Looking into the mirror, Richard reflects on his face and the kingdom he has lost, before throwing it to the ground and shattering the glass. He says then that sorrow has destroyed his face. To this comment the new king responds that the shadow of sorrow destroyed the shadow of his face, and Richard responds by saying that it’s true, beginning a brief speech that explores interiority. Richard says that any outward showing of grief is just a shadow to the true, internal grief. Inside, says Richard, is where the true substance lies. After this speech, Richard asks to be taken away, just so that he doesn’t have to see Henry anymore; the old king is then taken to the tower, and most everyone exits.
Dramatically, Richard shatters the mirror on the ground. Henry jokes that the shadow of sorrow (the outward expression of sadness) has destroyed the shadow of Richard’s face (his reflection). Richard then remarks that Henry is right, saying that any outward display of grief is just a shadow of the true substance of grief, which is purely internal. These lines show Shakespeare’s forward-thinking work on the self and ideas of appearance and reality and the interior vs. the exterior.
At parliament, Bagot indicts Aumerle as the man responsible for the Duke of Gloucester’s death, resulting in a rash of challenges and recrimminations. Calling Bagot a liar and someone unworthy of a nobleman’s challenge, Aumerle, nonetheless, issues Bagot a formal challenge. When a nobleman comes to Bagot’s defense, the Duke of Surrey advocates Aumerle’s cause which in turn compels Lord Fitzwater to side with Bagot, claiming that the banished Duke of Norfolk would attest to Bagot’s indictment. Bullingbrook’s determination to repeal Norfolk’s exile so that he may return and testify is negated, however, when the Bishop of Carlisle informs the assembly of Norfolk’s death.
York joins the proceedings, at this point, to inform Bullingbrook that King Richard has consented to abdicate and to accept Bullinbrook’s coronation. This intelligence so upsets Carlisle that he knowingly condemns himself, proclaiming Richard to be the rightful King of England and the current proceedings to be an abomination. The Abbot of Westminster is ordered to keep Aumerle and Carlisle in custody until their days of trial.
Anon, King Richard is brought to the proceedings. He is to publicly read the list of his crimes and improprieties committed against the state, in addition to announcing his abdication and his endorsement of Bullingbrook as England’s new king. Richard doesn’t hesitate at all to fulfill the latter two of his obligations but he balks when urged to self-incriminate himself. He is urged to read the list of his crimes repeatedly, angering him which prompts Bullingbrook to forego this aspect of the proceedings. He asks Richard what it is that he desires. To be removed to a place where he--Richard--will not have to look upon Bullingbrook, Richard says. Bullingbrook grants Richard his wish. He is sent to the Tower.
Carlisle and Aumerle are devastated at what they have just witnessed. There is a measure of relief, however, when the Abbot of Westminster confides in them of a plan which is already in motion, a plan to subvert Bullingbrook and his followers.
Literature Network » William Shakespeare » Richard II » Summary Act 4