Richard II Summary

Richard II, written by William Shakespeare, is a continuation from his previous works Henry IV and Henry V where he shows the rise and fall of kings and the time of their rule in all the compiled acts. Richard II’s story plays out in the timeline of 1398 after the fall of the last King Plantagenet, Richard II and the Lancaster King who was Henry IV at that time. At the royal court, King Richard II tries to make amends between two noblemen at his castle who are fighting. One of them was Henry Bolingbroke (Duke Of Hereford) and other was Thomas Mowbray (Duke of Norfolk). Both of these men were seriously agitated by one another and King Henry decided to step in and settle their fight. Henry has problems with Thomas for many reasons, some of them being his disloyalty towards England and plotting against the motherland, theft of money from the crown and also the murder of the present king’s uncle who was the Duke of Gloucester. Henry approaches the king to punish Thomas of these crimes by officially setting the accusations on him. Thomas on the other hand, denies entirely all of the accusations and demands justice for himself. Richard is then put into a dilemma as he does not know who was telling the truth and who was lying. Before Richard could give a proper judgment to the public, Henry decides to call for a showdown fight by thrashing his hat/glove to the ground. This was an official declaration of trial by combat where the two contenders would fight one another with swords until one of them is down- hence whoever wins would have the law in their favor.

A gigantic amount of conversation and quarrels took place after that which agitated the two sides even more. Both Henry and Thomas were extremely mad at each other and they are almost at each other’s neck for their lives. Richard, caught in the middle of an enraged fight, wanted to make peace between the two but failed miserably. Richard finally gave permission for the trial and the whole town then gathered in the tournament arena in Coventry.

Shakespeare in the next scene, sneakily makes a mind-gasping revelation. In the house of Gaunt, it is told to the audience that Thomas was truly the murderer of the Duke of Gloucester but it was done under the orders of King Richard himself. This was information that every soul in the court already knew from the beginning but no one ever revolted against the crazy king. The accusation of Henry was his way of indirectly accusing the king himself and he might have been the only soul who had spoken up about it. When the widow of the Duke of Gloucester asked for help from Gaunt to avenge her husband, he only replied that because Richard was the king of England, he was answerable to no one except the Almighty. Perhaps, this may have been the mindset of the all the court men who were aware of the truth but chose to stay silent and let God handle it. On the day of the fight, the whole court was hyped for the big match until at the very last minute Richard chose to call it off. He was not supported by the crowd at all but his excuse was that he did not wish for any blood to spill on the ground of England. It was now very clear to the audience, that the reason why Richard called off the fight was that of the dirty truth. He was afraid that in the heat of the event, Thomas may spew out the truth publicly which will lead to future calamities. Instead of allowing both of them to fight, Richard decided to banish Henry for ten years and Thomas forever. John of Gaunt who was the father of Henry, was devastated at the news of his son being banished for ten years. Richard again decided to change the numbers and stated that Henry could come back after 6 years if that made the Gaunt happy. However, Gaunt expressed that no matter what the time, he was old and weak and feared that he would not be able to see his son’s face the next time he comes back. In time, the audience gets to see that as soon as Henry leaves, Gaunt becomes even frailer. On his deathbed, Gaunt cried out in his last breath about how beautiful and well-functioning England was until the rule of Richard started. Gaunt was in shock when he found out that not only had Richard stolen all the royal money for his own sickening pleasures but he had also leased royally owned lands to outsiders, which was a grave crime. During this timeline, Richard had also managed to wage war with Ireland, which he certainly could not afford, given how he had already spent all the royal cash on himself. After Gaunt had finally rested in peace, instead of feeling guilty and worried, he decided to snatch all the property, land and money Gaunt had and use it for the army of England in the war with Ireland. The Duke of York came into play and asked Richard to not take Gaunt’s money for the army. Because Henry was still alive, he was the rightful heir of the property left behind by his father so taking all of that without permission would be considered theft. However, Richard, who had already committed so many crimes of the same, if not greater, caliber, could not give two thoughts to his idea and stated that he was chosen by God so he had the authority to do anything. The courthouse’s noblemen put up with everything that Richard had done so far- murdering his uncle, using up all the money of the royal accounts, leasing the royal lands. Everything was somehow kept between the noblemen and they made sure no one else knew about it. However, Gaunt being a nobleman himself and having his property stolen by Richard was like the last nail in the coffin for the rest of the noblemen. If all the lands were to be hoarded by the king, they will be left with nothing of their own so this was something that could not stand anymore. Henry, on the other hand, who was sentenced to banishment for 6 years, did not stay still. He started to gather an army in the English Channel in Brittany and had also gotten support from some of the noblemen. Henry was also a favorite to the common people of the lands, something that Richard had failed to do. Hence Henry had the support of the people as well. Finally, when Richard set out on his way to Ireland for the battle, Henry decided to carry out his plans. He returns to the land with his army and demanded his blood rights. When Richard comes back, he realized that he had no protection for himself at all. Henry had Richard cornered entirely and he asked him to give up his throne. This was a turning point for the story and for the audience because all this time, it was believed that Henry only wanted his rightful lands back which was snatched away by Richard. Turns out this was not his main motive all along. If he had been plotting the entire scenario from the beginning or not is still a mystery to the critics but in the end, it came down to Richard giving up the crown to Henry. The drama Richard caused just to give up the crown was immense and somewhat necessary as well to show the audience his love for power. This visualization presented what Richard really treasured the most in his life and the tearful moment of him giving it up to Henry. Richard was then jailed for his crimes and locked away forever where he grieved his misfortune and sudden turn of events. Meanwhile, Henry became the King, he now had to take down many worries that came from dethroning the previous king. One of the biggest objectives he had was to bring out the noblemen who were supporting the ex-king. Another worry that he had was the mishaps that Richard had done regarding the royal finances. King Henry also wanted to track down his son- Prince Hal- who had been out of his radar for 3 months. Now that Henry was King, it made Hal the heir and this automatically put him in danger. Shakespeare here hints the next parts of the story which is elaborated in Henry IV. In the Pomfret Castle where Richard had been held captive, Exton who had been a good friend to Henry, murders Richard because Henry had once stated that he wanted Richard to be dead. When Exton comes to the castle with Richard’s dead body, Henry remains in shock and banishes Exton for his deed. He then sets out on a pilgrimage, repenting his life and the death of Richard.