reach the King first to beg his forgiveness. The young prince has apparently been spending his time in taverns and whorehouses and associating with robbers and highwaymen. As he listlessly discusses the triumphal celebrations being held at Oxford in honor of the new King Henry IV. but he vows to be loyal to the new king. York. . . however. the people scowled upon Richard and dumped rubbish onto his head. The curse--or perhaps it is better called a prophecy--that Richard gives to Northumberland before he is taken to Pomfret is. scene ii-iii Summary At the Duke of York's house at Langley. She herself will follow as swiftly as she can so that she can plead for Aumerle's life. leading Richard in captivity. York is upset by the bad treatment given to the former King Richard. Bolingbroke is concerned. ere foul sin gathering head / Shall break into corruption. "God save thee." apparently having lost his more noble title due to Bolingbroke's judgment on the "trial" of Act IV. but still sees signs of hope in the boy. but York seizes and reads it. Bolingbroke!" (11-17). and hate turns one or both / To worthy danger and deserved death" (66-69). who ignore Richard now. For "[t]he love of wicked men converts to fear. whom he has not seen for a full three months. Act V. The letter. Northumberland and Bolingbroke. he prophecies. calling his son "Villain! Traitor! Slave!" (72). scene i. they cried out. his father. "The time shall not be many hours of age / More than it is. reveals that Aumerle has joined in a conspiracy of a dozen noblemen who plan to assassinate King Henry at Oxford. the aged Duke greets his wife. we find Bolingbroke complaining to young Harry Percy about the wild ways of Bolingbroke's son. but prefers to picture himself instead as the doomed hero of a tragic story (40-50).

who is never named in this play. The voice of the Duchess is heard from outside. the painfully difficult decision to abandon Richard's cause and leave the kingdom open to Bolingbroke's invasion--have left York with the sense that his value systems . It also lays the groundwork for new themes and plot lines that will come to fruition in the later "Henry" plays. At last. and the title character of Henry V. A strange three-way conversation. She means that. but Aumerle swears that the king has nothing to fear from him. but it is difficult to know quite what to make of it. What are we to make of York's almost fanatical insistence that the king execute his son? One possibility is that the conflicts of loyalty which have been tearing at York since the beginning of the play--the enormous burden of responsibility left to him when Richard made him Lord Governor of England during the Irish war. in highly formal language. When Aumerle enters. a major figure in Henry IV. Aumerle may no longer be a "violet. the Duke of York. have fallen from grace. enters the chamber. but suddenly the Duke of York is heard banging at the door. seems to beg explanation. his mother asks him. his failure to defend Richard's kingdom against the invading Bolingbroke. we hear in this scene the first mention of Bolingbroke's son. / Lest you be cropp'd before you come to prime" (50-51). in which the Duke and Duchess of York argue with King Henry over Aumerle's fate. The ritualistic spectacle of Aumerle and the Duchess formally pleading (in rhymed couplets) for the king's forgiveness is placed against the counterpoint of York's insistence that Aumerle be executed as a traitor. she has ridden from her home to plead with the king to spare her son's life." but someone will have sprung up to replace him. and she. despite the change in kings. only half-jokingly. And. York then enters and shows Bolingbroke the traitorous letter. but adds that all the rest of the conspirators will be arrested and executed immediately. Aumerle's father York warns him: "[B]ear you well in this new spring of time. too. ensues between the Duchess of York. However. Bolingbroke complies.Aumerle enters and begs his cousin Bolingbroke for a private audience. some aspects of court life never change. returning from the king's company. we see that. while the Duchess begs him to spare Aumerle's life. and Aumerle falls to his knees and says he will not rise until the king has agreed to forgive him for the crime he has committed--nor will he name the crime until he has the king's pardon. since Richard's former allies (including Aumerle). The prince. there must now be new favorites in the court. The new king dismisses his companions. He cries out that Aumerle is a traitor. He also begs the king to lock the door until their conference is done. the subplot actually does serve to tie up some loose ends and show us that the transition of power has not been altogether smooth. scene iii. In addition. is in fact Prince Hal. For instance. Commentary The action of this scene seems oddly distant from the downfall of King Richard. Parts 1 & 2. which has preoccupied the play until now. "Who are the violets now / That strew the green lap of the new-come spring?" (45-46). Bolingbroke draws his sword. and the king: York pleads with the king to execute his son as a traitor. The rather bizarre scene at the climax of Act V. the king decides to pardon Aumerle.

