King Richard the Second is a history
play by William Shakespeare believed to
have been written in approximately
It is based on the life of King Richard II
of England (ruled 1377–1399) and is the
first part of a tetralogy, referred to by
some scholars as the Henriad, followed
by three plays concerning Richard's
successors: Henry IV, Part 1; Henry
IV, Part 2; and Henry V. It may not have
been written as a stand-alone work.
Although the First Folio (1623) edition of
Shakespeare's works lists the play as a
history play, the earlier Quarto edition of
1597 calls it The tragedie of King Richard
King Richard II
John of Gaunt, Duke of
Lancaster – Richard's uncle
Duke of York – Richard's uncle
Duke of Aumerle – York's son
Thomas Mowbray, Duke of
Queen – Richard's wife
Duchess of York – York's wife
Duchess of Gloucester – widow
of Duke of Gloucester, uncle to the
Henry Bolingbroke – Duke
of Hereford, son of John of
Gaunt, later King Henry IV
Earl of Northumberland
Henry 'Hotspur' Percy –
Sir Piers Exton
The first Act begins with King Richard
sitting majestically on his throne in full
state. We learn that Henry Bolingbroke,
is having a dispute with Thomas
Mowbray, and they both want the king
to act as judge.
The subject of the quarrel is
Bolingbroke's accusation that Mowbray
had squandered monies given to him by
Richard for the King's soldiers.
Bolingbroke also accuses Mowbray of
the recent murder of the Duke of
Gloucester, although John of Gaunt
believes that Richard himself was
responsible for the murder. [video]
After several attempts to calm both men,
Richard agrees and Bolingbroke and
Mowbray challenge each other to a duel,
over the objections of both Richard and
Richard’s First Error
Richard interrupts the duel at
the very beginning and
sentences both men to
banishment from England.
Bolingbroke has to leave for six
years, whereas Mowbray is
The king's decision can be seen
as the first mistake in a series
that will lead eventually to his
overthrow and death. Indeed,
Mowbray predicts that the king
will fall sooner or later.
The Second Error
John of Gaunt dies and
Richard II seizes all of his
land and money.
This angers the nobility,
who accuse Richard of
wasting England's money, of
taking Gaunt's money to
fund a war with Ireland, of
taxing the commoners, and
of fining the nobles for
crimes their ancestors
His Enemies Move
While Richard is gone to
lead a war in Ireland, his
enemies secretly bring back
the exiled Bolingbroke, who
raises an army against the
King, and also crowns
himself King Henry IV.
When King Richard II
returns to England, he is cast
into prison, where he is later
murdered by the ambitious
Richard’s Fatal Flaw
Richard II would appear to have all the
advantages over Bolingbroke. He is the
rightful king during a time when kings
were thought to rule by divine right.
However, Richard is ill-suited to the
throne. He has no sense of justice, as can
be seen when he seizes Gaunt's lands
and disinherits Gaunt's son Bolingbroke.
The medieval social order rested in part
on the correct, legal transmission of titles
and property. When Richard violates
this, he disrupts the social order.
He appears to have no concept of the
general welfare. He makes policy to suit
himself, and he does not have the gift of
surrounding himself with wise advisors.
As shown in the first Act, Richard is
mainly concerned with raising money for
a war in Ireland. But when he is faced
with a crisis, Richard becomes weak and
passive. He can only act decisively when
everything is going in his favor.
Faced with the threat from
Bolingbroke, he goes to pieces, as far as
taking effective action is concerned. All
he can do to impose his will on events is
to summon up in words the full majesty
of his status as king.
He assumes that everyone will submit to
him simply because of his royal status.
When this does not happen, he is
"This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-Paradise."
John of Gaunt's speech on England. Act 2, scene 1, line 40-42
O but they say the tongues of dying men
Enforce attention like deep harmony,
Where words are scarce, they are seldom
spent in vain,
For they breathe truth that breathe their
words in pain.
John of Gaunt’s speech. Act 2, scene 1, line 5-8
"Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm from an anointed king;
The breath of worldly men cannot depose
The deputy elected by the Lord."
Richard II on the sacred nature of kingship. Act 3, scene 2,
"Of comfort no man speak:
Let's talk of graves, of worms, of epitaphs;
Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.
Let's choose executors, and talk of wills."
Richard when he realizes that defeat is inevitable. Act
3, scene 2, lines 144-48
"See, see, King Richard doth himself appear,
As doth the blushing discontented sun
From out the fiery portals of the east.
Act 3, scene 3, lines 62-64
"Go, bind thou up yon dangling apricots,
Which, like unruly children, make their sire
Stoop with oppression of their prodigal
The gardener instructing his assistant. Act 3, scene 4, lines 29-
“…let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed;
some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts
they have deposed;
Some poison'd by their wives:
some sleeping kill'd;
All murder'd: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court…”
Richard when he realizes that defeat is inevitable. Act 3,
Now this golden crown, like a deep well
That owes two buckets, filling one another,
The emptier ever dancing in the air,
…That bucket down and full of tears am I,
Drinking my griefs whilst you mount up on
high. King Richard, Act 4 scene 1, lines 184-189
"As in a theatre, the eyes of men,
After a well-grac'd actor leaves the stage,
Are idly bent on him that enters next,
Thinking his prattle to be tedious."
York describes the reaction of the crowd in London to the
sight of the deposed Richard. Act 5, scene 2, lines 23-26
"I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world."
Richard's thoughts when he is imprisoned in Pomfret Castle.
Act 5, scene 5, lines 1-2
"You may my glories and my state depose,
But not my griefs; still I am king of those."
Richard in the abdication scene. Act 4, scene 1, lines 192-93
"That were some love but little policy."
Northumberland's reply to the queen's request that she and
Richard be sent into exile together. Act 5, scene 1, line 84
The Shakespeare histories dramatize the Hundred Years War with France and therefore
comprises the Henry Tetralogy, Richard II, Richard III and King John – many of which
feature the same characters at different ages.
In writing the history plays, Shakespeare was not attempting to render a historically
accurate picture of the past. Rather, he was writing for the entertainment of his theater
audience and therefore molded historical events to suit their prejudices.
The history plays say more about Shakespeare’s time than the Medieval society in which
they are set. For example, Shakespeare cast King Henry V as an everyman hero to exploit
the growing sense of patriotism in England. His depiction of this character is not
necessarily historically accurate.
Shakespeare’s history plays offer a view of society that cuts right across the class system.
These plays present us with all kinds of characters from lowly-beggars to the monarchy. In
fact, it is not uncommon for characters from both ends of the social strata to play scenes
together. Most memorable is Henry V and Falstaff who turn up in a number of the history
Richard II on Film
Richard II was first
filmed in 1950 for a TV
movie, and has since
received over twenty
film and TV adaptions.
In 2012, BBC television
adapted it as part of
their Henriad entitled
“The Hollow Crown”
A Nutsy the Squirrel Production
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