Key moments

Every director will choose their own key moments, depending on how they are interpreting the play. Here we've listed some important moments in the order in which they appear in the play.

1. Richard postpones a duel between two noblemen (Act 1, Scene 1)
Before the King, Henry Bolingbroke, son of Richard's uncle John of Gaunt, accuses Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, of misusing Crown funds and of treason by arranging the murder of the Duke of Gloucester. Mowbray retaliates with counter-accusations and Bolingbroke challenges him to a duel. The King postpones the fight until a later date.

2. The duel is stopped before it is begun (Act 1, Scene 3)
As both contestants prepare for combat, Richard calls a sudden halt to the proceedings. Fearful that the death of either might cause unrest in the kingdom, the king banishes Mowbray for life and, after a plea from Gaunt, reduces Bolingbroke's banishment from ten years to six.

3. Richard visits Gaunt on his deathbed (Act 2, Scene 1)
In one of Shakespeare's most famous speeches (beginning 'This royal throne of kings, this sceptr'd isle') Gaunt expresses his fears that Richard is too influenced by his favourites, Bushey, Bagot and Green, and that England will suffer for it. He attempts to warn Richard, who mocks him. Gaunt dies and, despite protests for the Duke of York and other nobles, Richard plans to seize the exiled Bolingbroke's inheritance to fund wars in Ireland. In the meantime, Bolingbroke is arranging to return from exile and claim his lands.

4. Bolingbroke has returned to England, and is gathering allies (Act 2, Scene 3)
Having landed in the North East, Bolingbroke meets some of his supporters, including the Duke of Northumberland and his son, Henry Percy. The Duke of York argues with Bullingbrook that his return is unlawful, but decides not to take sides in any conflict between him and the king, who is now fighting in Ireland.

5. Bushey and Green are executed (Act 3, Scene 1)
Bristol Castle falls to Bolingbroke's army and the King's favourites, Bushey and Green, are executed. Bolingbroke leaves to fight the Welsh army, who are supporting King Richard.

6. Richard returns from Ireland (Act 3, Scene 2)
Richard returns hurriedly from Ireland. He expresses the belief that, as king, he will always have God on his side but quickly despairs when he learns that the Welsh have deserted to Bolingbroke or dispersed. Richard takes refuge in Flint Castle.

7. Richard and Bolingbroke meet at Flint Castle (Act 3, Scene 3)
With his troops surrounding Flint Castle, Bolingbroke offers to swear loyalty to Richard in exchange for the repeal of his banishment and the restoration of his father's lands. Richard initially agrees but almost immediately changes his mind. By the time the two meet face to face, Richard has convinced himself that Bolingbroke wants his crown. He offers to make Bolingbroke his heir and agrees to return to London with him.

8. Bolingbroke postpones another duel over the death of the Duke of Gloucester, and Richard attends Parliament to pass his crown to Bolingbroke (Act 4, Scene 1)
In what begins as one of the funniest scenes in the play, and ends as one of the most moving, a series of nobles appear in Parliament to accuse each other of involvement in the death of Gloucester. As they take it in turns to throw down their gages (heavy gloves) to challenge each other, Bolingbroke postpones any trial until Norfolk returns from banishment. He immediately learns of Norfolk's death and York then brings news of Richard's willingness to give up the crown and allow Bolingbroke to be named King Henry IV. The Bishop of Carlisle accuses Bolingbroke of treason, and is arrested.

Richard is brought before Parliament publicly to surrender the crown. Having done so, Richard asks permission to leave and is escorted to the Tower of London.

9. Richard bids farewell to his Queen (Act 5, Scene 1)
Richard and his queen meet to say 'goodbye' and Northumberland orders that the deposed King should be escorted to Pomfret Castle, whilst the Queen must leave for France.

10. Exton plans to murder Richard (Act 5, Scene 4)
Sir Pierce of Exton believes that the new King Henry IV has hinted that he wishes Richard dead, and decides to ingratiate himself by going to Pomfret to carry out Henry's wishes.

11. Richard reflects on his actions and is murdered in his prison cell (Act 5, Scene 5)
In a long soliloquy, Richard looks back on events and his groom breaks the news that Bolingbroke had ridden to his coronation on Richard's favourite horse. Exton and others enter the room armed and Richard manages to kill two attackers before Exton stabs him to death. Exton plans to take the body to King Henry in hope of a reward.

12. King Henry hears both good news and bad, and pardons a traitor (Act 5, Scene 6)
News is brought to Henry from various sources that Richard's supporters have been captured and executed. The Bishop of Carlisle is brought before him for sentencing, and the new king allows him to choose a place of quiet retreat to live out the rest of his days. Exton brings in the body of murdered Richard but the King is shocked and angry. He makes a vow to travel to the Holy Land in penance for inciting the King's death.

Compiled by Kath Bradley, MPhil (Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham). Kath has worked for the RSC in a variety of roles since 2005.

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