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Act V, scenes iv-vi

Summary Act V, scenes iv-vi


In Windsor Castle, where the new King Henry IV (a.k.a. Bolingbroke) now resides, a nobleman called Sir Piers Exton is talking with his servants. He tells them that King Henry has asked his audience of courtiers, "Have I no friend will rid me of this living fear?" Exton reasonably interprets the "living fear" as a reference to the still-living King Richard, who is currently imprisoned at Pomfret Castle in the north of England. Exton thinks that he saw King Henry specifically look at him when he asked the question. He decides that, as the "king's friend" (11)--motivated either by loyalty or by hope of reward, or perhaps both--he will be the man to go and kill Richard.

We now move to Richard in Pomfret, who is soliloquizing to himself. Still trying to come to terms with his isolation from the world, he tries various metaphorical and metaphysical tricks to convince himself that he is not alone, but is still part of a populated world. A groom who has remained faithful to Richard comes in unexpectedly to wish Richard well and tell him how grieved he is to behold the former king's fall, but he cannot cheer the grieving king.

Then the castle's keeper enters with food for the former king. Richard, wary, bids the keeper taste of it first as he usually does (to prove it is not poisoned), but the keeper says that he cannot--one Sir Pierce of Exton, who has come to see him, has forbidden it. Angrily, Richard strikes the keeper, who cries out. Exton and his accomplices rush in. After a brief scuffle in which Richard apparently kills several of the accomplices, Exton succeeds in striking him down, and Richard, condemning Exton to burn in hell for his sin, dies. Troubled by doubt and guilt, Exton resolves to bury his slain accomplices at Pomfret and convey Richard's body to King Henry at Windsor.

Back at Windsor, we find Bolingbroke, the king, discussing the state of affairs with his advisors: the bad news is that there are rebels setting fire to towns in Gloucestershire in the northwest, but the good news is that the main conspirators against King Henry's life--Lord Salisbury, the Abbot of Westminster, and others--have been executed and their heads sent to London (presumably for public display as a warning to others). The Bishop of Carlisle has been left alive and is now presented to the king for his sentence; Bolingbroke shows the Bishop mercy and commands him to find a "secret place" (25), keep a low profile, and live out his life in peace.

Suddenly, Exton enters with the coffin containing Richard's body and tells Bolingbroke that he has taken the cue from his own mouth and murdered the former king. Bolingbroke, in some of the most highly loaded, double-edged, and ambiguous language in the play, says that while he admits he is very glad that Richard is dead, he denies that he actually ordered the former king's murder and declares that he now loathes and repudiates Exton. He orders Exton to leave the court and wander miserably in his guilt. Bolingbroke himself vows to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land--Jerusalem--to wash the guilt of this murder from his soul. He orders a sad funeral for Richard and he and his retinue depart the stage in mourning.

Read a translation of Act V, scenes iv-vi →


Richard's final speeches, which he makes in Act V, scene v, are among his most interesting. As we have seen throughout the play, the more Richard's ability to actually get anything done is compromised, the more extraordinary his poetry becomes. Now, at last, Richard is literally imprisoned--he cannot go anywhere or do anything, and can only wait for his fate to come to him--and his poetry soars.