Queen Isabel and her attendants have arrived in London, where they have stationed themselves on a street leading to the Tower of London so that they may meet the deposed King Richard when he passes by on his way to the Tower. Richard and his guard ride into view, and Isabel laments to see her lord so changed: “But see—or rather do not see / My fair rose wither” (5.1.7–8). Richard sees her and tries to comfort her, telling her she must now learn to live with grief. He bids her imagine that her life has always been as it is now, tells her to think about the afterlife instead of this one, and instructs her to return to France (her native country) and enter a convent.

Isabel, angry and despairing, asks Richard what has happened to his courage and righteous indignation: has Bolingbroke taken that from him, as well as his crown? Richard replies that it is no longer of any use to try to fight: his fate is settled, and Isabel should think of him as dead. He orders her again to go to France, and he asks her to tell his tragic tale as a fireside story on long winter evenings.

Northumberland enters and tells Richard that Bolingbroke has changed his mind about what is to be done with him: Richard is not to go to the Tower of London but is instead to be taken to Pomfret Castle in the north of England. Richard tells him—in something that sounds half like a curse, half like an ominous prophecy—that the peace between him and Bolingbroke will not last long. He claims that Northumberland and the new king will be at each other’s throats soon enough. Northumberland replies curtly and orders him to take leave of Isabel: she is to be sent back to France immediately, and he must go to Pomfret. Richard and Isabel bid each other a long, touching farewell, in highly stylized language, and part to go their separate ways.

Read a translation of Act 5: Scene 1.


The formal and stylized language of Richard and Isabel’s farewell scene harkens back to some of the play’s earlier passages of challenge and sorrow. The complex poetry of their leave-taking is written in a long passage of rhymed couplets, using the conventional Renaissance language of doomed lovers—groans, sighs, kisses, and weeping—to signal the grief of the pair at being forced to separate. This language appears clearly, for example, in Richard’s address to Isabel: “Weep thou for me in France, I for thee here; / Better far off than, near, be ne’er the near. / Go count thy way with sighs; I mine with groans” (5.1.89–91).

Here, we see Richard as fully resigned to the loss of his kingship—not even Isabel’s indignation can rouse him from his despair. He has even given up the symbols that he so often used to identify himself as king. Just as he relinquished the symbolism of the sun to Bolingbroke in act 4, Richard now gives up the symbol of the lion, the traditional king of beasts. Isabel asks him angrily: “Wilt thou, pupil-like, / Take correction mildly, kiss the rod . . . Which art a lion and the king of beasts?” (5.1.31–34). Richard refuses to take the bait. Instead, he prefers to picture himself as the doomed hero of a tragic story (5.1.41–51).

The curse—or perhaps it is better called a prophecy—that Richard gives to Northumberland before he is taken to Pomfret is, by now, a familiar one: the sins of the past will come back to haunt the future rulers. Richard says to Northumberland: “The time shall not be many hours of age / More than it is, ere foul sin gathering head / Shall break into corruption” (5.1.58–60). Northumberland and Bolingbroke, he prophecies, will have a falling out, and the one will take arms against the other. For indeed, “the love of wicked men converts to fear, / That fear to hate, and hate turns one or both / To worthy danger and deservèd death” (5.1.67–70). Northumberland, who ignores Richard now, will remember his words when the truth of this prophecy begins to unfold in Henry IV, Part 1.