All he has left to cling to. the king. and live out his life in peace. The Bishop of Carlisle has been left alive and is now presented to the king for his sentence. but the keeper says that he cannot--one Sir Pierce of Exton. discussing the state of affairs with his advisors: the bad news is that there are rebels setting fire to towns in Gloucestershire in the northwest. We now move to Richard in Pomfret. perhaps. and ambiguous language in the play. as the "king's friend" (11)-motivated either by loyalty or by hope of reward. but is still part of a populated world. but he cannot cheer the grieving king. York seems to be obsssed with the idea of maintaining his loyalty to the king. who is soliloquizing to himself. Exton enters with the coffin containing Richard's body and tells Bolingbroke that he has taken the cue from his own mouth and murdered the former king. He decides that. has forbidden it. is his firm conviction that he must remain loyal to the King of England--who now is Bolingbroke. Richard strikes the keeper. who cries out. the Abbot of Westminster. Even if it requires turning in his own son as a traitor. Angrily. Exton succeeds in striking him down. wary. but the good news is that the main conspirators against King Henry's life--Lord Salisbury. who has come to see him.k. "To Bolingbroke we are sworn subjects now. and others--have been executed and their heads sent to London (presumably for public display as a warning to others). he tries various metaphorical and metaphysical tricks to convince himself that he is not alone. in some of the most highly loaded. we find Bolingbroke. Back at Windsor. a nobleman called Sir Piers Exton is talking with his servants. keep a low profile. Act V. Exton and his accomplices rush in. scenes iv-vi Summary In Windsor Castle. dies. Richard. condemning Exton to burn in hell for his sin. double-edged. A groom who has remained faithful to Richard comes in unexpectedly to wish Richard well and tell him how grieved he is to behold the former king's fall. Bolingbroke shows the Bishop mercy and commands him to find a "secret place" (25). Exton resolves to bury his slain accomplices at Pomfret and convey Richard's body to King Henry at Windsor. After a brief scuffle in which Richard apparently kills several of the accomplices. where the new King Henry IV (a. Troubled by doubt and guilt. says that while he .a. Bolingbroke. who is currently imprisoned at Pomfret Castle in the north of England.have been overturned. Then the castle's keeper enters with food for the former king. "Have I no friend will rid me of this living fear?" Exton reasonably interprets the "living fear" as a reference to the still-living King Richard. / Whose state and honour I for aye allow" (39-40). He tells them that King Henry has asked his audience of courtiers. scene ii. Bolingbroke) now resides. or perhaps both--he will be the man to go and kill Richard. and Richard. As York says in Act V. Suddenly. Exton thinks that he saw King Henry specifically look at him when he asked the question. bids the keeper taste of it first as he usually does (to prove it is not poisoned). Still trying to come to terms with his isolation from the world.

