Richard II condensed

Richard II was Shakespeare’s first in his series of eight fifteenth century histories. King Richard II was thirty-two, a grandson of Edward III.  His grandfather had died in 1379.  Twelve year old Richard was first in line to be England’s king at the time of his grandfather’s death.  Richard II’s father was Edward, the Black Prince. He had predeceased his father, the king.  The Black Prince was Edward III’s first son.  The thirty-two year old Henry Bolingbroke, one of the king’s cousins, has a leading role in the play.  Bolingbroke’s father is John of Gaunt, Edward III’s fourth son.  Edward III’s descendents are the monarchs featured in this series of eight histories. John of Gaunt’s descendents are featured in the first seven. 

Act 1. The play opens in 1399 when Henry Bolingbroke and a Thomas Mowbray are called before the king to defend themselves, both accused of complicity in the death of the king’s (and Bolingbroke’s) Uncle Gloucester, Edward III’s sixth of seven sons.  Mowbray offers an inspiring defense. The king bans Mowbray from England and exiles Henry Bolingbroke to France for six years.  John of Gaunt, Bolingbroke’s father, offers Gloucester’s angry widow thin support, she persuasively seeking his help, he telling her “It’s God’s quarrel.” He defers the issue “to the will of heaven.”  An ill John of Gaunt offers his son wise counsel as he prepares to leave for France, advising him to consider where “thou goest, not whence thou com’st.” 

Act 2. John of Gaunt’s health takes a turn for the worse, tied we’re led to believe to concern for his son and his country.  His brother, the duke of York, Edward III’s fifth son, attempts to calm Gaunt, saying “Vex not yourself.”  Gaunt ignores his brother, hoping against hope that Richard II will listen to him; that “tongues of dying men enforce attention.”  Richard II enters and mocks him.  Gaunt emotionally offers us his most famous soliloquy “this blessed plot, this realm, this England.”  Richard II has plans to invade Ireland and plans to use Gaunt’s and Bolingbroke’s assets to help finance his adventure.  John of Gaunt dies. York to no avail pleads his brother’s cause with Richard II.  Richard’s queen is worried for her husband.  Bolingbroke by this time has left France well armed with plans to land on England’s northern shore.  Bolingbroke marches south.  York tries to intervene on Richard II’s behalf, but diplomatic Bolingbroke wins him over to his cause. 

Act 3.  When Richard II returns from Ireland, his strong allies, the Welshmen, desert him.  Bolingbroke captures two of Richard II’s key aides and has them executed.  Key nobles, included Northumberland and his son Harry Percy (or Hotspur), defect to Bolingbroke.  Richard II hears discouraging news from a number of his key people.  The Bishop of Carlisle takes the king to task telling him “wise men ne’er sit and wail their woes.”  Hotspur advises Bolingbroke that the king and a number of his supporters have taken refuge in a Flint Castle.  Bolingbroke tells the king that all he wants is his banishment lifted and the return of his title and assets.  Richard II handles the situation poorly, conceding his crown to Bolingbroke, kind of. 

Act 4.  The duke of York, uncle to both Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke, takes charge, telling Bolingbroke that “plume-plucked Richard adopts thee heir” and that he “ascend his throne, descending now from him, and long live Henry, fourth of that name.”  Bolingbroke accepts.  Richard backs off his earlier concession when asked to acknowledge his “crimes committed by your person and your followers against the state and profit of this land.”  Richard asks rhetorically how can I do that, “I have hardly yet learned to bend my knee.”  Richard soon says “Here, cousin, seize the crown.”  When Bolingbroke asks him “I thought you were willing to resign,” Richard replies “My crown I am, but still my griefs are mine.”  After more back and forth, Bolingbroke finally says “Convey him to the Tower.” 

Act 5.  Richard is soon sent to Pomfret Castle to be its lone prisoner.  From Pomfret, Richard offers us some of Shakespeare’s philosophy, such as “no man with nothing shall be pleased till he be eased with being nothing” and “how sour sweet music is when time’s no longer kept.”  A misguided friend of the new king Henry IV, a man named Exton, enters with some hired murderers and fatally stabs Richard, but not before Richard had killed two of the murderers.  This is a tough moment for England.  Richard’s murder at Pomfret will haunt England and its kings for some time to come.