Richard II was probably written and first performed in 1595. Shakespeare’s principal source for the play was the second edition of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, published in 1587. Shakespeare may also have drawn from a number of additional sources including an anonymous play entitled Thomas of Woodstock, Jean Froissart’s Chronicles (1525), Edward Halle’s The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548), A Mirror for Magistrates (1559), Samuel Daniel’s The Civil Wars (1595), and three French manuscript accounts of King Richard’s reign. It is possible, as well, that Shakespeare was influenced by Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II (c. 1593). This play, like Richard II, also deals with a monarch who is ill-suited to govern and ultimately abdicates the throne.
The story Shakespeare tells in Richard II precedes those told in Henry IV, Parts I and II and Henry V. The last three plays, which continue the saga of the House of Lancaster, were written and produced between 1597 and 1599. It is likely that Shakespeare had a series of plays in mind when he wrote Richard II, for he had earlier written a four-part cycle of English chronicle plays comprising the Henry VI trilogy and Richard III.
The reign of the historical Richard II took place between 1377 and 1399; the...
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In this section:
- Shakespeare’s Language
- Shakespeare’s Sentences
- Shakespeare’s Words
- Shakespeare’s Wordplay
- Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse
- Implied Stage Action
Shakespeare’s language can create a strong pang of intimidation, even fear, in a large number of modern-day readers. Fortunately, however, this need not be the case. All that is needed to master the art of reading Shakespeare is to practice the techniques of unraveling uncommonly-structured sentences and to become familiar with the poetic use of uncommon words. We must realize that during the 400-year span between Shakespeare’s time and our own, both the way we live and speak has changed. Although most of his vocabulary is in use today, some of it is obsolete, and what may be most confusing is that some of his words are used today, but with slightly different or totally different meanings. On the stage, actors readily dissolve these language stumbling blocks. They study Shakespeare’s dialogue and express it dramatically in word and in action so that its meaning is graphically enacted. If the reader studies Shakespeare’s lines as an actor does, looking up and...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*England. Set during the late fourteenth century reign of the historical English king Richard II, the play does much to offer audiences a variety of English locales, encompassed by a sense of national identity. This emphasis is not merely a mark of Shakespeare’s English patriotism, but a recognition of the crucial link between a king and his land. When John of Gaunt curses his nephew King Richard for exiling his (John’s) son, he calls on the land to reject its sovereign and prophesies that the land will suffer from the blood of the countrymen who will die as a result of Richard’s mismanagement.
Battlefields. After King Richard goes to Ireland to prosecute a war, he returns to find Henry Bolingbroke, whom he had earlier exiled, back in his lands and supported by a considerable army. Although armed conflicts in the play are minimal, they take place on the field of contention, and much of the play’s middle action transpires over clashes of armed men.
Royal palace. The first and last scenes of the play are set at England’s royal court, whose throne and altar of kingship project the cold power inherent in the royal court. Richard’s confrontation with his uncle John of Gaunt and his conversation with his queen are set in secluded private rooms, which project a palpable sense of the division between the king’s public persona and his private...
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Act I Questions and Answers
1. What accusations does Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, bring against Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk?
2. How does King Richard decide to settle the conflict between Bolingbroke and Mowbray?
3. Who does John of Gaunt blame for the Duke of Gloucester’s murder?
4. Why does the Duchess of Gloucester revoke her invitation for her brother-in-law, the Duke of York, to visit her?
5. What signal does the King give to halt the combat between Bolingbroke and Mowbray before it begins?
6. What penalties does King Richard initially impose on Bolingbroke and Mowbray?
7. What oath does King Richard make Bolingbroke and Mowbray swear upon his sword?
8. Why does King Richard change the sentence he imposes on Bolingbroke, and what are the terms of his new sentence?
9. How do we know that Bolingbroke is popular among the common people?
10. What is King Richard’s response when he learns that John of Gaunt is seriously ill?
1. Bolingbroke accuses Mowbray of misappropriating funds intended for the King’s military forces in France. He also accuses Mowbray of plotting the Duke of Gloucester’s murder.
2. King Richard, after failing in his attempts to arbitrate the conflict between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, decrees that they will meet in man to man combat “At Coventry upon Saint Lambert’s Day.”...
