Act 1, Scene 1
Jack Straw and the king's tax collector engage in an argument where Straw claims the collector is going far beyond his commission by inappropriately courting his fourteen-year- old daughter. The collector refuses to be accused and insulted by a commoner and strikes Straw, who, in turn, kills the collector. Wat Tyler, Parson John Ball, Nobs and Tom Miller arrive, and they discuss the situation that has just occurred. The men feel that the rich have everything while the poor have nothing and decide to rebel against them. All of the rebels depart to prepare themselves, and Nobs delivers a soliloquy claiming that the rebellion will not end well after having such a violent beginning and that he must be prepared to save himself when things go bad.
Act 1, Scene 2
The lord treasurer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the secretary discuss the fact that the commons in Parliament will not approve any new taxes to fund the desired wars in France and chastise them for not wanting to pay for a service that benefits them (though the secretary seems to be more on the neutral side). A messenger then enters and informs the men that the peasants are up in revolt in Kent and already possess twenty thousand men. The men prepare themselves for action, and the secretary tells of how this event was predestined.
Act 1, Scene 3
The rebels discuss their strategy for the rebellion and claim they are now fifty thousand strong. They are to set up camp at Greenwich and await the king's reply to their demands.
Act 1, Scene 4
The queen mother tells of her sorrows caused by the peasants rebellion to the Earl of Salisbury and a gentleman usher, who then attempt to console her, saying that the king, despite his youth, will handle the situation well. Richard II then enters and further assures his mother that the rebellion shall be quenched. Sir John Morton, a forced messenger from the rebels (who had previously besieged his castle), arrives and informs the king of the dire situation. He tells the men that there are about twenty thousand men of humble birth who mean to have words with the king so he may hear their demands. After hearing this, the king orders Morton to return to the rebels and inform them that he will come to see them in person and do his best to satisfy all their grievances. The archbishop gives an inspiring speech to the young king, telling him that this is his time to shine as a leader. and after assuring his mother of his safety and assigning her to stay in the tower, Richard departs to meet with his rebel subjects.
Act 2, Scene 1
Tom Miller prepares a goose for the rebels to eat and tells of how the rebel captains are on their way to meet with the king.
Act 2, Scene 2
Straw and Tyler are upset that the king did not meet with them as he said he would, and they vow to go to London (where the king has fled to) to have words with him. Morton tells the men to use caution but is reprimanded, and the rebels prepare to head for London.
Act 2, Scene 3
The king laments the rebellious acts of his subjects before departing, and Spencer and Sir John Newton discuss how the king refused to meet with the rebels because he felt he was in imminent danger.
Act 2, Scene 4
The men of Southwark plead with those at London to allow the rebels access into the city since they have already caused much damage and will do much more if they are not submitted to. In a soliloquy, Morton laments the fact that the rebels are destroying their own country.
Act 2, Scene 5
Nobs enters with a Flemming and tells him that anyone who cannot say "bread and cheese" in English will be put to death, as many already have been. He then prompts the Flemming to say the words.
Act 3, Scene 1
The king once again laments the rebellious acts of his subjects, and the Lord Mayor of London informs him of some of the destruction the peasants have already accomplished, including the burning of books, records and buildings and the killing of noblemen. Hearing this, the king decides to meet with the rebels with a small gathering. He will offer them clemency at first in an attempt to subdue them. The rebels then enter.
Act 3, Scene 2
The king meets with the rebels and promises to listen to and amend all their grievances. Straw claims that even though they have already killed the king's wicked tax collector, they wish for wealth and liberty. The king promises to fulfill all of their demands as quickly as possible, and Hob Carter says he will dismiss all the rebels from Essex as a result. After the king departs, Straw is angry about the departure of the Essex men and claims he still wants to profit from the rebellion. The other rebels warn him not to be so rash.
Act 3, Scene 3
As Tom Miller burns some government papers, he and Nobs talk about the progress of the rebellion. Nobs informs Miller that Carter has gone home with the Essex men and worries that the rebellion may be a lost cause, before departing. Miller then ponders whether or not he will be hanged when the queen mother and her usher enter. Seeing that he may be saved if he pleads with someone so close to the king, Miller talks with the queen mother in an attempt to convince her to pity him, which she does seem to do. Some rebels then enter and chase her and the usher away.
Act 3, Scene 4
Jack Straw tells how the king and the nobles will never be able to live comfortably while the rebels are still around while the others attempt to persuade him to surrender (except for Ball, who wants the rebellion to continue). At this point, the king, Newton and the Lord Mayor arrive, and the king is angry that the rebels are still up in arms. The mayor informs him that only the Essex rebels have returned home, and Richard asks Newton to see what else the men want. Newton attempts to reason with the rebels but is met with scorn by Straw, who commands him to give up the regal sword which the men are carrying. The lord mayor, sick of hearing a mere commoner insult the king, angrily stabs Straw to death and is then commended by Richard. Richard then informs the remaining rebels that he is their king, and they need not worry about their rebel leader's death before departing. The mayor then commands his soldiers to drag Straw's body through the streets of London to strike fear in any remaining rebels.
Act 4, Scene 1
The king tells his followers that he wishes to show clemency towards the rebels. In turn, Newton and the mayor believe that only Parson Ball and Wat Tyler should be put to death, considering they were the ones who most misled the people. The rebels are led in, and Sir John Morton reads the king's pardon, saying that all rebels, except Ball and Tyler shall be pardoned, despite their heinous offenses against their king. After hearing the pardon that does not benefit them, Ball and Tyler are led off to their deaths, seemingly unrepentant. As a result of his good service, the king knights the lord mayor, who humbly thanks him for the honor but claims he was only doing his job. The play ends with a speech by King Richard, who is happy that the rebellion ended with fairly minimal bloodshed and vows to get some much needed rest.