Act 1, Scene 1

The play begins with the Earls of Arundel and Surrey and the royal uncles, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, running around frantically believing they have been poisoned under orders from the king. Sir Thomas Cheney, a servant of Thomas of Woodstock, another royal uncle, assures the men that they have not consumed the poison and further informs the men that the plot was revealed by a friar, who felt guilty of the task he was given, to Woodstock. All the men present wonder why the king would want them poisoned, and Lancaster criticizes the king, saying he is nothing like his father, Edward the Black Prince, John and Edmund's brother. Cheney then further assures the men that it is not the king who is responsible for this despicable act, but the flatterers that surround him, such as William Bagot, Henry Greene and Robert Tresilian. The royal uncles and the earls then focus their hatred on the flatterers. York criticizes his brother Woodstock's humble form of dress when Woodstock himself enters with the lord mayor Exton. Woodstock orders Exton to watch out for his safety before the mayor departs. A discussion begins about the king's shabby governing of the realm, and Woodstock reiterates that it is the flatterers surrounding the king that are poisoning his mind. He goes on to say that things should get better after the king's marriage to Anne o' Beame and that, if things remain the same, he will do his best to rid the king of his favorites. The act ends with Woodstock agreeing to wear more luxurious clothing for the wedding feast.

Act 1, Scene 2

Greene, Bagot and Tresilian are all worried about their failed attempt to murder the royal uncles and believe they will now be revenged upon and must therefore remain close to the king. They are happy, however, that Tresilian has been named as Lord Chief Justice and hope to benefit from his new employment. Tresilian assures the favorites that he will do anything in his power to advance them, before Greene and Bagot depart to attend the king's wedding. The lord chief justice then delivers a soliloquy telling of how he shall be an evil justice, when his servant Nimble arrives. Tresilian informs Nimble that he has been made chief justice and tells him to remove his wife to London, so she may be close at hand, because he feels his new office will gain him few friends.

Act 1, Scene 3

The king and the lords are present at Queen Anne's coronation ceremony, and Woodstock almost immediately begins to criticize Richard for his poor governing of the realm. Even as the new queen thanks all present for welcoming her into the country, Woodstock continues to banter against the king until Richard fights back. The king criticizes his uncle's new form of dress, and Woodstock begins to inform his nephew of his misdeeds, which include unfair taxation and the favoring of flatterers such as Bagot, Greene and Tresilian, while he ignores the good counsel of his uncles and the other lords. Furthermore, Woodstock reminds the king that it was the Earl of Arundel that took a number of wealthy vessels for him only to hear that Richard has given away the profits as gifts to his favorites. As Woodstock gets angrier, the king retaliates by making Greene lord chancellor and Bagot keeper of the privy seal. Finally, Queen Anne is forced to intercede to keep the peace, and she, the king and the royal favorites depart. York, Lancaster and Woodstock continue to criticize their nephew's misrule when Cheney enters with news that the peasant's have risen in rebellion in Kent and Essex. Woodstock suggests that Lancaster and Arundel attempt to subdue the rebellion while he calls a Parliament into session to address the issue.

Act 2, Scene 1

King Richard and his favorites (Greene, Bushy, Bagot, Scroop and Tresilian) all speak badly of the royal uncles and feel they are overstepping their boundaries. It is actually suggested that the uncles should be arrested and executed (which the king agrees with), but justice Tresilian says this would be too harsh a move considering they are so popular amongst the commons. Bushy then reads from a chronicle and tells the king of the story of his grandfather, King Edward III, and how he had his protector, Roger Mortimer, executed and took control of the government himself. He goes on to tell of how the king's father, Edward the Black Prince, overcame the odds at the Battle of Poitiers and captured the French king. These examples give the king more confidence than he already possesses, when Bushy then informs him that he is actually twenty-two years of age and can take control of the government in his own right. Richard voices his anger that his uncles still maintain power when he in of age when York enters to inform the king that Parliament is in session and that he must attend. The king is surprised to hear that Parliament has been summoned so quickly and that he was not informed sooner, but agrees to go, informing his favorites that he shall take control of the government.

Act 2, Scene 2

The royal uncles are present at Parliament and pass out petitions against the king's misgovernment as they await his arrival. Queen Anne begs that the lords go easy on her husband, and they inform her that they only mean to help him govern more effectively. The queen departs and the king and his favorites arrive and are immediately bombarded with criticism by Woodstock and the other lords. Richard then brings up the fact that he is of age to rule on his own through an allegorical story. Woodstock is pleased with the story at first because he feels it is a sign that Richard will finally start governing correctly. However, when he realizes that the king means to end his minority reign, he is less enthusiastic. Woodstock informs the king that he thought he was not of age until the following year, but willingly gives up his protector's staff. The king then asks to be re-crowned by his uncles before he promptly dismisses them from their places on the royal council and replaces them with his favorites. After the lords angrily depart, the royal favorites mock them and claim they should never again be permitted to appear at court. Richard says that he and his favorites will have a group of archers to guard them, will reverse the laws put into effect by Woodstock and will have a grand banquet at the royal palace. The king then dissolves Parliament, and he and his favorites depart.

