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Richard II: Plot Summary (Acts 3, 4 and 5)


The third act opens before the castle of Bristol, which Bolingbroke, York, and Northumberland have seized, and where the former denounces Bushy and Green for influencing the King to mistrust the Queen, and for banishing such inoffensive subjects as himself. For these and other offences he sentences both to death, a penalty they haughtily consider preferable to living under his rule in England. Then, the prisoners gone, Bolingbroke bids York send a kindly message in his name to the Queen, ere he departs to fight Glendower.

The next scene is played on the coast of Wales, where Richard, recently landed, notes the location of a castle near by. When his cousin Aiunerle inquires how he feels after his 'late tossing on the breaking sea' Richard confesses he is glad to stand upon his own soil once more, and sentimentally greets England, bidding it be loyal to him in spite of traitors. Although the Bishop of Carlisle expresses the conviction a consecrated King can never be forsaken, York's son, Aumerle, suggests that owing to their remissness, Bolingbroke has collected vast powers. These tidings prove unwelcome to Richard, although he soon avers that just as thieves steal forth at night when the sun is absent, treachery flourishes in a realm when the King is away. Still, he flatters himself that at his approach Bolingbroke will flee and his adherents desert him.

The appearance of Salisbury now causes Richard eagerly to inquire where the Welsh forces are stationed, a question which Salisbury answers by reporting how the Welsh deserted his standard because they deemed him dead. This appalling news blanches Richard's cheeks, although Aumerle strives to comfort and encourage him. It is, however, a sense of his royal dignity which most upholds Richard, for he soon declares he expects his uncle York to the rescue. Just then. Scroop appears, bearing a message he is loath to deliver. Bidding him speak, even were it to announce the loss of his realm, Richard learns how Bolingbroke, after collecting a large army, has swept triumphantly on. When the king breathlessly inquires where are Wiltshire, Bagot, Bushy and Green, on whom he depended to defend his rights, he learns that some of them have turned traitors, while others have been slain. Hearing this, Aumerle breathlessly inquires what has become of his father, while Richard declares they must talk of none but mournful subjects hereafter, for all he once owned has passed into Bolingbroke's hands, and nothing now remains for him save melancholy and death!

Reminding Richard that 'wise men ne'er sit and wail their woes,' but try instead to prevent them, Carlisle and Aumerle urge him to make new efforts, even meeting Bolingbroke, if necessary, on the battle-field. When the King inquires where are York's forces, Scroop reluctantly admits, York, too has joined Bolingbroke, who has all the castles north and south in his power. This news makes Richard regret ever having left England, and propose to withdraw to Flint castle, to brood over his sorrows and losses, bitterly advising his followers 'hence away from Richard's night to Bolingbroke's fair day.'

The next scene is played before Flint castle, where Bolingbroke learns of the Welsh desertion and of the landing of the King. When Northumberland adds that Richard cannot be far away, York rebukes him for not saying 'King Richard,' as heretofore. After some dispute on the present propriety of such a mode of address, Bolingbroke bids these wordy antagonists cease arguing and listen to Percy's news. It now transpires that the King, Salisbury Aumerle and others are in Flint castle, which refuses to open its gates. So a trumpeter is dispatched thither, proffering Bolingbroke's respectful homage to the King, on condition the decree of banishment be recalled and his confiscated estates restored. That granted, Bolingbroke faithfully promises to devote the remainder of his life and strength to the King's service, but should it be refused he grimly threatens war.

In reply to the trumpeter's summons, Richard appears in person on the castle walls, and Bolingbroke and York comment upon his appearance, ere he haughtily states, that having been divinely appointed King, God will fight for him. Then he notifies Northimiberland and Bolingbroke that this invasion is an act of treachery which will result in much bloodshed. Northumberland, who speaks for Bolingbroke, explains that far from coming with treacherous intentions, his subject humbly kisses his hand, merely asking that his rights be respected. Such being the case, Richard is ready to consider Bolingbroke's demands, a politic reply he is loath to make, although Aumerle deems it imperative he should do so. But, the King himself so deeply regrets being forced to retract the sentence of banishment, that he mournfully hopes grief will soon kill him.

