From Stories of Shakespeare’s English History Plays by Helene Adeline Guerber. New York: Dodd, Mead and company.
The first act opens in the royal palace in London, where Richard II, addressing his uncle John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, inquires whether he has brought his son Bolingbroke hither, so his difference with the Duke of Norfolk can be settled. On hearing both men are present, and that no apparent treachery is discernible, Richard decides to confront accuser and accused in his presence.
A moment later both men are ushered in, and after they have greeted their sovereign with respectful good wishes, Richard invites Bolingbroke to justify his charge against his opponent. Taking heaven to witness he is free from petty hate, Bolingbroke accuses Norfolk of treachery, offering to stake his life to prove his words.
This accusation his opponent answers in cool but vindictive tones, claiming that respect for his sovereign holds his wrath in check, although he gives the lie to Bolingbroke and defies him, calling him a coward and villain. At these taunts, Bolingbroke flings down his gauntlet, offering, although Norfolk’s superior in birth, to measure swords with him, and rejoicing when he sees his gage of battle picked up, for that is a sign Norfolk accepts his challenge.
In hopes of arbitrating this quarrel, Richard inquires what charge Bolingbroke makes against Norfolk, only to learn he accuses that nobleman of diverting to his own uses money intended for the soldiers’ pay, of plotting treason for the past eighteen years, and of having brought about the death of the Duke of Gloucester, his uncle, whose blood calls for revenge.
When Richard bids Norfolk defend himself, assuring him that even were his own brother accused he would strive to be impartial, Norfolk, who has already given his antagonist the lie, explains that the money he received was part of a debt long due, that he had no hand in Gloucester’s death, and that although he once conspired against the Duke of Lancaster, it was a sin of youth, long since repented and forgiven. He adds that such accusations as have been hurled against him have been dictated by pure rancour, and throwing down his gauntlet in his turn, swears to defend his honour to his last breath. When he implores, thereupon, that a day may soon be appointed for the judicial duel, Richard wishing the quarrel settled without bloodshed, pledges himself to hold Norfolk in check if John of Gaunt will do the same with his fiery son.
Then, Gaunt and the King force Bolingbroke and Norfolk to thrown down again the gage each has picked up, although both young men resist, for they deem such a withdrawal cowardly. In his distress, Norfolk evtn casts himself at the King’s feet, imploring his pardon for refusing to obey his commands, but Richard nevertheless insists upon his placing the gage in his royal hand, a sacrifice Norfolk is so reluctant to make, that he exclaims, ‘take honour from me, and my life is done.’ When the King next tries to induce Bolingbroke to set a good example by relinquishing his token, his cousin vows he cannot be guilty of such a sin, and stalks out of the room still defying Norfolk. Petulantly declaring he was ‘not born to sue, but to command’, the King now decrees that since the adversaries will not be reconciled, they shall meet in the lists at Coventry, on St. Lambert’s day, and there settle this quarrel with their swords.
The next scene is played in the Duke of Lancaster’s palace, where he is telling his widowed sister-in-law, the Duchess of Gloucester, that heaven will have to avenge the murder of her husband, for he dares not do so himself upon the King. Angry and disappointed, the Duchess inquires whether he has no brotherly feelings, declaring that her husband one of Edward VII’s seven stalwart sons, having been foully murdered, he should avenge this murder for his own sake.
When Lancaster assures her that her husband having died in God’s quarrel. Providence will avenge him, she wonders to whom she can turn for aid, only to be referred ‘to God, the widow’s champion and defence.’ Thereupon the Duchess retorts she will indeed turn to God, bidding Lancaster, meanwhile, witness the conflict between his son and Norfolk, and hoping that the latter, — whom she considers her husband’s assassin, — may be slain. Before departing, she sends her compliments to her brother-in-law, Duke of York, bidding him avoid her widowed home.
The next scene is played in the lists at Coventry, where, with the usual formality, the lord marshal inquires whether both champions are ready, and learning that they merely await his summons, vows they shall be called as soon as the monarch appears.
Blasts of trumpets then herald first the entrance of the royal party, and next of Norfolk, whereupon the King bids the marshal inquire of this champion the cause for which he has come here to fight? After declining his name and titles, Norfolk states he has come to defend his truth and loyalty against Bolingbroke, whom he hopes by the grace of God to prove ‘a traitor to my God, my King, and me.’ A second trumpet peal then announces the appearance of Bolingbroke, who going through the same form, declares himself ready to prove Norfolk a traitor, provided heaven upholds the right.
