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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Act I, Scene 1
The play opens in Windsor Castle. King Richard asks his uncle, John of Gaunt, "time-honor'd Lancaster" if he has, according to his oath, made his son, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, prove his claim that Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, is guilty of treason. Richard further asks Gaunt if he has questioned Bolingbroke on the matter and found out whether the charges arose out of a genuine concern for national safety and security or whether he bears a personal grudge against Thomas Mowbray. When Gaunt assures Richard that Henry does not have any personal malice against Mowbray and that his accusations are indeed a result of his loyalty as a subject, Richard calls for the two men and says that he will hear "the accuser and the accused freely speak." When the two men enter, they greet Richard in the traditional manner, praying for his health and happiness. Richard thanks them and plunges immediately into the delicate issue by asking Henry Bolingbroke to substantiate his charge of high treason against Thomas Mowbray.
Bolingbroke defends his charges against Mowbray. He says that he has come here out of a concern for "the precious safety of (his) prince" and not out of any "misbegotten hate." He charges Mowbray with being "a traitor and a miscreant / Too good to be so and too bad to live...". He calls him a "foul traitor " and says that his sword will prove what his tongue speaks. Mowbray interrupts, saying that this is not "a woman's war," which can be settled by bickering. Mowbray says Bolingbroke's royal status prevents him from being free in his speech, but he nevertheless asserts, "I do defy him, and I spit at him; / Call him a slanderous coward and a villain...". Mowbray thus defends his loyalty by saying that he would fight Bolingbroke anywhere to prove his innocence. Bolingbroke throws down his glove as an indication of his acceptance of a trial by combat. Mowbray picks up the glove to accept the challenge. Thereupon Richard asks Bolingbroke to clarify his charges against Mowbray.
Mowbray does confess that there was a plot against Gloucester's life, and that he unfortunately played no part in it. Mowbray does confess to one misdeed in the past, for which he has since repented: he tried to kill John of Gaunt. Mowbray says that the remainder of the charges have their source in the " rancor of a villain..." Accepting Henry's challenge to a duel, he asks King Richard to assign a day for their trial by combat. Richard attempts to pacify them and asks them to settle this problem without bloodshed. He tells John of Gaunt to help by subduing his son (Bolingbroke), while he himself will take care of Duke of Norfolk (Mowbray). However, both Richard's and John of Gaunt's attempts to effect a reconciliation between the two men are useless. Mowbray refuses to back down. When Richard tries to persuade him further, Mowbray states, "...mine honor let me try ; / In that I live and for that I will die." Bolingbroke responds in a similar spirit. Seeing that there is nothing that he can do to prevent the duel, John of Gaunt exits. Richard realizes that the men are in no mood for reconciliation and so orders a trial by combat to be held at Coventry to settle the dispute on Saint Lambert's Day (September 17).