Watching proceedings, Aumerle now announces that Northumberland, having delivered his message to Bolingbroke, is returning, whereupon Richard feebly wonders whether he will have to lose all save the name of King? Then, pretending he courts retirement and freedom from kingly cares, he rebukes Aumerle for weeping over his fallen fortunes, and turning inquires of Northumberland what reply Bolingbroke sends. With due formality the emissary rejoins Bolingbroke is awaiting him down in court, where he begs for an interview, a request Richard bitterly comments upon ere he complies.

While Bolingbroke is asking Northumberland what answer the King sends, Richard appears; so, bidding all present imitate him, Bolingbroke kneels before his monarch, who reproaches him with ambitions his lowly attitude belies. Respectfully replying he only claims his own, Bolingbroke is surprised to hear Richard admit he and his are included in that claim, and promise to grant all he asks, and even accompany him to London. Because Bolingbroke accepts without demur, Richard bitterly realises he 'must not say no' and sadly passes off the stage.

The next scene is played at Langley, in the Duke of York's garden, where the Queen is asking her ladies what sport they can devise to drive away care? When her attendants propose bowls, dancing, story-telling, or singing, the Queen objects, as all these pastimes remind her of happier days, and of present sorrows. The ladies' conversation is checked by the arrival of a gardener and helpers, whose talk the Queen proposes to overhear. So, from her hiding-place in the thicket, she listens to the head-gardener's directions for the binding up of fruit boughs, the pruning of shoots, and the extraction of weeds, and hears one of the servants inquire why such work should be carefully done in a garden and neglected in state affairs. Then the gardener rejoins that such pruning has recently been done by Bolingbroke, — who has cut off Wiltshire, Bushy and Green, — ere he adds that had the King played the part of good gardener, his supplanter would not have needed to lop him off as a useless bough! Because his companions now inquire in awe-struck tones whether Richard is to be deposed, he replies such tidings have indeed been received.

Unable to bear further suspense, the Queen emerges from her hiding-place, tearfully asking what the man means, and bidding him tell her all he knows. Thereupon, the gardener informs her how Richard has fallen into Bolingbroke's power, and has been deprived of all save a few vain honours, as she can see for herself by posting to London. After lamenting the fact that the one whom it concerns most, should be the last to hear these tidings, the Queen bids her ladies accompany her to the capital, wondering whether she was born to grace Bolingbroke's triumph. Meanwhile, the gardener gently pities her, and decides to plant rue on the spot where her tears fell, 'in the remembrance of a weeping Queen.'

Act IV

The fourth act opens in Westminster Hall, where Bolingbroke bids Bagot reveal all he knows of Gloucester's death. Asking to be confronted with Aumerle, Bagot states how he overheard him propose to kill his uncle, and express a wish that Bolingbroke were dead. This accusation Aumerle denies, terming his accuser a liar, and challenging him to fight. Seeing Bagot about to raise his gauntlet, Bolingbroke restrains him, when, starting forward, Fitzwater also defies Aumerle, as do Percy and another lord. Haughtily swearing he would answer twenty thousand similar challenges, Aumerle is about to pick up all four gauntlets, when Surrey challenges Fitzwater in his turn. Although he accepts the duel, Fitzwater insists he overheard Norfolk relate how Aumerle had sent two men to slay Gloucestei: at Calais.

To end a dispute which has become so acrimonious, Bolingbroke states his old foe Norfolk shall be recalled to bear witness, and only then learns that this nobleman, having fought in the East for many years, finally, withdrew to Venice, where he gave 'his pure soul unto his Captain Christ, under whose colours he had fought so long.' These tidings surprise Bolingbroke, who therefore decides that the courtiers' differences shall be settled on a day he will appoint for the judicial duel. It is at this juncture that the Duke of York appears, announcing he comes from 'plume-pluck'd Richard', who accepts Bolingbroke as heir, relinquishes to him sceptre and throne, and hails him as Henry IV. of England. Seeing Bolingbroke accept without demur, the Bishop of Carlisle indignantly objects that no subject can pass sentence on a King, and denounces Bolingbroke as a traitor, predicting his accession will bring misfortune upon England. In answer to this protest, Northumberland arrests the bishop for high treason, and hands him over to the lord of Westminster until he can be tried.