After the marshal has forbidden any interference in the coming fight, Bolingbroke craves permission to kiss his sovereign’s hand, a favour which Richard grants, coldly saying as he embraces him, ‘As thy cause is right, so be thy fortune in this royal fight.’ His condescension and good wishes seem to touch Bolingbroke, who expresses readiness to die in so good a cause, ere taking leave of his kinsman and of his father, wlio bestows upon him a paternal blessing. Then, both champions take their places, Bolingbroke calling upon his innocence, and Norfolk declaring that whatever the issue of the combat, he lives and dies a loyal subject of King Richard, who declares he sees ‘virtue with valour couched’ in his eye.
At a sign from the throne, both champions receive their lances, and, the heralds having again proclaimed their names and purposes, are about to begin fighting, when Richard orders them both to lay aside their weapons, and abide by his decree instead of by the fate of combat. Then, both champions before him, he proclaims the banishment of Bolingbroke from England for ten years, a decree to which the culprit bows, gravely saying his only comfort will be that the same sun will continue to shine upon them both.
Next, turning to Norfolk, the King much more reluctantly banishes him forever, a sentence passing heavy to a man, who, having talked English for forty years, now has to train his tongue to some new language. When Richard reproves him for complaining, Norfolk despairingly cries, ‘I turn me from my country’s light, to dwell in solemn shades of endless night.’ Then, after making both antagonists swear not to meet or to hold communication during their banishment, nor to plot against King, countrymen, or native land, Richard hears Bolingbroke once more summon Norfolk to confess his crimes, a confession Norfolk vows he would not make even were he the traitor his opponent supposes! But after bidding the King farewell, Norfolk goes out exclaiming, ‘Now no way can I stray; save back to England, all the world’s my way.’
On seeing the grief of Lancaster at parting with his son, Richard cuts off four years of the latter’s term of exile, a boon Bolingbroke appreciates, and for which Lancaster expresses gratitude, although he fears he may not live even six years! To cheer him, Richard assures him he still has long to live, whereupon Lancaster reminds him it doesn’t rest in a king’s power to lengthen a man’s days, although he may shorten or sadden them at will. When Richard claims to have banished Bolingbroke ‘upon good advice,’ Lancaster rejoins that were he a stranger and not a father, he could more easily plead in the plaintiff’s behalf. To end this painful scene, Richard finally bids father and son take leave of each other, and departs, repeating his sentence of banishment for six years.
All his friends now approach to take leave of Bolingbroke, and one of them offers to accompany him part of the way. Because Bolingbroke doesn’t answer these kindly speeches, his father inquires why he ‘hoards his words,’ only to discover grief has robbed him of the power of speech. To give his son courage, Lancaster now bids him make a virtue of necessity’ and enjoy his sojourn abroad, although the exiled man rejoins every stride he takes will remind him he is farther away from home. In fact Bolingbroke does not find the pleasures of imagination satisfying, and assures his father that although banished, he will ever remain true to England, to which he bids a fervent farewell as he departs.
We are now transferred to the court, where Richard is inquiring of Aumerle, — Bolingbroke’s cousin, — how far he accompanied the exile, only to learn it was but a short distance. Instead of feeling grief for parting with Bolingbroke, Aumerle shows relief, and when asked to repeat the exile’s last words, replies they consisted in a brief farewell, and adds he hopes the term of banishment will be extended. Although Richard reminds Aumerle the exile is their cousin, he avers he will not be in a huny to recall him, for he has noticed Bolingbroke is as anxious to court the favour of the common people as if he were heir to England’s crown.
At this juncture another courtier reminds Richard that matters in Ireland are pressing, whereupon the King decides to hasten thither, and arranges for new supplies of money by making out blank charters, which are to be granted to all those who contribute lavishly. These arrangements are interrupted by the announcement of the sudden and grievous illness of the Duke of Lancaster, who craves his presence. Promising to visit his uncle immediately, the King expresses the unkind hope that the physician will speed his death, for he knows Lancaster is wealthy, and is very anxious to confiscate his estates for the benefit of his coming campaign in Ireland.
