Richard II | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard II | Act 5, Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

Back at the palace, Henry IV learns all his enemies are either defeated or dead. He says he will reward those who have helped in this effort. When the Bishop of Carlisle is brought before him, he pardons the clergyman because, even though Carlisle has always been his enemy, Henry IV has seen "[h]igh sparks of honour" in him. Suddenly, Exton enters with Richard's coffin, expecting a warm welcome (and probably a reward). But Henry IV appears to be horrified at what Exton has done, and refuses to honor or reward him. Seemingly remorseful for how his words were taken, he laments "[t]hat blood should sprinkle me to make me grow." He promises to "make a voyage to the Holy Land, / To wash the blood off from my guilty hand." He exits, following the coffin containing the body of Richard.

Analysis

While Henry IV has just talked about rewarding supporters who help deal with his enemies, he does not reward Exton for getting rid of Richard. If Richard had lived, he likely would have been a constant source of tension and conflict—an invitation to more civil war. Exton has solved a big problem for the new king, but Henry IV cannot acknowledge it; he's all too aware of how Richard's role in killing the Duke of Gloucester added to the former king's problems.

Henry IV admirably navigates a tricky situation. He is just in denouncing the murder of Richard, yet merciful as he pardons Carlisle. He rewards his supporters. He shows humility and religious devotion as he plans to mourn Richard and make a pilgrimage to be absolved of the blood spilled on his behalf. The stage seems set for a peaceful reign. Unfortunately, that is not to be.

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