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A Summary of William Shakespeare’s Richard II

Richard II is based on the life of Richard II, King of England during the late 14th century. The first act begins with an argument between Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, and Thomas Mowbry, 1st Duke of Norfolk. Bolingbroke is accusing Mowbry of having killed the Duke of Gloucester and stolen his money. Richard and his uncle, John Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and Bolingbroke’s father, tries to convince them to settle. but to no avail. Mowbry, too, is in a bind as he cannot confess the truth that it was Richard himself who ordered him to kill the Duke.

Richard II agrees to a duel between them. Before the joust could even start, however, Richard declares the two banished from the kingdom—Bolingbroke for five years and Mowbray forever. In despair of his son’s leaving, John of Gaunt dies and Richard II seizes all of his fortune. Some members of the nobility criticize Richard for taking Bolingbroke’s inheritance. They gather support for Bolingbroke to assemble an army and return to England while Richard II was out to fight a war with Ireland.

The commoners, fed up with Richard’s excesses, willingly join Bolingbroke. Upon learning of the usurpation, Richard II flees to Flint Castle. But he meets Bolingbroke there who forces him to hand over the throne and Bolingbroke crowns himself as King Henry IV. The new king orders Richard II to go to Northern England and be imprisoned in the castle of Pomfret. The Duke of Aumerle, together with other supporters of Richard II, plans to poison Henry IV.

However, the plan backfires when the Duke of York, learns about the plot and tells the king. Henry orders the execution of all nobility who are accessories to the plot. At about the same time, Sir Piers Exton misinterprets King Henry’s words and murders Richard II in prison. When Exton arrives in the castle to show Henry IV the dead body of Richard II, the king exiles him. The play ends with Henry IV promising to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to expunge himself of the blood that was shed on his reign.

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