The second act opens in Ely house, where the dying John of Gaunt hopes the King will soon arrive, as he wishes to give him some last advice. Although his brother York bids him not trouble thus in vain, Lancaster cherishes the belief a dying man’s words will be heeded, and that he may render Richard a last service. When York assures him the royal ears are stopped by vain, flattering speeches, and that all Richard’s time is devoted to frivolities, Lancaster exclaims, ‘he tires betimes that spurs too fast betimes,’ and wails that England, which he eloquently describes as a ‘precious stone set in the silver sea,’ is now a prey to misgovernment.
Seeing Richard enter, York urges Lancaster to remember his youth and deal gently with him, just as the royal couple draw near their aged uncle’s bed-side with encouraging words. When the King addresses him as ‘aged Gaunt,’ Lancaster rejoins he is old indeed, grief having added to his years, and that he has so faithfully watched over England’s welfare, that he is now as ‘gaunt’ as his name. Then, he tries to warn Richard against flatterers and bad advice, tells him his grandfather would not approve of his courses, and reminds him that he is merely ‘Landlord of England,’ for a time. This speech sorely offends the ‘King, who vows had it not been uttered by a sick man, he should feel his wrath, a threat which fails to daunt Lancaster, who accuses Richard of having slain Gloucester. Then, solemnly warning the King he will some day remember the words he now scorns. Gaunt bids his attendants bear him first to his bed and then to his grave, exclaiming that those who have love and honour may care to live, but that he does not!
The aged Lancaster having been removed, Richard cruelly comments that those who ‘sullens have’ ought to die, although his uncle York tries to make him take a more kindly view of Lancaster’s well-meant advice, by assuring him his uncle loves him as dearly as he does Bolingbroke. A moment later Northumberland enters, announcing the Duke of Lancaster is dead, and while York mourns his brother’s demise, Richard, after stating ‘the ripest fruit first falls,’ proclaims he will take possession of his uncle’s wealth, and employ it for the Irish campaign. This decision horrifies York, who audibly wonders how long he will have to bear such things as a brother’s death, a nephew’s banishment, and the confiscation of ancestral estates; for he is the last remaining of Edward’s brave sons, of whom the Black Prince, Richard’s father, was greatest and best.
Seeing his tears, Richard inquires the cause of his grief, only to be reproached for depriving Bolingbroke of his rightful inheritance, and to be warned this will prove an impolitic move! Ignoring this warning, too, Richard reiterates the order for confiscation, and York departs to avoid witnessing such an act of injustice. His uncle having gone, Richard bids his attendants carry out his instructions ere they depart for Ireland on the morrow, announcing that the Duke of York will act as regent during his absence. Then, turning to the Queen, he entreats her to show a merry countenance, as they will have to part on the morrow, and goes out with her and the rest of his train.
Left alone in the house of the death, friends and attendants conclude that the old Duke of Lancaster being dead, Bolingbroke replaces him, although the King has stripped him of the revenue which should accompany the title he inherits. After expressing heartfelt sorrow for what has occurred, they exclaim it is shameful a King should thus ruin a subject, adding this is but foretaste of what will befall them all hereafter. They add that the weak and vacillating courses of the King have already alienated nobles and commons, and that his constant exactions are fast wearying all his subjects, for bis revenues, which should suffice to defray all state expenses, have been madly squandered, and Richard has spent more in times of peace than many of his ancestors when waging war! But, when it comes to robbing his kinsmen to defray the Irish campaign, all perceive he is conjuring up a storm, wherein they, too, will perish, unless they take measures to insure their safety.
Three of these malcontents then reveal how Bolingbroke is assembling a force on the coast of France, by means of which he expects to invade England, as soon as Richard has gone, and to win back his estates. He has chosen as his landing place Ravenspurgh, where these three lords — Willoughby, Ross and Northumberland, — mean to betake themselves and join the rebels, for they spur off immediately after making their decision known.
The curtain next rises in Windsor castle, where attendants are vainly trying to cheer the youthful Queen, who, ever since her husband’s departure has been in a melancholy mood. Although loath to feel merry with the King away, Isabella is so unable to account for her depression, that her attendants assure her ‘each substance of a grief has twenty shadows,’ and vow she is taking those very shadows for realities. The young Queen, however, deems her depression may be the foreboding of some ‘nameless woe,’ just as a messenger enters, inquiring whether the King has already gone? This sudden arrival induces her to ask a few questions, in reply to which she learns how Bolingbroke has landed at Ravenspurgh, where he has been joined by a number of nobles. Appalled by such tidings, the Queen exclaims her depression was justified, while the men about her eagerly inquire whether the proper steps have been taken to declare Bolingbroke a rebel and rouse the people to resistance? While the Queen is still lamenting over these bad tidings, the Duke of York comes in, looking so bowed down with grief, that he inspires neither Queen nor courtiers with hopes of help or of good tidings. Instead, he despondently avers ‘Comfort’s in heaven; and we are on the earth where nothing lives but crosses, cares, and grief,’ and regrets the King’s absence leaves him, — an old man, — to defend the crown against such fearful odds.
