In Westminster Hall in London, Bolingbroke and the senior nobles are assembled. When called upon, Bagot accuses Aumerle of being involved in the murder of the Duke of Gloucester, the same murder that was the cause of the quarrel between Mowbray and Bolingbroke in Act 1, scene 1. Bagot also accuses Aumerle of advocating the death of Bolingbroke, when Bolingbroke was still in exile. Aumerle vigorously denies the charge, and challenges Bagot to a duel. Bolingbroke instructs Bagot not to accept the challenge. Fitzwater then challenges Aumerle, saying that Aumerle had admitted being the cause of Gloucester's death. Aumerle again denies the charge, but Percy accuses him of lying, and challenges him also. Another lord steps in and also issues a challenge to Aumerle. But then Surrey jumps into the fray, accusing Fitzwater of lying, and challenging him. Fitzwater sticks to his guns, repeating that Aumerle is guilty. He adds that he heard Norfolk (Mowbray) say that Aumerle sent two of his men to Calais to murder the Duke of Gloucester. Aumerle issues yet another challenge, this time to Norfolk, should Norfolk's sentence of banishment be repealed. Bolingbroke agrees to this, saying that he will repeal the banishment and allow the trial of combat between Norfolk and Aumerle. At this point, Carlisle announces that Norfolk is dead. He died in Venice after fighting many years in the crusades.
York enters and announces that Richard has renounced the throne in favor of Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke indicates his assent to this, but Carlisle protests. He says that the king's subjects cannot pronounce judgment on the king. He calls Bolingbroke a traitor, and warns that if Bolingbroke is crowned king, there will be a civil war. Northumberland promptly arrests Carlisle for treason. Bolingbroke asks for Richard to be brought in, so he may surrender the crown in public, thus giving legitimacy to the process.
Richard enters. He makes a mocking speech about how he has been betrayed by everyone present. He asks why he has been sent for, and York replies it is so he can resign his crown in favor of Bolingbroke. Richard responds theatrically, placing his hand on one side of the crown and inviting Bolingbroke to take the other side. He speaks about the crown as a well with two buckets-as one fills up, the other empties. The empty one rises up, but the bucket that is full of water sinks. He is like the full bucket, weighed down with his tears. He plays with the idea of grief and care until Bolingbroke becomes impatient, asking Richard if he is content to resign the crown. Richard replies ceremoniously, describing all the things he will renounce-his scepter, his crown, his land and revenues, his decrees and statutes. He emphasizes that he now has nothing. He will soon be dead. He hails the new king and wishes him long life.
Northumberland then asks Richard to read aloud a list of the crimes he and his followers committed, so that the deposition of the king can be seen to be just. Richard makes a defiant speech, pointing out that Northumberland is guilty of treason, as are all the others present, even though some of them pretend to pity him. Northumberland asks again for Richard to sign the document; again Richard is defiant and speaks of traitors in the room. But he also accuses himself of being a traitor, since he is consenting to be deposed. He asks for a mirror to be brought to him so he can see what he now looks like, since he is no longer a king. Bolingbroke grants his request, and asks Northumberland to stop insisting that Richard sign the document.
Theatrically, Richard gazes into the mirror, and professes surprise that so many blows have not changed the appearance of his face. Concluding that the mirror, like his followers, is deceiving him, he throws the mirror to the ground, breaking it. He then asks one favor of the new king, that he should be allowed to leave. He does not mind where he goes, as long as it is out of the sight of Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke orders him to be taken to the Tower of London. Bolingbroke then announces a date for his own coronation.
After the new king and most of the nobles depart, Carlisle, the Abbot of Westminster, and Aumerle remain. They decide to plot the downfall of the new Henry IV.
In this abdication scene, Richard shows his gift for self-dramatization. It almost seems as if he enjoys presenting himself as the wronged, pitiable king, and in the process discomfiting Bolingbroke, who only wants a smooth, public transfer of authority. Richard's verbosity is in marked contrast to Bolingbroke's silence. (After Richard's entrance and up to his departure, Bolingbroke speaks a mere twelve lines, compared to Richard's 134.) In spite of his self-pitying tone, there is force and dignity in Richard's accusations against Bolingbroke and Northumberland of treason. The powerless Richard still manages to dominate the scene, and Bolingbroke, with his repeated questions of whether Richard is willing to abdicate, is clearly uncomfortable. The kind of show Richard is putting on is not what Bolingbroke intended.
Another key moment in this scene is Carlisle's prophesy of civil war to come, as a result of the overthrow of Richard. Although Carlisle is promptly arrested for his words, he will prove to be correct. Henry IV's reign will indeed be marked by civil war.
Richard II: Novel Summary: Act 4 Scene 1