"O God. till he be eas'd / With being nothing" (3941). scene v. and can only wait for his fate to come to him--and his poetry soars. which he makes in Act V. He orders Exton to leave the court and wander miserably in his guilt." (1-5). The imprisoned Richard tries several ideas out on himself: perhaps he will pretend that his own thoughts are people. for because the world is populous / And here is not a creature but myself / I cannot do it. / With nothing shall be pleas'd. Sometimes am I king. Commentary Richard's final speeches. . Yet I'll hammer it out . are among his most interesting. . . to whom Denmark seems as much a prison as Richard's literal jail cell. Richard is literally imprisoned--he cannot go anywhere or do anything. perhaps he himself is more than one person. of course. we find Richard playing psychological games to try to convince himself that he is not alone. / And none contented. death.243-256). This speech--along with much else that Richard says in this scene--can been read as a foreshadowing of the monologues Shakespeare will later write for Hamlet. for so he feels himself to be: "[P]lay I in one person many people. he denies that he actually ordered the former king's murder and declares that he now loathes and repudiates Exton. He orders a sad funeral for Richard and he and his retinue depart the stage in mourning. This series of identity shifts ends with Richard imagining himself as "nothing": "Nor I. (The play in which this idea will come to its fullest fruition is.were it not that I have bad dreams" (Hamlet. / Then am I king'd again.iii. the more extraordinary his poetry becomes. this attitude has been visible in Richard from the beginning and has manifested itself in Richard's perpetual passivity and willingness to give in to despair. . Bolingbroke himself vows to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land--Jerusalem--to wash the guilt of this murder from his soul. but that is apparently not of great concern to him. / And straight am nothing" (31-38).) . at last. In his opening speech. the more Richard's ability to actually get anything done is compromised. and its appearance in some of Shakespeare's dark-tempered protagonists is part of what makes critics see him as being such a prophetic writer: he is "modern" before his time. / And.admits he is very glad that Richard is dead. another imprisoned intellect wandering in a gloomy castle and speculating on the nature of life. but his general idea is clear: he tends strongly towards nihilism. not any man that but man is. Now. Then again. and by and by / Think that I am unking'd by Bolingbroke. As we have seen throughout the play. laments to his friends. and count myself a king of infinite space -. and thus populate his prison. (He appears to be courting insanity when he does this. and identity. I could be bounded in a nutshell.) Richard considers his isolation and tries to find ways to re-think its emptiness: "I have been studying how I may compare / This prison where I live unto the world. Nihilism is very modern concept. the idea that there is no purpose or value to existence. / Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar . In some ways. II. Hamlet. Hamlet. Richard's syntax is obscure.

This series consists of Richard II. / While my gross flesh sinks downward. This guilt. I protest my soul is full of woe / That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow" (45-6). However. my soul! thy seat is up on high.A more literal "nothing"-ness arrives at Richard's cell soon after his metaphysical musings. This might be compared to the way in which citizens of the United States are still aware of the events and figures surrounding the American Revolution. Henry tries to lay the burden of guilt upon Exton. they are the seeds of plot threads that will be worked out in the remaining three plays of the tetralogy. Though I did wish him dead. Parts 1. consists of Henry VI. / I hate the murtherer. Although the events he writes about occurred some two centuries before his own time. and even treat similar themes such as kingship and revolution (for example. as is clear when he says to his court. and Henry V. His words to Exton demonstrate this extraordinary ambivalence: "They love not poison that do poison need. written near the start of his career (around 1589-1593).vi. and they deal with the rise and fall of the House of Lancaster--what later historians often referred to as the "War of the Roses. moves back in time to examine the rise of the Lancastrians. / Nor do I thee. love him murthered" (V. most . King Henry's mixed reaction to Exton's news in Act V. here to die" (111-112). form and focus from his other plays (the "comedies." Shakespeare's most important history plays were written in two "series" of four plays. Shakespeare expected his audience to be familiar with the characters and events he was describing. Henry IV. "Lords. written at the height of Shakespeare's powers (around 1595-1599). scene vi suggests that he realizes his own hypocrisy and feelings of guilt for Richard's death. The second series. The History Plays The "history plays" written by Shakespeare are generally thought of as a distinct genre: they differ somewhat in tone. they are set in late medieval England. The first series." the "tragedies" and the "romances"). The death scene is surprisingly short. While many of Shakespeare's other plays are set in the historical past. events in English history between about 1422 and 1485. covering English history from about 1398 to 1420. Antony and Cleopatra. murdered kings in Shakespeare's plays often get long and poignant speeches between their stabbing and their death. or Cymbeline). and covers the fall of the Lancaster dynasty--that is. Parts 1 & 2. which occurred more than two centuries ago--although. 2 & 3. the deed has been done. and the guilt of Richard's murder weighs heavily on Henry from almost the first moment of his reign. like the English commoners of Shakespeare's time. remain hanging in the air as the play concludes. but Richard barely has time to curse Exton grimly for his deed and to bid farewell to the living world: "Mount. Julius Caesar. mount. but he is well aware of his own complicity in Richard's death. and the pledge Henry makes to take a pilgrimage to "the Holy Land" (49).38-40). The battles among houses and the rise and fall of kings were woven closely into the fabric of English culture and formed an integral part of the country's patriotic legends and national mythology. condemning him to wander "[w]ith Cain" throughout the world. and Richard III. the eight history plays have several things in common: they form a linked series. Hamlet. in the form of Exton and the other murderers.

