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Act IV, scene i

Summary Act IV, scene i


Henry Bolingbroke, his allies, and the captured party of King Richard have returned from Wales to London. There, in Westminster Hall, they call on Bagot to give testimony, asking him who conspired with Richard to kill Thomas, Duke of Gloucester. Bagot claims that the Duke of Aumerle was central in the conspiracy. Aumerle heatedly denies it, setting off a gage-throwing chain reaction which eventually involves six people: Aumerle begins by declaring that Bagot is a liar and throwing down his gage (a glove or a hood) to challenge him to single combat. Immediately thereafter, Lord Fitzwater, Lord Percy, and another unnamed lord all throw down gages against Aumerle; then Lord Surrey throws down his gage on Aumerle's side, and the trigger-happy Fitzwater throws down his gage again--and Aumerle, who is out of gages, is forced to borrow someone else's so that he, too, can throw down his gage again.

As the gage-throwing grows to ludicrous proportions, Bolingbroke cuts them all off, saying that the challenges will have to wait. He plans to bring Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, back from the exile to which Richard condemned him, and Mowbray will help settle the truth of the matter. However, the Bishop of Carlisle tells them all that Mowbray has died while fighting valiantly in the Crusades.

The Duke of York abruptly enters to inform the company that King Richard has capitulated, agreeing to "adopt" Bolingbroke as his "heir" (109) and to yield the throne to him immediately. Bolingbroke agrees, but the Bishop of Carlisle interrupts him, breaking into a long speech in which he condemns Bolingbroke for his insurrection against the rightful king. He tells Bolingbroke that if he takes the crown now from the true king of England, generations yet to come will suffer and the ground will be soaked in English blood. Northumberland promptly arrests Carlisle on charges of high treason.

Bolingbroke summons Richard so that he may abdicate the crown to him in full view of the nobles. Helpless and despairing, Richard enters; he delays giving Bolingbroke the crown with a long, grief-stricken monologue in which he surrenders land, crown, and kingship. Northumberland asks him to read aloud a statement confessing his crimes against the kingdom, so that the people "may deem that you are worthily depos'd" (227), but Richard resists the order. He then calls for a looking-glass, and, after staring into it and wondering aloud about his own identity now that he is no longer king, he dashes it to the floor.

Richard asks Bolingbroke one final favor: that he be allowed to go away freely from the court. Bolingbroke, without explicitly answering no, commands that Richard be taken to the Tower of London (the traditional place for holding political prisoners). Richard departs under guard. Bolingbroke sets the date of his coronation as the following Wednesday. After he leaves, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Abbot of Westminster, and Aumerle begin to speak together, apparently conspiring against Bolingbroke.

Read a translation of Act IV, scene i →


This extraordinarily long scene makes up all of Act IV. The effect of this prolonged, uninterrupted staging is to create a sense of headlong action.