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Act II Questions and Answers
1. Why does John of Gaunt hope that King Richard will visit him on his deathbed?
2. What possessions does King Richard seize after Gaunt dies?
3. Who does King Richard appoint Lord Governor of England in his absence?
4. What news does the Earl of Northumberland share with Lord Willoughby and Lord Ross?
5. Why has Bolingbroke delayed his arrival in England?
6. What reasons does the Queen give to explain her sadness?
7. What information does Sir Henry Green deliver to the Queen?
8. Whose death does the Servingman report to the Duke of York?
9. hat does the Duke of York tell Bolingbroke his official position will be in Bolingbroke’s conflict with King Richard?
10. hat omens have made the Welsh Captain believe that King Richard is dead?
1. John of Gaunt hopes that King Richard will visit him on his deathbed so that he might “breathe my last/ In wholesome counsel” to the King. Although Richard has, in the past, paid little heed to his advice, Gaunt believes that he will pay attention to the words of a dying man.
2. After Gaunt dies, King Richard seizes his “plate, his goods, his money, and his lands.”
3. King Richard appoints his uncle, the Duke of York, as Lord Governor of England.
4. The Earl of Northumberland tells Willoughby and Ross that Bolingbroke,...
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Act III Questions and Answers
1. Which two characters does Bolingbroke order to be executed?
2. What reasons does Bolingbroke give for these executions?
3. Why does King Richard believe that Bolingbroke’s rebellion will fail?
4. Where does Richard resolve to seek refuge from Boling¬broke’s forces?
5. Who shares Richard’s refuge?
6. What does Bolingbroke claim as his purpose in confronting the King with his army?
7. What does King Richard anticipate if he submits to Boling¬broke?
8. What is Bolingbroke’s first response when the King comes down from the walls of the castle?
9. What diversions does the Queen’s Lady-in-Waiting suggest to cheer her spirits?
10. What herb does the Gardener promise to plant at the spot where one of the Queen’s tears fell?
1. Bolingbroke orders the executions of Bushy and Green.
2. Bolingbroke asserts that Bushy and Green have misled the King and caused a breach between the King and Queen. He also claims that they made the King misinterpret him and subsequently pillaged his estate.
3. Richard maintains that Bolingbroke’s rebellion will fail because he is king by divine right. He comments that “Not all the water in the rough rude sea/ Can wash the balm off from an annointed king;/ The breath of worldly men cannot depose/ The deputy elected by the Lord.”...
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Act IV Questions and Answers
1. What charges does Sir William Bagot bring against the Duke of Aumerle?
2. Which noblemen support Bagot’s charges?
3. Who defends Aumerle against the accusations that are made?
4. What does the Bishop of Carlisle predict if Bolingbroke is crowned as King Henry IV?
5. What is the Earl of Northumberland’s response to the Bishop of Carlisle’s prophecy?
6. What does the Duke of York tell Richard when he asks why Bolingbroke has sent for him?
7. What object does King Richard request after his abdication and what does he do with this object?
8. Where does Bolingbroke order that Richard is to be held as prisoner?
9. When does Bolingbroke announce that his coronation will take place?
10. Who instigates a plot against the new king?
1. Bagot accuses the Duke of Aumerle of plotting the Duke of Gloucester’s murder. He also accuses Aumerle of swearing he would refuse the offer of a hundred thousand crowns rather than see Bolingbroke’s return to England, and he claims Aumerle had declared that England would be “blest” if Bolingbroke died in exile.
2. Lord Fitzwater, Harry Percy, and an unnamed Lord support Bagot’s accusations.
3. The Duke of Surrey defends Aumerle.
4. The Bishop of Carlisle prophesies civil war and bloodshed for generations to come if...
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Act V Questions and Answers
1. Where does King Richard urge his Queen to make her future home?
2. Where does King Henry IV send Richard to be imprisoned after changing his mind about sending him to the Tower of London?