the important place names and basic trajectories of motion which occur across the course of the play are listed below. and the curse can only be redeemed by his son. Plashy. Duke of Gloucester. as we will see. His primary source for historical material. Shakespearean history is thus often inaccurate in its details. is also near London. bustle. Macbeth. which is located in the southeast part of England. however. Richard II himself. Near the city of London is Windsor Castle. The murder of the former King Richard II at the end of Richard II will haunt King Henry IV for the rest of his life. published in 1586-7. the home of the Duchess of Gloucester. Thomas of Woodstock. Geography There is a great deal of hustle. then the overthrow or murder of a king is tantamount to blasphemy. the significance to this genre of what we might call the "shadows of history. for Richard II. scene i). the residence of the Duke of York (where Queen Isabel resides after Bolingbroke invades England in Act II. alters. and before she goes to London to meet Richard in Act V. scene ii. but it reflects popular conceptions of history. and where Bolingbroke resides in Act V. This death occurs long before the beginning of the play. Holinshed's work was only one of an entire genre of historical chronicles that were popular during Shakespeare's time." One of the questions which preoccupies the characters in the history plays is whether or not the King of England is divinely appointed by the Lord. It is important to remember. can be very helpful in keeping track of the places and movements in Richard II. and moving from one place to another in Richard II-although this looks like nothing compared to the even more complicated geopolitical business that fills the Henry plays that follow it. This shadow. is haunted by a politically motivated murder: not of a king. or conveniently avoids--whichever serves his dramatic purposes best. is generally agreed to be Raphael Holinshed's massive work. but. Westminster Hall is in London (this is where Bolingbroke puts Bagot and Aumerle on trial in Act IV. after he becomes king. scene i). for example. such as the one found in the Riverside Shakespeare edition of Shakespeare's plays. If so. more than seven primary sources have been suggested as having contributed to the work. He may well have used many other sources as well. Henry V. A map of medieval Britain. . when reading the history plays. where King Richard and his allies spend time at the beginning of the play. it haunts Richard. However. For those who are interested. in the play which bears his name. also looms over Richard II and its sequels. compresses. which manifests in the form of literal ghosts in plays like Hamlet. just as his own death will haunt the usurper who is responsible for it. and Richard III. Holinshed's account provides the chronology of events that Shakespeare reproduces. so is Langley. Julius Caesar. and may cast a long shadow over the reign of the king who gains the throne through such nefarious means. Scotland and Ireland. The King's Court is in the capital city of London. but of his uncle.American do not know this history in great detail. Shakespeare drew on a number of different sources in writing his history plays. Similarly. although it is by no means necessary in order to understand the play. The Chronicles of England.