When Bolingbroke next demands that Richard be brought to Westminster to make a public abdication, York goes off to get him. Pending his return with the deposed King, Bolingbroke chides the contending lords, who are to prepare for their defence. He has just concluded his reproof, when Richard enters, closely followed by officers bearing the regalia.

Expressing surprise at being summoned before his successor before he has had time to forget his own kingship, Richard reminds all present of the flattery which once surrounded the monarch, who no one now greets with a 'God save the King!' When he inquires why he has been called, York informs him it is to offer his crown to Bolingbroke, which Richard immediately proceeds to do, pathetically comparing himself and his cousin to two buckets in a well, he representing the one out of sight, full of tears instead of water! When Bolingbroke haughtily asks whether he does not resign willingly, Richard declares he is ready enough to depose all state, but must retain his griefs and cares. Thereupon Bolingbroke suggests the latter go with the crown, but Richard mournfully insists they will remain with him. After some melancholy reflections, he petulantly renounces all pomp and majesty, forgives those who failed to keep their oath to him, and hopes they may be true to his successor, whom he hails as King Harry, wishing him 'many years of sunshine days!'

Then, turning to Northumberland, Richard pathetically inquires what more is expected of him, but, when asked to read aloud a paper stating he is not fit to reign, he indignantly retorts that were Northumberland called upon to record his own offences, the blackest of all would be his present treatment of his King. Paying no heed to this reproof, Northumberland again urges him to read the paper, whereupon Richard claims his eyes are too full of tears to permit him to see, wailing he is as great a traitor as the rest since he consented to his own deposition. Next, calling for a mirror so be may behold his image 'bankrupt of his majesty,' Richard sadly gazes at his own reflection, and smashes the glass because it deludes him by representing him unchanged. When he sadly exclaims, 'sorrow hath destroyed my face' Bolingbroke coolly rejoins 'the shadow of your sorrow destroyed the shadow of your face,' and when Richard craves permission to retire, bids the nobles convey him to the Tower, an order which causes Richard to denounce them all as 'conveyers' that 'rise thus nimbly by a true King's fall.'

Having coldly watched his predecessor out of sight, Bolingbroke announces his coronation for the following Wednesday, ere he too leaves the hall. Left alone there, Carlisle, Westminster and Aumerle, moralise upon what they have just seen, and when Aumerle asks both clergymen whether there is no way to rid the realm of 'this pernicious blot,' Westminster rejoins that only after they have taken the sacrament together at his house, wall he dare reveal a plot he has framed, which will show them 'all a merry day.'

Act V

The fifth act opens on a London street leading to the Tower, where the Queen gazing sadly up at her husband's future abode, waits until he passes by. A moment later when Richard appears, she marvels at the change in him, for he now seems only the shadow of the King she once knew. Perceiving her sorrow, Richard bids her waste no tears over him, but hasten back to France and enter a nunnery, for henceforth their 'holy lives must win a new world's crown,' which their 'profane hours here have stricken down.' Resenting such passivity, the Queen urges him to remember he is a 'lion and a king of beasts,' whereat he tearfully murmurs that had he been a king of men instead of beasts, things would never have come to such a pass. Then, bidding her, once more, hasten to France and think of him only as one long dead, Richard suggests she make people weep by the sad tale of the deposing of a King.

