Richard II

Richard II Summary and Analysis of Act 2

Act Two, Scene One

John of Gaunt, close to dying, is sitting in a chair speaking with the Duke of York. He wishes that Richard would arrive because he want to advise Richard on becoming a better king. York informs Gaunt that it is unlikely Richard will ever listen to him, since the king has surrounded himself with flatterers. Gaunt predicts that Richard's, "rash, fierce blaze of riot cannot last" (2.1.33). He speaks of the glorious past he has seen England live through, and wishes that his death will allow England to renew hew glory.

Richard arrives and asks Gaunt how he is feeling. Gaunt responds with a long lecture on how Richard is destroying England with his mismanagement. Richard tells Gaunt that if he were not a sick old man his head would already have been cut off. Gaunt continues with his condemnation, and then leaves the room to return to his bed and die. Northumberland enters a few moments later and informs the king that Gaunt is dead.

Richard orders his men to prepare to seize the estate left behind as a means of paying for the war in Ireland. York speaks up and tells Richard that if he ignores the hereditary rights of the nobles then he will make a great deal of enemies among the nobility. Richard ignores this advice and continues with his seizure of the estate.

Northumberland, aware that Bolingbroke is returning home, informs two other men named Ross and Willoughby that Bolingbroke is returning to lay claim to his estate. Furthermore, Bolingbroke is sailing to the northern shore with an entire army, as well as the support of many of the nobles. Northumberland then informs the men that he is leaving to go join the army in revolt against Richard's terrible mismanagement of the kingdom. Ross and Willoughby decide to join him as well.

Act Two, Scene Two

The Queen is upset that Richard has been forced to go to Ireland, and misses his presence. Bushy tries to comfort her, but is interrupted by Green with the news that Bolingbroke has landed in the north. To make things even worse, he further tells her that Northumberland, Northumberland's son Harry Percy, and several other noblemen have joined the rebels.

York, left behind to manage the kingdom in Richard's absence, arrives dressed in battle garments. He is so old that he is not sure he can defend the throne from Bolingbroke's army. "Here am I, left to underprop his land, / Who, weak with age, cannot support myself" (2.2.82-83). York orders his servingman to go to his sister, the Duchess of Gloucester, and ask her for a thousand pounds. The servingman informs him that his sister died only an hour ago, and therefore cannot help him.

York, completely distraught by so many problems at once, tries to muster an army with the few forces he has at his disposal. He orders some armor to be brought from his own estate, and begs the few remaining nobles to lend him their men. Green and Bushy decide to run away to Bristol Castle and seek refuge there, for they know that they will be killed if captured by Bolingbroke. Bagot is the only noble who chooses to instead go to Richard's army, which is still en route to Ireland.

Act Two, Scene Three

Northumberland has joined Bolingbroke, who is leading his army towards Berkeley where several other nobles have gathered. Harry Percy, who figures prominently in Henry IV, Part One, is introduced and meets Bolingbroke for the first time. Ross and Willoughby also arrive and welcome Bolingbroke back to England.

Lord Berkeley comes and greets Bolingbroke as the Lord of Hereford. Bolingbroke instead claims the name Lancaster, which is the title Richard stole from him. Berkeley informs him that the Duke of York has arrived to speak with him.

York chastises Bolingbroke for illegally entering England, and makes his nephew stand instead of kneel. York tells him that he represents the King in the King's absence, "Why, foolish boy, the King is left behind, / And in my loyal bosom lies his power" (2.3.96-97). Bolingbroke claims that he has only returned in order to reclaim his hereditary lands of Lancaster, which he has a right to do. The other nobles concur and support him against York's arguments and accusations of treason.

Unable to stop the men from rebelling, York chooses to remain a neutral person, offering hospitality to both sides. Bolingbroke decides to march onwards to Bristol where he believes Bushy and Bagot are hiding so that he can remove them from power.

Act Two, Scene Four

The Earl of Salisbury pleads with a Welsh captain to remain with his army rather than return to Wales. The men are waiting for the arrival of Richard's army so that they can attack Ireland together. The captain tells Salisbury that there have been omens indicating that the king will soon fall or die, and that he is therefore not needed anymore. Salisbury laments the fact that Richard's glory is rapidly disintegrating.


Much like in Richard III the older generation relies on curses to influence the plot. In this play, it is Gaunt who predicts, much like Queen Margaret in Richard III, that "Methinks I am a prophet new-inspired, / And thus, expiring, do foretell of him. / His rash, fierce blaze of riot cannot last, / for violent fires soon burn out themselves" (2.1.31-34). The impotence of the older characters is thus overcome by their ability to foresee the events in the play. Richard's inability to listen to Gaunt will in fact lead to his downfall. Gaunt informs Richard that he will dethrone himself. "Which art possessed now to depose thyself" (2.1.108).

The issue of hereditary rights coupled with political reality is portrayed very strongly throughout this act. In Richard's absence, York alludes to the fact that he represents the king, which is intended to be enough to demand immediate loyalty from Bolingbroke. This relates to the theme of "the king is dead, long live the king," an expression which signifies the political aspect of the king rather than the physical. However, Shakespeare cleverly uses this phrase not with Richard, but with Bolingbroke, thus foreshadowing his future assumption of the throne. After Gaunt's death, Northumberland says, "Well, lords, the Duke of Lancaster is dead." Ross replies, "And living too, for now his son is Duke" (2.1.225-226). The use of this phrase in connection with Bolingbroke alludes to the fact that Bolingbroke will become king.

Many critics have remarked on the use of anamorphism in Richard II. An anamorphism is a painting which shows different images when looked at from different perspectives. Bushy tells the Queen that, "Like perspectives, which, rightly gazed upon,/ Show nothing but confusion; eyed awry,/ Distinguish form" (2.2.18-20). The anamorphism was often considered a Renaissance invention which encouraged speculation about the "correct" way of viewing something. It is interesting to note that is is the Queen's perspective which is correct in the end, possibly alluding to the fact that the male view of the world leaves out an entire realm of perception.

Language again emerges as a fundamental part of this play, most specifically when Northumberland tells Bolingbroke, "And yet your fair discourse hath been as sugar, / making the hard way sweet and delectable" (2.3.7-8). Bolingbroke gradually becomes more eloquent as the play progresses, a necessary attribute if he is to become king. This will emerge even more strongly once Bolingbroke becomes Henry IV, at which point language and ceremony, both initially rejected by him, will become essential to his ability to rule.

Yet a final instance of foreshadowing in the this act is given in 2.4. The Welsh captain leaves with his men, convinced that Richard has been killed already. The omens of the heavens, or the astrology, has convinced the Welsh that a king must die. Salisbury tries to convince the captain to remain, but finally gives up and remarks that for Richard, "Thy sun sets weeping in the lonely west" (2.4.21). The sun represents the emblem of the King of England, and thus this is a direct allusion to the fact that Richard will presently lose the throne.