Act II Summary

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Scene 1

An ill Gaunt speaks to York, his brother and Richard’s uncle, as he waits for Richard. Gaunt wants to counsel his nephew, but York tells him not to vex himself as Richard only listens to those who flatter and deceive him. Richard arrives with his wife, Queen Isabella, and enquires about Gaunt’s well-being. Gaunt tells him he is as gaunt or starved as England itself, indicating the country is not being tended well. 

Richard and Gaunt trade heated words. Richard tells Gaunt that he would have killed him for his impudence were Gaunt not the brother of his father, Edward. Gaunt accuses Richard of sullying Edward’s name and leaves. Shortly after, the Earl of Northumberland announces that Gaunt has died.

Richard declares Gaunt’s properties be seized to fund the war in Ireland. York interrupts Richard, saying the seizure is unfair, since the properties now belong to Bolingbroke, Gaunt’s son. Richard should not invite a “thousand dangers” by offending his extended family and England’s nobility. Richard dismisses York’s advice. York predicts Richard’s downfall and leaves.

Meanwhile, Northumberland and his allies Ross and Willoughby discuss how Richard has angered the commoners through unfair taxes and the noblemen through excessive fines. Northumberland revolts against Richard and intends to join Bolingbroke, who is returning to the northern shore of England with an army to claim his inheritance. As Richard is away to Ireland by sea, the time to strike is opportune. Ross and Willoughby decide to accompany Northumberland.

Scene 2

Queen Isabella is plagued with worries and premonitions about her husband’s well-being. Bushy tries to distract the queen, saying her fears are just a “conceit,” but the queen’s intuition tells her that something terrible is about to happen. On cue, Green enters and informs the queen that Bolingbroke has violated his exile and arrived with an army in the north. Many noblemen, including Northumberland, and Northumberland’s son Harry Percy, have joined Bolingbroke.

In Richard’s absence, York is defending the kingdom. An armored York arrives before the queen and tells her though he is ready to fight, he may be too old to hold off Bolingbroke’s army. York decides to fund the troops from his own estate and asks the remaining noblemen to join him. Green and Bushy flee to Bristol Castle for sanctuary; Bagot agrees to go to Richard. 

Scene 3

Northumberland and Bolingbroke are on their way to Berkeley in Gloucestershire, where both their allies as well as York’s forces are arriving. At the Castle of Berkeley, Lord Berkeley asks Bolingbroke for a parley with York. Bolingbroke kneels before his uncle in respect. York dismisses the gesture as empty, since Bolingbroke’s heart is impure. He chides his nephew for attacking the land when the “anointed king” is away. 

Bolingbroke says his cause is just, as he only wants to claim his father’s estate in Lancaster. Richard has wronged him by exiling him unfairly and then seizing his lands. Northumberland and the other noblemen support Bolingbroke’s argument. York capitulates, since he doesn’t have the strength to fight Bolingbroke. He will remain neutral to Bolingbroke—“no friends, no foes”—and let him pass.

Scene 4

The Earl of Salisbury entreats a Welsh captain to stay with his army for another day, since Richard is due to arrive very soon. The men are waiting for Richard’s army so they can attack Ireland together. The captain wants to return to Wales, as Richard’s troops have taken too long to arrive. He has been seeing omens that predict Richard’s death, such as the pale moon looking bloodied and has lost all hope in the battle. Therefore, the captain leaves.

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Act I Summary


Act III Summary