It is while he is still talking, that Northumberland comes to tell him Bolingbroke has changed his mind, for he is sending him to Pomfret, and is shipping his wife directly to France. Turning to this messenger, — whom he bitterly stigmatises as the 'ladder wherewithal the mounting Bolingbroke' ascended his throne, — Richard warns him the time will come when the new monarch will seem ungrateful, and when he will be deemed so presumptuous that Bolingbroke will put him out of the way! Without heeding this prophesy, Northumberland repeats that King and Queen must part, whereupon Richard wails a double divorce has been pronounced, since he is now separated both from his crown and from his wife! Then, bidding the Queen farewell, he repeats their ways henceforth must lie apart, a decree she fails to understand, for she piteously pleads either to share his captivity or to be granted his company in exile. When Northumberland explains this cannot be, a pathetic farewell takes place between the royal couple, who reluctantly separate, Richard exclaiming 'the rest let sorrow say,' for he feels no words can express the anguish of his heart.

The next scene is played in the palace of the Duke of York, where his wife makes him describe all he has seen, and how dethroned Richard was insulted in the streets of London, while Bolingbroke was eagerly acclaimed. When the Duchess inquires how Richard behaved under such trying circumstances, York praises his gentleness and dignity. Had not all hearts been steeled against him, they would surely have relented at such a sight. He has just concluded they are now Bolingbroke's subjects, when his son Aumerle comes in, and is playfully greeted by the title the new King has given him. Asked by the Duchess what signs of spring he can discern, Aumerle replies indifferently; meanwhile his father, scanning him closely, and noticing a seal hang from a document concealed in his bosom, suddenly demands what it may be? To avert trouble between father and son, the Duchess suggests it is some trifling matter in regard to the coronation, an explanation so far from satisfactory to York, that he forcibly plucks the document from his son's bosom, and after perusing it gasps it is 'foul treason,' and that Aumerle is a villain. Then, hastily summoning a servant, York calls for horse and boots, swearing he will impeach the villain, a threat his wife fails to comprehend until Aumerle exclaims such a move on his father's part will cost his life.

Even while York is preparing to depart, the Duchess implores him not to destroy their only son, but York exclaims he must go, since he has just learned that a dozen lords are bound by oath to slay the deposed King. When the Duchess promises to keep her son at home to prevent his taking part in any such plot, the Duke mutters he is none the less guilty, and hurries away in spite of her tears. Seeing him depart, the Duchess feverishly urges Aumerle to seize his father's horse so as to reach Bolingbroke first, and secure pardon before the Duke arrives, promising to follow, herself, so as to add her entreaties to his.

The rising curtain next reveals the royal palace, where Bolingbroke is inquiring of the courtiers whether any news has been received of his 'unthrifty son,' who is said to frequent low company in taverns, to play highwaymen, and actually to rob inoffensive travellers! He then discovers that Percy met the Prince two days ago, and told him of the jousting at Oxford, only to hear him deride court amusements. After lamenting his son's present dissoluteness, Bolingbroke avers: 'I see some sparks of better hope, which elder years may happily bring forth,' just as Aumerle bursts in, begging for a private audience. In response to a sign from Bolingbroke, Percy and the Lords withdraw, and Aumerle, having locked the door, falls at the King's feet, vowing he will not speak until pardon is promised him.

York now arrives and finding the door locked, loudly calls for admission, warning the King to beware of a traitor. At these words, Bolingbroke draws his sword, although Aumerle immediately assures him he need not fear. At a renewed appeal from York for admittance, the King himself opens the door, inquiring what danger threatens? Then York sadly bids him read the paper he snatched from his son's bosom, while Aumerle piteously reminds him of his promise to forgive everything. After perusing this paper, Bolingbroke shows signs of horror, while York vows the execution of this plot would have been his death blow, and demands that his son be punished for being implicated in it.

Before Bolingbroke can answer, the Duchess knocks, exclaiming that as aunt of the King, she, too, is entitled to a hearing. Bidding Aumerle admit her, Bolingbroke hears York clamour for the cutting off of 'this festered joint,' a plea the Duchess passionately implores him to disregard, although her husband reproves her for interceding for a traitor. But, yielding to her motherly fears, the Duchess falls at the King's feet, refusing to rise until he grant her request, a prayer in which Aumerle joins her, while his father begs the King not to heed them.

