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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3586

The following paper topics are based on the entire play. Following each topic is a thesis and sample outline. Use these as a starting point for your paper.

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Topic #1
In the first five scenes of Richard II, Shakespeare depicts his protagonist as a weak, capricious king with a number of less than admirable qualities. However, in later scenes Richard becomes a more sympathetic character. Write an essay that examines what we learn about King Richard’s personal qualities in each of the play’s five acts, focusing on the ways in which he changes and grows during the course of the play.

I. Thesis Statement: Although Shakespeare depicts King Richard as weak and capricious in the first five scenes of Richard II, the King becomes a more sympathetic character during the course of the play.

II. Act I
A. King Richard is revealed as ineffectual when he is unable to arbitrate a quarrel between two of his noblemen
B. In Scene 2, we learn that King Richard was responsible for the murder of his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester
C. In Scene 3, King Richard capriciously halts the trial by combat of Bolingbroke and Mowbray before it can begin and imposes unequal sentences of banishment on the adversaries; he banishes Bolingbroke for ten years and Mowbray for life
D. The King is flippant when he remarks that he has “plucked four away” from Bolingbroke’s sentence, and when he tells Gaunt, “Why! uncle, thou has many years to live”
E. In Scene 4, we see King Richard mocking the banished Bolingbroke; the King also reveals that he has little concern for the common citizens of his realm
F. King Richard reveals his lack of scruples when he decides to mortgage royal lands and authorizes blank checks to be written in the names of his subjects; he is shockingly callous when he expresses the hope that his uncle, John of Gaunt, will die so he can seize his estate for the crown

A. In Scene 1, we learn through the conversation of Gaunt and the Duke of York that King Richard is extravagant, listens only to his flattering courtiers, and cares little for wise advice; Gaunt laments that his beloved England under Richard’s reign has fallen into a perilous state of decline
B. When Gaunt, on his deathbed, scolds King Richard for ordering the Duke of Gloucester’s murder and bringing England to the brink of financial ruin, the King, unable to accept criticism, becomes furious and calls his uncle a “lunatic, lean-witted fool”
C. After the news is brought of Gaunt’s death, Richard, without considering the potential consequences, seizes Gaunt’s estate to finance his Irish campaign, disinheriting Henry Bolingbroke
D. Richard callously ignores the Duke of York’s warning that in seizing Gaunt’s estate he is challenging the entire system of inheritance that made him King
E. We learn in the conversation between Northumberland, Willoughby, and Ross that Richard has been “basely led by flatterers”; we also learn that he has imposed unpopular fines and taxes on the nobles and commoners and has lost the respect and allegience of many of his countrymen
F. In Act II, Scene 2, the Queen reveals that Richard, despite his many faults, is a man who is loved and missed; her concern for her “sweet Richard” represents a turning point in the way the King is depicted and casts him in a more sympathetic light

A. Richard returns to England after his Irish campaign a changed man; in Scene 2, he expresses a love of his native land
B. Confronted by a series of disasters—the loss of his Welsh army, Bolingbroke’s growing strength, and the capture and execution of his favorites—Richard reveals a new dimension to his nature: he emerges as a sensitive, imaginative poet-philosopher who muses eloquently about the “death of kings” and the “hollow crown”
C. In this same speech, Richard reveals that he is an ordinary man who suffers as well as a king when he comments poignantly to his remaining supporters: “I live with bread like you, feel want,/ Taste grief, need friends” (175-176)
D. Realizing his cause is lost, Richard generously releases his remaining soldiers “To ear the land that hath some hope to grow” (212)
E. In Scene 3, King Richard, eloquent in defeat, contemplates exchanging the trappings of his kingship for an austere religious life; he anticipates martyrdom and an “obscure grave”

V. Act IV
A. Richard, called before Parliament to formally abdicate, emphasizes his personal sorrow at being forced to renounce his throne
B. Richard reveals defiant courage when he stresses that Bolingbroke is a traitorous usurper
C. Although Richard carefully stage manages his abdication and reveals a keen sense of the theatrical when he passes the crown to Bolingbroke and smashes a mirror, his grief and sense of loss are genuine; he emerges as a sympathetic figure

