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Summary Act 5


The Queen arrives at the Tower to find Richard in state of resignation. She tries to stir his spirits and to convince him to let her join him in prison, but Richard is adamant that the Queen return to her native France where on a cold winter night she might commemorate him, by telling his sad story which would doubtless send all listeners to bed in tears. By and by, Northumberland appears to inform Richard that his place of confinement has been changed to Pomfret. As for the Queen, she is to be sent immediately to France. Richard takes this opportunity to chide Northumberland, presaging that Northumberland will be unsatisfied with his share of the spoils, and as such find will himself at odds with Bullingbrook who will suspect Northumberland of plotting to dethrone Bullingbrook what with the key role Northumberland played in dethroning Richard. Unperturbed, Northumberland reiterates his commission, angering Richard for hastening his goodbyes with the Queen.


The Duke of York relates unto his wife, the Duchess, the spectacle of Richard and Bullingbrook’s arrival in London. Though overcome by grief for Richard at one point, the Duke describes how the populace showed their adoration for Bullingbrook whose majesty was on full display, to say nothing of his humility which the common folk found so becoming. As for Richard, the former King was showered with dirt and rubbish which Richard was seen gently wiping away. The sight was so pitiful, the Duke relates, that even a barbarian would’ve found it hard to avoid shedding a tear in sympathy.

Presently, the Duke of Aumerle, who has been demoted to the Earl of Rutland (for his partiality to Richard), joins his parents. He has violets pinned to his jacket, signifying his support for Bullingbrook which his mother notices. His father notices a sealed letter within his jacket, however, a letter Aumerle is reluctant to show which only piques the father’s curiosity. When Aumerle flatly refuses to show the letter, the father manages to snatch it away. Alas, the contents of the letter reveals a conspiracy to assassinate Bullingbrook of which his son is a party. Denouncing his son, York suits up to go and report the conspiracy to the King, and thereby condemn his own son, despite his wife’s protest to keep the matter a secret and to render their son’s role in it a non-issue by preventing their son from doing his part. York is determined to perform his duty to the new King, however, and leaves. At his mother’s urging, Aumerle goes to petition the King for mercy.


King Henry, formerly Bullingbrook and the Duke of Herford, questions his attendants as to the whereabouts of his son. According to rumor, his son frequents London taverns where he consorts with a low, mean crowd with whom he takes part (however obliquely) in the sport of robbing and abusing travelers and local constables. Percy somewhat substantiates the rumor, mentioning the one encounter that he had had with the Prince wherein the Prince told Percy that he would challenge the most worthiest knight at Oxford with a prostitute’s glove. The King and his attendants are thus engaged when Rutland, formerly Aumerle, rushes in and begs for a private meeting with the King. The King obliges Rutland, dismissing his attendants. Alone with the King, Rutland kneels and begs for pardon. The King promises that he will grant pardon if the offense was intended but has yet been committed. Rutland says that that is indeed the case and locks the door with the King’s permission (for the sake telling his story for no other ear than the King’s). Rutland is about to begin his story when there’s a heavy knocking on the door. It is York who warns the King that he is in the presence of a traitor. The King draws his sword but Rutland remains at peace. The King unlocks the door, admitting York who shows the King the sealed letter that York has confiscated from his son. Shortly, the Duchess of York arrives and thereon ensues diverging suits, one in which York goes to his knees, urging the King to execute Rutland’s life for the sake of the father‘s honor which the son has besmirched, and another in which Rutland and the Duchess go on their knees begging for Rutland’s life, arguing that York’s suit is insincere and preposterous. Wisely, Henry grants his aunt and cousin their suit, and orders York to prepare a fighting force that will round up the conspirators.


Sir Pierce Exton is certain that King Henry has given him license to kill Richard, and moreover that King Henry wishes that Exton will do this for the King more than anything else he could ever wish for. Still, Exton questions his servant as if to confirm what he knows to be true is indeed true. His servant confirms that Exton supposes right: the King would have him--Exton--kill Richard.


Richard is contemplating how he could better cope with his life in prison, and he realizes that nothing would ever give him complete peace than if his life, and all his worries along with it, were extinguished. Still, he is grateful that he is being kept alive, after all to be given time is a token of love that contradicts what seems to be the overwhelming truth: everyone hates Richard.

The appearance of Richard’s former servant, who is on his way to York, is a welcome sight. He mentions how grieved he was to see Richard’s horse, Barbary, which he--the former servant--took such loving care of, appropriated by Henry. Richard and his former servant say their goodbyes when the Keeper appears to announce that visiting hours are over. He has come also to deliver Richard’s food which Richard offers the Keeper to taste, a request the Keeper is in the habit of obliging. When the Keeper refuses the request, citing Sir Pierce Exton’s order forbidding the practice, Richard beats the Keeper. Suddenly, Sir Pierce Exton and his men arrive. They are armed. Furious, Richard disarms one of the men and manages to kill two of them before he himself is slayed by Exton.


According to reports, the conspiracy/rebellion against King Henry has been, for all intents and purposes, extirpated. The Abbot of Westminster has committed suicide. As for the Bishop of Carlisle, King Henry, citing Carlisle’s honor and nobility, permits him to live out the rest of his life in religious seclusion. All is well when Exton appears with Richard’s corpse. Henry is displeased and banishes Exton, explaining that he did desire Richard’s death but in no way did he approve of his murder. Henry urges his Lords to join him in mourning Richard for whom Henry will make a personal pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

William Shakespeare