Richard II

Richard II Summary and Analysis of Act 4

Act Four, Scene One

Bolingbroke, now in charge of England, commands Bagot to reveal who the actual murderer of the Duke of Gloucester was. Bagot insists that it was Aumerle, who in a rage throws down his glove as a challenge to a duel. Bolingbroke forbids Bagot to pick up the glove, but Fitzwalter intervenes and throws his glove down as well, this time as a challenge to Aumerle. Two other men soon throw down their gloves as well, and Bolingbroke is forced to intervene and make the men put their challenges on hold until he assigns them a trial day.

York arrives and tells Bolingbroke that Richard is willing to designate him as his heir to the throne. Immediately the Bishop of Carlisle protests that a subject of the king does not have the right to usurp the place of the real king. Northumberland arrests him for high treason and proceeds to bring in Richard so that he may surrender to them.

Richard arrives with his crown and scepter, and prepares for the abdication ceremony. He tells Bolingbroke, "Here cousin, seize the crown. On this side my hand, on that side thine" (4.1.173). Bolingbroke questions whether Richard is planning to resign the crown or not, but Richard ambiguously replies with, "Ay, no; no, ay; for I must nothing be; / Therefore no, no, for I resign to thee. / Now mark me how I undo myself" (4.1.191-193). Richard then hands over the crown and his scepter, wishing Bolingbroke a long reign.

Northumberland hands Richard a sheet of crimes against himself and his followers which he is supposed to read. Richard refuses on the grounds that every man standing in the room is a traitor, and therefore guilty of much higher crimes than those he is expected to read. He orders them to bring him a mirror, which he shatters after looking in it. He then asks Bolingbroke to be allowed to go, and is taken to the Tower.


This scene opens as a direct mimic of the opening scene of the play. Bolingbroke must now contend with the same dissension that he originally forced Richard to deal with. The throwing down of gages, the king's inability to contain the disorder, and Bolingbroke's finally giving in and promising to allow the men a trial day, all parallel Richard at the beginning of the play.

Richard, now utterly alone, transforms into a tremendously powerful orator. He continues to compare himself with Christ, saying "So Judas did to Christ. But He in twelve / Found truth in all but one; I in twelve thousand, none" (4.1.161-162). Later in the scene, after he has handed over the crown, Richard is handed a list of crimes which he is supposed to have committed. He refuses the list, saying, "Though some of you, with Pilate, wash your hands, / Showing an outward pity, yet you Pilates / Have here delivered me to my sour cross" (4.1.229-231). Richard, stripped of power and property, manages to maintain what Bolingbroke never had, namely his use of language and ceremony.

This control over language and ceremony by Richard never is more apparent than in this scene. He brilliantly tells Bolingbroke, "Here cousin, seize the crown. On this side my hand, on that side thine" (4.1.173). Two hands on the crown, two men holding the same crown, symbolically represents the fact that with the usurpation of the throne Bolingbroke will split England in what will eventually lead to the War of the Roses.

Richard's use of language becomes even more brilliant, for when he is asked if he will yield the throne, he says, "Ay, no; no, ay; for I must nothing be; / Therefore no, no, for I resign to thee. / Now mark me how I undo myself" (4.1.191-193). Richard cannot make up his mind in this scene, for he realizes the fact that although he can say he will give up the throne, it is impossible for him to really do so. Ceding the throne is made impossible by the coronation ceremony in which Richard became the anointed king. Recall from earlier that Richard said, "Not all the water in the rough rude sea / Can wash the balm from an anointed king" (3.2.50-51). The coronation ceremony is absolute, it is impossible to undo it. Richard thus seizes control of this deposition ceremony from Bolingbroke and even recalls the coronation ceremony. He states:

"I give this heavy weight from off my head,

And this unwieldy scepter from my hand,

The pride of kingly sway from out my heart.

With mine own tears I wash away my balm,

With mine own hands I give away my crown,

With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,

With mine own breath release all duteous oaths.

All pomp and majesty I do forswear.

My manors, rents, revenues I forgo.

My acts, decrees, and statutes I deny. (4.1.194-203).

By invoking the coronation ceremony, in which Richard was invested with the scepter and the crown, and anointed with the balm, he recalls the permanence of the coronation. Richard thus implies that this deposition is an act of absurdity, it is impossible for him to ever yield the throne to another man.