VI. Act V
A. In Scene 1, Richard’s parting with his Queen reveals his newfound sense of humility and his genuine affection for his wife
B. The Duke of York’s tale of Richard’s entry into London in Scene 2 shows that Richard had dealt courageously with his adversity
C. Richard’s soliloquy in Scene 5 reveals the former king as a poetic dreamer who has been changed for the better by his misfortunes; his experiences have brought him self-knowledge
D. Richard attacks the men who have come to murder him, winning the admiration of Sir Pierce of Exton, who praises his valor

VII. Conclusion: Although Shakespeare, in Richard II, depicts King Richard as weak and unscrupulous early in the play, the King’s poetic eloquence and courage in dealing with adversity establish him as a more attractive figure as the play progresses; ultimately he engages our sympathy and assumes the dimensions of a tragic hero.

Topic #2
In Act III, Scene 4 of Richard II, the Master Gardener comments to one of his men: “Go, bind thou up young dangling apricocks,/ Which like unruly children make their sire/ Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight.” (29-31) He thus underscores one of the thematic motifs of the play: the disparity between the values and virtues of fathers and sons. Write an essay in which you examine the differences between Edward the Black Prince and King Richard, John of Gaunt and Henry Bolingbroke, Bolingbroke and Prince Hal, and the Duke of York and the Duke of Aumerle.

I. Thesis Statement: Although the blood of inheritance is mentioned frequently in Richard II, sons are often unlike their fathers as Shakespeare reveals in his descriptions or depictions of Edward the Black Prince and King Richard, John of Gaunt and Henry Bolingbroke, Bolingbroke and Prince Hal, and the Duke of York and the Duke of Aumerle.

II. King Richard and his father
A. In Act II, Scene 1, John of Gaunt refers to King Richard’s illustrious ancestry several times; he comments on England’s “royal kings/ Feared by their breed, and famous by their birth,/ Renownèd for their deeds” (51-53) and remarks that King Richard has disgraced his grandfather and father by his irresponsible financial policies, and by ordering the Duke of Gloucester’s murder
B. In this same scene, the Duke of York compares King Richard to his father and tells the King he has inherited few of his father’s noble qualities: “His face thou hast …/ But when he frowned it was against the French,/ And not against his friends; his noble hand/ Did win what he did spend, and spend not that/ Which his triumphant father’s hand had won;/ His hands were guilty of no kindred blood,/ But bloody with the enemies of his kin” (176; 178-183)

III. John of Gaunt and Bolingbroke
A. In Act I, Scene 1, Bolingbroke reveals his rebellious nature when he defies his father by refusing to throw down the Duke of Norfolk’s gage; although the father-son relationship is loving and respectful, we learn that there are significant differences between the two men
B. In Act I, Scene 2, we learn that Gaunt respects Richard’s divine right to the throne; he argues that the King’s actions can be reckoned with only by God, yet Bolingbroke, in the previous scene, had challenged the King by accusing him indirectly of Gloucester’s murder
C. Gaunt, although saddened by his son’s impending exile, respects Richard’s sentence of banishment and has counseled the King as an impartial judge rather than a father; Bolingbroke, on the other hand, is bitter at his sentence and refuses to accept it philosophically as his father urges him to do
D. When he returns to England with an army, Bolingbroke reveals that he has little respect for Richard’s divine right to govern; in Act I, Scene 2, Gaunt pledged that he would not lift “an angry arm” against the King, yet Bolingbroke, unlike his father, takes action when confronted by a royal injustice

IV. Bolingbroke and Prince Hal
A. In Act V, Scene 3, Bolingbroke expresses concern about his own rebellious son, Prince Hal, when he comments: “If any plague hang over us, ’tis he”; (3) Hal spends his time in taverns and brothels consorting with “loose companions” and has revealed little nobility of character
B. Bolingbroke’s optimistic prediction that he sees in his son “sparks of better hope,/ Which elder years may happily bring forth” (21-22) will indeed be fulfilled, for as Shakespeare’s audience knew, Prince Hal would later become the honored warrior-king Henry V

