Richard: please can I go now? Off to the Tower… (4.1.302-320) #KingedUnKinged

RICHARD                                            I’ll beg one boon

And then be gone and trouble you no more.

Shall I obtain it?

BOLINGBROKE                                  Name it, fair cousin.

RICHARD                    ‘Fair cousin’? I am greater than a king,

For when I was a king my flatterers

Were then but subjects. Being now a subject,

I have a king here to my flatterer—

Being so great, I have no need to beg.

BOLINGBROKE          Yet ask.

RICHARD                    And shall I have?

BOLINGBROKE          You shall.

RICHARD                    Then give me leave to go.

BOLINGBROKE          Whither?

RICHARD                    Whither you will, so I were from your sights.

BOLINGBROKE          Go some of you, convey him to the Tower.

RICHARD                    O, good—‘convey’. Conveyors are you all

That rise thus nimbly by a true king’s fall.

[Exit Richard under guard]

BOLINGBROKE          On Wednesday next we solemnly set down

Our coronation. Lords, prepare yourselves.           (4.1.302-320)


This is end-game, last-gasp stuff, but the end comes sooner than we might imagine; Richard must be so, so tired, but he hasn’t quite given up the fight yet. Just one more thing, I’ll beg one boon, ask one favour, and then be gone and trouble you no more. Will you grant me that? Name it, fair cousin, replies Bolingbroke: there could be menace, but also just long-suffering patience, even boredom. After all, Bolingbroke knows he’s won. Richard can’t resist a final go: ‘fair cousin’? look at me, I am greater than a king, for when I was a king my flatterers—perhaps a speaking look at some of those assembled—were then but subjects. But now that I’m a subject myself, I have a king here to my flatterer. (Bolingbroke isn’t flattering him at all, of course, merely being courteous; he can afford to be. Richard’s just point-scoring, with faux humility.) Yet ask. And shall I have? You shall. Say you’ll grant my request, even before you know what it is. OK. Nerves? Powerplay? Whatever it is, it seems as if all the fight’s gone out of Richard, all at once. Then give me leave to go. Please can I go now? Please may I be excused? So tired. Whither? Where do you want to go? Anywhere—a final, half-hearted lash—so I were from your sights. Anywhere at all, so long as I don’t have to look at you any longer. Or be looked at by you. Any of you.

Bolingbroke’s reply can still seem brutal in its finality, and Richard might well recoil, and the audience too: Go some of you, convey him to the Tower. Bolingbroke has all the power. Richard may have won most of the verbal skirmishes, controlled the scene, swayed the audience’s emotions—but Bolingbroke has won the war. And Richard’s bitter exit lines—playing on the sense of convey meaning to steal, and hence conveyors as thieves—underscores that, especially in the form of an aphoristic couplet. All of you here are guilty; you have profited by a true king’s fall. The rise/fall opposition is feeble, colourless in comparison with the extraordinary conceits and gestures which Richard has previously developed to express this trope. And he is not free to go, but taken, under guard, to the Tower, a place full of terror.

Bolingbroke’s complete lack of response—on to the next agenda item, our coronation, next week, prepare yourselves—is a chilly (non) echo of Richard’s flippant ‘moving on’ response to the death of Gaunt: so much for that. Bolingbroke’s not even going to give Richard that much. He never speaks to Richard again, and he doesn’t say goodbye.

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