From 11:00PM PDT on Friday, July 1 until 5:00AM PDT on Saturday, July 2, the Shmoop engineering elves will be making tweaks and improvements to the site. That means Shmoop will be unavailable for use during that time. Thanks for your patience!
We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

Richard II Act 1, Scene 3 Summary

  • The day of the big throwdown (a.k.a. trial by combat) has finally arrived. Everyone gathers at the tournament arena in Coventry. (Psst. Here's what a medieval tournament arena looks like.)
  • Bolingbroke and Mowbray are all suited up in their armor and ready to throw down.
  • King Richard arrives and makes a big, red-carpet-worthy entry, complete with trumpet blasts and kneeling subjects. (In case you hadn't noticed, Richard's kind of a diva.)
  • Richard gives the go-ahead for the trial by combat to begin.
  • The Lord Marshal tells Mowbray to explain why he plans to fight.
  • Mowbray, more or less following the script for a duel, swears an oath to God and the king to prove that he's innocent and Bolingbroke is the one who is a traitor. Then Mowbray asks "heaven" to "defend" him.
  • Trumpets sound and Bolingbroke appears. The Lord Marshal asks him to give his name and present his case. He does.
  • Bolingbroke compares the fight to a pilgrimage (a trip to a holy land) and asks King Richard if he can kiss his hand goodbye.
  • Richard comes down from his shiny, bejeweled throne to hug Bolingbroke. He wishes him luck and says that if he's telling the truth about Mowbray being a traitor, hopefully he'll win the fight. Richard adds that if Henry loses, he'll probably cry for him, but he won't lift a finger to avenge his death.
  • Brain Snack: We've already explained that a trial by combat was a way for "gentlemen" to settle disputes in medieval England (where the play is set). During the trial, two noblemen would go toe to toe until one died or had to be taken off on a stretcher. The last guy standing was the winner. Here's something else you should know: in medieval England, people thought that God would make sure that the good guy won the fight and the bad guy lost. That way everyone would know who was lying and who was telling the truth. As a bonus, the guilty party would be punished in the process (by getting the you-know-what beat out of him).
  • Bolingbroke says not to worry. In Shakespearean trash-talk, he explains that he's like a falcon and Mowbray's like the bird the falcon hunts. Then he says goodbye to his father, "the earthly author of my blood," and asks him to pray for his success.
  • Gaunt says he hopes he hacks Mowbray's helmet in God's name.
  • Bolingbroke answers that his innocence and Saint George's will win the day. (FYI – Saint George was the patron saint of England, so Henry's basically trying to make himself England's rep.)
  • When it's Mowbray's turn to speak, he says his cause is just and makes fun of Bolingbroke's big, violent speeches: "truth has a quiet breast," he says.
  • Richard is a little chilly toward Mowbray. He doesn't hug him, but he does say he sees "virtue with valour" in Mowbray's eye.
  • Just as the throwdown is about to start, Richard steps in and is all, "Hold up a minute, guys. I've changed my mind and don't want you two hacking into each other with your swords and staining the earth with your blood."
  • Richard says Mowbray and Bolingbroke need to go back to their chairs and wait for him. He goes off somewhere with his advisors to talk about what should happen next.
  • When Richard comes back, he announces that he's banishing Mowbray from the kingdom... forever. (Dang. That's what Mowbray gets for being obedient to King Richard?)
  • Also, he's banishing Bolingbroke from the kingdom for ten years.
  • Mowbray calls this "a heavy sentence" and compares his banishment to being imprisoned, since he doesn't speak any language but English, which won't be any use to him if he's sent to go live in a foreign country.
  • Richard tells him it's no use whining – he's made up his mind and wants Mowbray gone ASAP.
  • Richard tells both Bolingbroke and Mowbray to swear on the king's sword that they won't see each other, write to each other, or communicate ever again. Also, they have to swear that they'll never plot against him while they're banished. (Yeah right.)
  • Bolingbroke tries to get Mowbray to fess up. He says he might as well tell the truth, since they're both banished anyway.
  • Mowbray says if he's a traitor, his name should be crossed out from the book of life (in other words, he would be damned). He adds that he, like God, knows the truth about Bolingbroke. (In other words, nobody's about to admit anything.)
  • Richard notices that John of Gaunt is really bummed out that his kid is getting booted out of the country.
  • Richard makes what he thinks is a generous offer. He says that since Gaunt has been so loyal and is so old, he'll shorten Bolingbroke's banishment by four years so Henry can come back to England in six years instead of ten.
  • Bolingbroke makes a smart-aleck crack about how powerful the "breath of kings" can be (since by uttering just a few official words, Richard can seemingly make four years of Henry's life go by in an instant.)
  • Gaunt says Richard's offer is no good. Since he's super old, he'll probably be dead by the time his son gets to come home, even if the banishment is six years instead of ten.
  • Richard tries to make Gaunt feel better and says something like, "Don't be silly, Gaunt, of course you'll be alive when Henry comes home."
  • Gaunt's not having it. He points out that kings can shorten other people's lives (by sentencing them to death, etc.) but they can't make people live longer.
  • Then Richard gets defensive. He says he's shocked to hear Gaunt say all of this, because Gaunt's the one who advised him to banish Bolingbroke and Mowbray in the first place.
  • Gaunt's all, "Yeah, but when I said that I was hoping you'd step up and say that banishment is too harsh. Plus, you never should have asked me about punishing my own son."
  • Richard tunes this out and tells Gaunt to say adios to his kid.
  • Everyone says goodbye to Bolingbroke.
  • Bolingbroke is silent.
  • When Gaunt asks his son why he's being so quiet, Bolingbroke claims he doesn't have the right words to express his pain, so he's just not going to say anything at all.
  • Gaunt tries to comfort him. He tells him to think of his banishment as an adventure and a place to get "honour." He suggests that Bolingbroke pretend the roles were reversed: "Think not the king did banish thee, / But thou the king." (Foreshadowing alert! Get your highlighters out, because this is important.)
  • Bolingbroke says he's not in the mood to play "let's pretend."
  • Then Bolingbroke says goodbye to England, and says at least he can say that he's "a trueborn Englishman."

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...