The arrival of a servant announcing that York’s son and sundiy other nobles have joined the rebels, impels the Duke to entrust his ring to this man, to carry to the Duchess of Gloucester, asking her to lend him a thousand pounds, as immediate funds are required to defend the throne. In reply, the servant tells him such an errand would be vain, for, passing near the castle, he heard the Duchess had just breathed her last! After exclaiming it is ‘a tide of woes’ which has burst in upon them, York adds he does not know where to procure funds; so, sending off the servant to collect all the arms available, he bespeaks the aid of all present, and leaves the room with the Queen, exclaiming ‘everything is left at six and seven.’
When he has gone, the courtiers conclude it will be vain to oppose Bolingbroke, whose popularity offers a great contrast to the general disgust with the King’s doings. Two of them. Green and Bushy, therefore decide to trim their sails according to the wind now blowing and seize Bristol Castle, while Bagot proposes to hasten to Ireland and warn the King, although he has little hope York will be able to hold out against so formidable an opponent.
The next scene is played in the wilds of Gloucestershire, where Bolingbroke inquires of Northumberland how far it is still to Berkeley castle? While admitting he is a stranger in these parts, Northumberland courteously avers the road from Ravenspurgh has seemed short to him because he has been too absorbed in Bolingbroke’s conversation to note the flight of time. He opines, however, the generals of the other forces, — less well entertained, — may have found their journey tedious, just as Bolingbroke descries some troops which Northumberland discovers are led by his son Percy. Hailing the youth, therefore, he asks news of her brother Worcester, whom Percy evidently expected to find with him since he has deserted the Queen. When Northumberland inquires what determined such a move, Percy rejoins that his father, having been pronounced a traitor, Worcester went in anger to join Bolingbroke at Ravenspurgh, leaving him to ascertain what forces York had stationed at Berkeley castle.
His curiosity thus satisfied, Northumberland introduces his son to Bolingbroke, who graciously accepts the youth’s services, ere they return to the topic of the nearby castle and the forces manning it. Percy insists there are but three hundred men now under York’s command, and that only a few of the lesser nobles have remained true to the King.
The forces under Ross and Willoughby now join them, and Bolingbroke welcomes these leaders also, promising them rich rewards should fortune favour him. After courteously acknowledging greeting and promises, all turn to watch Berkeley’s approach. Because the latter addresses Bolingbroke by his former title, he is haughtily reminded that since Gaunt’s death his son is Duke of Lancaster. After apologising, Berkeley courteously explains he is sent by York to ask why Bolingbroke is riding through the realm with an armed force, just as this nobleman appears in person and is respectfully greeted by Bolingbroke as ‘my noble uncle.’
Empty courtesy, however, fails to satisfy York, who haughtily declines relationship to a traitor, and asks what this armament means? After some hesitation, Bolingbroke pours out his grievances, imploring his uncle to do justice to him, as he would expect it to be done to his own son. Then, as Northumberland, Ross, and Willoughby, all aver Bolingbroke has indeed been treated unjustly, York has to admit it, although he denies him the right ‘to be his own carver,’ and rebukes all present for disloyalty. When Northumberland rejoins that Bolingbroke is merely claiming his own, York, unable to refute the statement, proposes to remain neutral, and to entertain them all in Berkeley castle. After gladly accepting this offer Bolingbroke invites York to help him oust the traitors, who have taken possession of Bristol castle, an expedition the King’s representative hesitates to undertake, although he pessimistically admits ‘Things past redress are now with me past care.’
The next scene represents a camp in Wales where a Welsh commander tells Salisbury they have waited ten days without hearing from the King! To induce these Welsh forces to remain under arms a trifle longer, Salisbury vows Richard reposes great confidence in them, a statement their leader doubts, for he believes his master dead because many bad omens have occurred of late. When he has gone with his troops, Salisbury sadly mutters that Richard’s glory like ‘a shooting-star,’ is falling to earth, for his friends are deserting him in favour of the foe, and ‘crossly to his good all fortune goes!’
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.’
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!’
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.’
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).