Richard II | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard II | Act 5, Scene 5 | Summary



Richard, alone in prison at Pomfret castle, reflects on his life, saying, "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me." Music begins to play, and then singing, and Richard realizes someone still loves him. A visitor arrives—a groom who took care of Richard's horses when he was still king. The groom describes to Richard how Bolingbroke rode to his coronation on Richard's horse. Richard is momentarily angry, but then he realizes the horse was just doing its job. The groom leaves, and the keeper of the prison enters with food. Strangely, the keeper refuses to taste the food to ensure it isn't poisoned, telling Richard that Sir Pierce of Exton has commanded him not to do so. Richard is suspicious and attacks the keeper. Exton and some murderers-for-hire burst in and fight Richard, who kills one or more of the attackers but finally is killed at the hand of Exton. As Richard dies, he says, "Mount, mount, my soul. Thy seat is up on high, / Whilst my gross flesh sinks downward, here to die." Exton says the former king was brave, and he regrets his action.


The scene of Richard's death is a fascinating expose on Richard's thoughts, as he is alone with them in prison. He begins by setting himself a riddle of sorts: how to compare the prison to the world, even though the world is full of people and the prison is not. He solves this riddle by imagining his brain as a female and his body as a male, and the two breeding and having offspring—thoughts with which he can "people" his solitary world. In his thoughts he has many identities, from beggar to king: "Thus play I in one person many people." This suggests another way he might populate his lonely prison world. It also recalls the theme of performance, as Richard speaks of his thoughts as if they allow him to play various roles.

As Richard dies, his last words echo the imagery of ascending and descending, sunrise and sunset, woven throughout the play. In this use of the image, Richard's soul ascends, mounting "up on high," while his "flesh sinks downward, here to die."

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