Act 2, Scene 3

Queen Anne and the Duchesses of Gloucester and Ireland all lament on how King Richard is running the country into the ground through his favoring of flatterers and his dismissal of his own uncles. Anne, who seems to be the most distraught, claims she is doing all she can to help the poor people of England, even giving up her own personal money to do so. Cheney arrives and commends the queen's generous behavior before informing the Duchess of Gloucester that her husband requires her presence at their home. When the queen asks about the welfare of her husband, Cheney informs the ladies that the king and his favorites have been lavishly spending on clothing and remodeling for Westminster Hall and travel with a company of archers. After further lamenting, the ladies depart.

Act 3, Scene 1

The king and his favorites all display their lavish new garments, and justice Tresilian proposes an idea where blank charters (or checks) will be sent out to everyone in the country so they may sign their names and the king may right down any amount in which to tax them. Queen Anne arrives and is greeted kindly but is a bit distraught when she is informed of the lavish style of living her husband and his favorites are engaging in. Richard urges his wife not to worry before the group departs to march through the streets of London so they may show off their lavish clothing. Tresilian stays behind and is visited by Crosby, Fleming and Nimble, all of whom he assigns to hand out the blank charters to every man and widow they find. In addition, the justice commands them to seek out anyone who is criticizing or saying anything negative about the king, before he departs.

Act 3, Scene 2

Woodstock, Lancaster and York discuss the wasteful behavior of their nephew and his favorites at court when Cheney arrives and informs the men of the blank charters that are being sent out throughout the country as a way of brutally taxing the people so the king can maintain his lavish lifestyle. The royal uncles are all abhorred by this new method of taxation, and Lancaster and York depart to attempt to cool the situation. A courtier arrives to Woodstock from the king and believes that the royal uncle (who is also Duke of Gloucester) is a mere groom because of his humble form of dress and forces him to walk his horse. When the courtier realizes that he is the duke, he humbles himself and informs Woodstock that the king wishes to see him at court. Woodstock treats the man kindly but tells him that his meek style of living would not suit the court, in addition to the fact that he is angry about the blank charters.

Act 3, Scene 3

Crosby, Fleming, Nimble and Ignorance, bailey of Dunstable, all set out to have the blank charters signed so they may return them to the king. Nimble and Ignorance set off on their own to accomplish their tasks and encounter several rich tradesmen whom they force to sign the charters and then arrest them for talking badly about said charters. The two then have a schoolmaster and a serving man arrested for reciting poems that satirize the charters and the members of the king's court. Finally, Nimble and Ignorance arrest a man who "whistles" treason, before they join back up with Crosby and Fleming, who have already gotten signatures in the thousands on the charters.

Act 4, Scene 1

Flaunting the money he has brought in, Tresilian tells of how he will bring in yet more cash for the king's, and his own, benefit, when Bushy and Scroop enter. The justice tells them of his further plot to farm out the entirety of England so that Bushy, Scroop, Greene and Bagot will each control a quarter of the country and pay the king an annual stipend. King Richard then enters and is angry that his uncle Woodstock refuses to come see him at court. After it is established that Woodstock, due to his popularity with the people, cannot simply be arrested, a plot is devised to visit his house as masquers and put on a show for him. As he is absorbed in the performance, the king and his party, who will be part of the show, will abduct him and carry him off to be taken by Lapoole, the governor of Calais, who will be waiting outside the castle with an armed retinue. The king states further that he will also set traps for Lancaster and York and will enlist the help of the French by giving up certain territories to them that are currently in English possession. With these plots set, the favorites then began their own plot to persuade Richard to lease the kingdom out to them. Tresilian lays down the plan to divide the kingdom between the four royal favorites, who would rule their respective portions in exchange for paying an annual stipend, to the king. The king wholeheartedly agrees to this plan and assigns each of his favorites their own portion of England to govern as they see fit, before they all depart to enact the plot against Woodstock and the other royal uncles.

Act 4, Scene 2

Woodstock appears frantic about the news that Queen Anne is sick and may die and commands his wife, the duchess, to go and stay with her immediately. The duchess, however, is hesitant to leave her husband after she had a disturbing dream about him being murdered by a pack of wolves. Woodstock tells her not to worry and explains away the dream before reluctantly sending the duchess to the ailing queen. After his wife departs, Woodstock delivers a soliloquy stating that if Queen Anne dies, the commons will have no more reasons not to rebel against the king. At this point, Cheney informs Woodstock that a group of masquers have arrived and wish to perform for him. Despite his somber mood, Woodstock agrees to admit the masquers, who consist of the disguised King Richard, Bushy, Bagot and Greene. The masquers begin their performance but are interrupted by Cheney, who informs Woodstock that armed men have surrounded the house. Woodstock, who now realizes that there is treachery involved in the performance, is seized by the masquers and arrested in the king's name for treason. The duke attempts to defend himself against any accusations but recognizes the king's voice and realizes that Richard himself is part of the plot to destroy him. Despite the favorites' words that the king is not actually present, Woodstock knows what is going on and knows that he will be taken to his death. He informs his captors that he is happy he will not live to see his nephew's downfall before the king orders him to be shipped off to Calais.