Hearing this, the Duchess assures the monarch York is secretly hoping to be denied, ere she again beseeches for her son's pardon. Wishing to temporise, Bolingbroke bids her rise, only to hear her repeat she will never do so until the word 'pardon' falls from his lips, whereupon, York sarcastically sug- gests he use the French 'pardonne-moi' (meaning excuse me) while the Duchess reproaches him for mocking a heart-broken mother. Her entreaties become so passionate that Bolingbroke finally pronounces Aumerle forgiven. Overcome with joy, the Duchess then terms him 'a god on earth,' and does not even notice when he adds that although Aumerle is forgiven, pardon will not be extended to the rest of the conspirators, whom he bids his uncle apprehend, just as mother and son leave his presence.

In the same apartment a while later, Exton wonderingly asks a servant whether he, too, did not hear the King mutter, 'Have I no friend who will rid me of this living fear?' repeating the sentence twice, and gazing meaningly the while at him, as if he would fain have him take a hint. After some hesitation, concluding that Bolingbroke really wishes someone to rid him of Richard at Pomfret, Exton decides to perform this service.

We now behold Pomfret castle, where Richard is musing in prison on the world and the varied thoughts which flit through his brain, thoughts which sometimes delude him into believing himself still King. These meditations are interrupted by music, which he soon declares will drive him mad, as it can only be played by one who loves and would fain help him. Then a groom is ushered in, who, in reply to Richard's inquiry what brings him hither, explains he obtained permission to visit his former master, a wish he has cherished ever since Bolingbroke rode Richard's favourite, steed in the coronation procession. When the royal prisoner eagerly asks how the favourite behaved, and hears how proudly he stepped along, he sadly cries even his horse has turned traitor, or he would have stumbled or proved restive when ridden by his supplanter.

The keeper now enters, ordering the visitor to depart, and invites Richard to eat, although refusing to taste the dishes, as usual, under plea that Sir Exton has forbidden it. This refusal and what it veils, so enrages the deposed Richard, that he beats the keeper, whose loud cries for help attract Exton with an armed force. Seeing them about to attack him, Richard snatches an axe from the foremost man, and fights manfully, ere he is cruelly cut down by Exton, whom he denounces until he expires. Beholding Richard lifeless at last, Exton repents the deed he has just done, and goes out murmuring he will bear 'this dead King to the living King.'

The next scene is played in Windsor Castle, where Bolingbroke informs York the rebels have set fire to Cicester, and that he does not yet know whether they have been apprehended. Then Northumberland enters, and Bolingbroke eagerly inquires what news he brings? Just after he has learned four of the traitors have been beheaded, Fitzwater appears announcing he has disposed of two more, for which deed he receives royal thanks. The arrival of Percy, reporting the death of the Abbot of Westminster, and delivering into the King's keeping the Bishop of Carlisle, follows, whereupon Bolingbroke orders this rebel to pick out his own retreat, as he intends to let h|m live and die in peace, for he has detected 'high sparks of honour' in him.

Just as this decree has been pronounced, Exton appears, closely followed by bearers of a coffin, and solemnly reports, 'within this coffin I present thy buried fear.' But, instead of the thanks he so confidently expects, he is reviled by Bolingbroke for having done 'a deed of slander,' and when he vows he merely obeyed orders, is told that although Bolingbroke did wish Richard dead, he will ever abhor his murderer, whom he bids wander forth like Cain, 'through shades of night, and never show thy head by day nor light.' Then, turning to his assembled court, Bolingbroke — now Henry IV — protests that his soul is so full of woe, that after suitably burying Richard, he will 'make a voyage to the Holy Land, to wash this blood off from my guilty hand,' and bids all escort to the grave 'this untimely bier.'

From Stories of Shakespeare's English History Plays by Helene Adeline Guerber. New York: Dodd, Mead and company, (1912).

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