When Bushy and Greene flee from Windsor Castle in Act II. instead of into the centrally located Tower of London. a promising. leaving his son Richard to inherit the kingdom the following year. since Wales borders England on the west. Richard's father was also named Edward. Not far from this is Berkeley Castle. This is where they meet up with young Harry Percy. he presumably departs from the west coast of Wales (this only makes sense. scene iii. Here. warlike and beloved heir to the throne. landing near a northern point called Harlech (this appears in Shakespeare. this should not be confused with Berkeley Castle in England. which lies across the English Channel to the south of England. Bolingbroke finds him in Act III. died in 1377. is a long way from London: it is in the proverbially wild and desolate northern country of Yorkshire. scene ii). which is far to the west of London. From here it is not far southeast to Bristol Castle. but it would have been easier to hush it up if you sent somebody into the wild lands of the north. scene iii. the much-revered King Edward III. Bolingbroke's invading force. where Bolingbroke decides to send Richard after his deposition instead of imprisoning him in the Tower. and then with York. scene i. he unfortunately died the year before the "old king" Edward III. as "Barkloughly". somewhat northwest of Bristol. and then sails around the south and up the east coast of England to land at Ravenspurgh. His ascension at an early age meant that he grew up as a ruler. and brings Richard back with him to London. not far from Ravenspurgh. spoiled by power (at least according to Shakespeare). We do not see him again until Act III. or whom you expected might "accidentally" wind up with an assassin's knife in his throat. when he returns to the Welsh coast. which is where York and Bolingbroke have met). When King Richard sails away to Ireland between the end of Act II. to await Bolingbroke and his men. due to a rather complicated transcription error.) Genealogy Richard II was thrust onto the throne at the very early age of ten. when his grandfather. scene ii. allowed himself to become reliant upon influential advisors. Richard was thus left with very large shoes to fill. and was known as the "Black Prince". situated in "Cotshall" (or the Cotswalds). in Wiltshire. This is why Bolingbroke can so easily find and capture Bushy and Greene after he reaches Berkeley Castle in Act II. and the island of Ireland is west of both Wales and England). When Richard learns from Salisbury and Scroope that Bolingbroke has invaded and gained power in England during his absence. Bolingbroke and his men then ride southwest across the northern part of England. scene i. sails from Brittany. scene ii. where the Duke of York has gathered his small forces. scene i and the beginning of Act II. which was Bolingbroke's landing point. At several points in . which is on England's northeast coast (we hear news of his safe arrival there in Act II. they move nearly all the way across the country to arrive at Berkeley Castle. as we hear from Northumberland in Act II. where Bushy and Greene are apprehended and executed in Act III. (That is not to say that people did not get assassinated in the Tower all the time. in the wild high western country near the border of England and Wales. scene iii. in Act II. scene ii. they go to Bristol (or "Bristow") Castle. Pomfret Castle. This would be the right place to send someone whom you did not want to hear from again. he heads northeast to Flint Castle. on the northern coast of Wales. and.

obviously. the ruler at the time this play was written. escalate into a monumental struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster. and to which Queen Elizabeth. This conflict will. when she protests that "One vial full of Edward's sacred blood / . or the House of Lancaster. King Richard himself. He is. this death haunts the play and symbolically seems to both justify and foreshadow Richard's downfall. Richard's father was the oldest son of King Edward III. A younger brother of the Black Prince is Edmund of Langley. Henry Bolingbroke. is the Duke of Lancaster. the uncle of Richard II. York is hence Gaunt's brother and Richard's uncle. Henry VI. he is compared unfavorably to both his illustrious grandfather and his tragically short-lived father. Duke of Lancaster. Although no one dares to openly acknowledge the king's complicity.Richard II. it seems that it was Richard himself who gave the order for his execution. However. Shakespeare has already chronicled these struggles in his first history tetralogy. This is the crime for which Gloucester's widow asks John of Gaunt to take revenge in Richard II. The intra-familial conflicts in this play lay the groundwork for what will. and the rigid English laws of succession meant that the oldest son of the king's oldest son must inherit the crown. in later years. the uncle of Richard II. the Black Prince had six younger brothers. Duke of York--whose house will be known as the house of York. and his son. John of Gaunt. He died under mysterious circumstances shortly before the time at which Richard II takes place. one a red). Duke of York.. Study Questions Some readers and critics feel that Henry Bolingbroke and Richard are presented as opposites.. There will be strife between this line of descent and the descendants of Gaunt's brother Edmund.17-19). belonged. therefore. founds the Tudor dynasty--the one which was still reigning in Shakespeare's time. famously. thus. How are the parallels between Richard and Bolingbroke presented? Answer for Study Question 1 >> . his son. as well as a number of other noblemen both inside and outside of the royal family. were either active or passive participants in Gloucester's death.one a white rose. One is John of Gaunt. several of whom figure importantly in Richard II. the Duke of Aumerle. and all the precious liquor spilt" (I. is therefore Richard's cousin and also a grandson of Edward III. Parts 1-3 and Richard III. young Richard became ruler at ten. who eventually becomes the usurper of the throne.ii. come to be called "the War of the Roses" (after the symbols of each house -. is a cousin to both Richard and Henry Bolingbroke. and.Is crack'd. as Henry VII. his son Henry Bolingbroke (King Henry IV) and all his descendents will in later years be known as the Lancastrians. The conflict will not be laid to rest until (as Shakespeare documents at the end of Richard III) a son of the house of Lancaster marries a daughter of the house of York. A third brother to the Black Prince was Thomas of Woodstock. Duke of Gloucester.