Act 4, Scene 3

Crosby, Fleming and Nimble discuss how Tresilian has arrested two shrieves and a number of other men for treason for disobeying the blank charters, when the justice enters with the shrieves of Northumberland and Kent. An argument breaks out between Tresilian and his prisoners where the shrieves claim their ancient rights are being violated by unfair taxes, while Tresilian attempts to explain that they are obligated to give the king whatever they can spare, before becoming flustered and having the men thrown in prison. Crosby, Fleming and Nimble then explain to Tresilian how seven hundred men have been arrested as "whistling" or "whispering" traitors. The justice tells them to punish the men accordingly when Bagot enters to inform him that Queen Anne is near death. Bushy then enters and announces that the queen has indeed died and that the king is distraught and taking comfort from the Duchess of Gloucester, which the favorites fear will reconcile Richard with his uncle and be detrimental to themselves. The king himself then enters with Scroop and, despite the comforting the favorites attempt to provide him with, he is in a panic, ordering Sheen palace, the place of the queen's death, to be torn down. To end the scene, the king orders the murder of Woodstock to be called off.

Act 5, Scene 1

At Calais, where Woodstock is being held prisoner, Lapoole gives orders to the two murderers to kill the duke without leaving any marks on his body, so that it will look like he died a natural death, and they will be duly rewarded. When the murderers depart, Lapoole delivers a soliloquy revealing his deep regret that he has been given this vile task of having a prince murdered. He sees that Woodstock is sleeping and goes to fetch the murderers. While he sleeps, Woodstock is visited by the ghosts of both his brother, Edward the Black Prince (the king's father), and his father, the late King Edward III, who warn him to flee from prison or he will die. Woodstock awakes in a panic and Lapoole is forced to dismiss the murderers for the time being. The duke seems completely aware that Lapoole is there to have him killed, but Lapoole does his best to calm Woodstock and assure him that all he must do is ask forgiveness from the king, and he shall be free to return home. Woodstock seems somewhat reassured by these words and asks for pen and paper so he may write to the king, not for forgiveness, but only that he wishes him well. Lapoole then sends back the murderers, who proceed to smother Woodstock to death. After the deed is done, Lapoole orders the men to lay the body back down on the bed. He then makes the guards believe that the murderers are invaders and orders them to be killed. When the murderers return they are immediately hacked down by the guards, who proceed to dump their bodies in the river. Lapoole says he shall depart for England to inform the king of the success of the mission.

Act 5, Scene 2

Tresilian and Nimble discuss their strategy against the rebelling lords, and the justice says he has sent out proclamations branding the royal uncles and their supporters as traitors. Both men known that if they are captured by the rebels, they will be executed and therefore decide that their best strategy is to flee.

Act 5, Scene 3

The royal uncles and their supporters comfort the Duchess of Gloucester and promise her that all those responsible for her husband's imprisonment shall be punished (they do not yet know that Woodstock is already dead). At this point, the army of Richard and his followers enters, and the king reprimands his uncles for taking up arms against him. Heinous statements and accusations are made on both sides before Bagot makes a final attempt to make peace with the rebels. Lancaster claims that the only way they will lay down their arms is if Woodstock is released from prison (which is obviously impossible) and that all of the evil royal favorites are removed from power and punished. The royal party wholeheartedly disagrees with these suggestions, and the two sides prepare to do battle.

Act 5, Scene 4

Cheney and Greene meet on the battlefield and begin to fight, but Arundel interrupts and ends up killing Greene. The king arrives and finds his friend dead and delivers a sad lament for him. He is not given much time to grieve though because the rest of the royal favorites arrive to inform the king that Lapoole has been taken captive, a reward is out for their capture and that the day is lost. Richard says they shall go into hiding and knows that this whole situation was caused by Woodstock's death.

Act 5, Scene 5

Tresilian, who is disguised, and Nimble discuss their plan of action now that the battle is lost and the king and his followers have been captured. At this point, Nimble turns on his master and informs him that he will turn him in in exchange for a pardon. Tresilian is then led off by his own servant.

Act 5, Scene 6

The lords, who have Lapoole, Bushy and Scroop as their prisoners, celebrate their victory over the royal party. It is revealed that Bagot has escaped to Bristol, and Tresilian is being searched for. Nimble then enters with Tresilian as his prisoner and informs the lords that he tricked his master in order to take him captive. As Nimble begins to explain the reasons why he turned Tresilian in, the play is abruptly cut off.

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