3. What humiliations does the Duke of York tell his wife that King Richard suffered as he was led into London?
4. What information is contained in the letter the Duke of York seizes from his son?
5. What do the Duke and Duchess of York urge King Henry to do with their son, the Duke of Aumerle?
6. What duties did the Groom perform at one time for King Richard?
7. Why does the Keeper refuse to taste King Richard’s food?
8. Who murders King Richard?
9. What sentence does King Henry pronounce upon the Bishop of Carlisle?
10. What does King Henry plan to do to absolve his guilt about the murder of Richard II?
1. King Richard tells the Queen to seek refuge in a convent in France.
2. King Henry revokes his order sending Richard to the Tower of London and decides to send him instead to imprisonment at Pomfret Castle.
3. The Duke of York tells his wife that King Richard, as he was being led through the streets of London, had dust and rubbish thrown on his head. York also tells his wife that Bolingbroke was cheered by the crowd, while “no joyful tongue” gave Richard “his welcome home.”...
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Shakespeare's examination of kingship in Richard II focuses mainly on the conflict between the legal and divine right to rule, and the effectiveness of the ruler. Many critics agree that in Richard II, King Richard is legally the rightful king; that he is commonly recognized by other characters in the play as having the divine right to rule; and that despite these rights, King Richard does not show himself to be an effective ruler. It is this opposition between Richard's right to rule and his failure to do so effectively that is the subject of much critical debate. In addition to examining this conflict within the play, some critics conjecture that the way in which Shakespeare presents these issues reflects his thoughts on the rule of the monarch who served during Shakespeare's lifetime: Queen Elizabeth. It has been noted that Bolingbroke and Richard both represent aspects of kingship which can be related to Queen Elizabeth: Bolingbroke acts like a ruler and has the popular support of the people, whereas Richard holds the right to rule. Additionally, the historical Richard II was often compared to Queen Elizabeth in the later years of her reign, as she, like Richard, had no heirs and the problem of succession was on the minds of the people. Due to the similarities between both Bolingbroke and Richard to Queen Elizabeth, some feel that Shakespeare felt compelled to render both Bolingbroke and Richard in a sympathetic manner. The...
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At first glance, the world of Richard II appears to have little in common with ours. The play itself is written entirely in formal, often rhyming, lines of poetic verse rather than in the prose which today's audiences are used to hearing. Also unfamiliar to modern audiences is Richard's preoccupation with divine right, a doctrine which holds that a king's fitness to rule is determined by God only and not by the people. As Richard puts it when he feels his authority as ruler is being questioned:
show us the hand of God That hath dismiss'd us from our stewardship, For well we know no hand of blood and bone Can gripe the sacred handle of our sceptre, Unless he do profane, steal, or usurp. (III.iii.77-81)
(As king—whether divinely appointed or not— Richard speaks for the nation as a whole, and that is why he refers to himself in the first-person plural: "show us the hand of God," "for well we know," etc.)
There are, however, other issues in Richard II which remain relevant today. One example is the conflict that occurs between family members and between generations. Most of the principal characters in the play are related to one another. Richard's grandfather was King Edward III. Richard's father (who died before he could become king) was Edward, prince of Wales (also known as the "Black Prince"). The prince of Wales was the oldest brother of John of Gaunt (also known as the duke of...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Evans, Gareth Lloyd. The Upstart Crow: An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Plays. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1982. A comprehensive discussion of the dramatic works of William Shakespeare. While the major emphasis is on critical reviews of the plays, there are also discussions of sources and information on the circumstances surrounding the writing of the plays.
Holderness, Graham, ed. Shakespeare’s History Plays: “Richard II” to “Henry V.” New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. An anthology of critical works on Shakespeare’s history plays. James L. Calderwood’s “Richard II: Metadrama and the Fall of Speech” discusses the language used in the play and the power of that language as used by King Richard and his rival, Bolingbroke.
Leggatt, Alexander. Shakespeare’s Political Drama: The History Plays and the Roman Plays. New York: Routledge, 1988. A discussion of the Shakespeare plays dealing with English history from the reign of King Henry II to that of Henry VIII, and with the three plays dealing with Roman history.
Pierce, Robert B. Shakespeare’s History Plays: The Family and the State. Columbus: University of Ohio Press, 1971. A general discussion of Shakespeare’s history plays. Pierce considers Richard II to be a direct forerunner of the plays on Henry IV and V....
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