when York recounts the ride into the city of London. drawing a comparison between an object or person at hand and an apparently unrelated object. working out the details of the correspondence and adding extra twists. as in the speech he gives when he lands in Wales (III. and we can see why: he mismanages his country's budget. balanced on the fulcrum of the crown (IV. of course.4-40)." Some of the more famous ones include: his frequent comparisons of his kingship to the rising sun. The play contains many examples of Richard's "metaphysical poetry.v. He uses the kinds of highly complicated metaphors and analogies that critics sometimes call "metaphysical conceits. his comparison of the human body to a walled castle.ii.ii. which now ticks away the minutes of his sadness (V. "are antithetical. and winning the love of the common folk. As Richard loses control over his country and his own destiny. during which the people cheered Bolingbroke but dumped dust and rubbish on Richard's head (V." These conceits involve. and. Bolingbroke succeeds in returning from exile. He is also a plainspoken man of action. building good foreign relations. his comparison of himself and Bolingbroke to two buckets full of water.Most of the characters in the play agree that Richard is a bad leader. It is. Close What is the role of women in the play? . Bloom also suggests that Richard's two roles.49-60). and his comparison of his own body to a clock. so that his kingship diminishes even as his poetry increases" (249). creates friction among his relatives. ironic that the two are first cousins. his speeches do become much longer and his ideas and wordplay more complex.ii. which Death may nonetheless conquer with the mere prick of a pin (III.182-189). second. as poet and king.160-170). On the other hand. and leaves the country at exactly the wrong moment.36-53). in comparison to Richard's poetic virtuosity and ineffectiveness in practical matters. Bloom compares Richard's speeches in this play to the later work of the great seventeenth-century metaphysical poet John Donne. is out of touch with the common people. Close The critic Harold Bloom says that Richard is a bad king." What do you think he means? Answer for Study Question 2 >> Richard's power with words is unmatched by any other character in the play. which rise and fall in opposition. obtaining the loyalty of Richard's noblemen.i. but "an interesting metaphysical poet. We see them explicitly contrasted in several scenes: for example. first.

or are simply buffeted by fate (like Isabel).i). When the characters speak in this rigidly formal way--often speaking entire passages in rhyming couplets-we are often impressed but also distanced from the play and its characters: it feels somehow unreal. stylized language is characteristic of much of Shakespeare's earlier work. Answer for Study Question 4 >> Beginning with John of Gaunt's thunderous curse upon Richard in Act II. Since kingship was associated with divine power in medieval and Renaissance Europe. Close Discuss the importance of the curses and prophecies that appear throughout Richard II. Bolingbroke becomes the target of these prophecies because he is now guilty (in some characters' eyes) of stealing the crown from the rightful king--an act tantamount to blasphemy. it was thought. and reaching its peak with the Bishop of Carlisle's prophecy of civil war if Bolingbroke seizes the crown (IV. could bring dire retribution from the heavens. the Duchess of York. its abuse or theft. foretellings of evil are a running theme in the play. Close Richard II is almost completely written in verse. In the second half of the play. What effect do you think this has? Answer for Study Question 5 >> The formal. scene i. . The few female characters (Queen Isabel.Answer for Study Question 3 >> Women seem to have very little importance in the play--the world of Richard II is a world of men. most people find that they cannot identify closely with any of its characters. Richard is followed by threats of cosmic vengeance during the play's first half both because he has mismanaged his country by renting out land and because of the guilty skeleton in his closet: his involvement in the murder of his uncle Gloucester. Partly as a result of the play's highly formal style. the Duchess of Gloucester) appear mainly to plead on behalf of their male relatives or loved ones (like the Duchess of York. who begs Bolingbroke for Aumerle's life).

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