V. The Duke of York and the Duke of Aumerle
A. In Act II, Scene 2, York, after learning of Bolingbroke’s rebellion and discovering that his son is missing, worries that Aumerle may have enlisted in Bolingbroke’s cause
B. In Act V, Scene 2, York tells his wife that their allegiance is now to Bolingbroke; Aumerle, however, has retained his personal allegiance to King Richard and has joined a plot to kill the new king
C. When York discovers a letter that implicates his son in the conspiracy, he calls Aumerle a villain and a traitor and resolves to inform King Henry of his son’s role in the plot
D. In Act V, Scene 3, York, furious at his son’s disloyalty to the crown, urges King Henry to deal harshly with Aumerle; after the King issues a royal pardon, the Duchess of York praises him but York, significantly, remains silent

VI. Conclusion: In Richard II, Shakespeare reveals that sons often fail to inherit the values of their fathers. In doing so, he provides a personal note of conflict that mirrors the political issues of the play.

Topic #3
A central theme of Richard II is the divine right of kings. One of the principal conflicts of the play is the disparity between King Richard’s erratic and unprincipled actions as sovereign and what he and many of the characters in the play regard as his divine right to govern. Write an essay in which you explore the many references in this play to the king’s “divine right.”

I. Thesis Statement: The divine right of kings is one of the central themes in Shakespeare’s Richard II.

II. Acts I and II
A. In Act I, Scene 1, King Richard refers to his “sacred blood” (119)
B. In Scene 2, John of Gaunt tells his sister-in-law, the widowed Duchess of Gloucester, that only God can avenge her husband’s death, for King Richard, “God’s substitute,” ordered Gloucester’s murder; Gaunt respects Richard’s divine right and claims he will never lift an “angry arm against [God’s] minister” (37-38; 41)
C. In Act II, Scene 3, York reminds Bolingbroke that he is rebelling against an “annointed king” (95)

III. Act III, Scene 2
A. After King Richard returns from Ireland and learns of Bolingbroke’s rebellion, the Bishop of Carlisle assures his sovereign that the “power that made you king/ Hath power to keep you king in spite of all” (27-28)
B. King Richard proclaims soon afterward 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” (54-57)
C. King Richard comments that if his subjects have rebelled, “They break their faith to God as well as us” (101)
D. The King symbolically abandons his divinity when he tells his remaining supporters, “I live with bread like you, feel want,/ Taste grief—subjected thus,/ How can you say to me, I am a king?” (175-177)

IV. Act III, Scene 3
A. York laments “the heavy day/ When such a sacred king should hide his head” (8-9)
B. King Richard, confronting Northumberland from the castle walls, asserts his right to the throne by proclaiming, “Show us the hand of God/ That hath dismissed us from our stewardship” (76-77)
C. Later in this speech, Richard tells Northumberland: “Yet know, my master, God omnipotent,/ Is mustering in his clouds on our behalf/ Armies of pestilence, and they shall strike/ Your children yet unborn and unbegot/ That lift your vassal hands against my head,/ And threat the glory of my precious crown” (84-89)
D. Northumberland replies that “The King of heaven forbid our lord the King/ Should so with civil and uncivil arms/ Be rushed upon” (100-102)

V. Act IV
A. When Bolingbroke announces his intention to ascend “the regal throne,” the Bishop of Carlisle protests, “Shall the figure of God’s majesty,/ His captain, steward, deputy elect,/ Annointed, crownèd …/ Be judged by subject and inferior breath?” (125-128)
B. Richard, in twice comparing himself to Christ, asserts that the rejection of God’s annointed is being enacted once again
C. Richard, although accepting his worldly circumstances, proclaims, “God save the King, although I be not he;/ And yet amen, if heaven do think him me” (174-175)
D. In his formal speech of abdication, Richard renounces his “sacred state” (208)

VI. Act V
A. In Scene 2, The Duke of York tells his wife that heaven had a hand in Richard’s deposition and Bolingbroke’s accession to the throne
B. In Scene 3, The Duchess of York tells King Henry after he pardons her son, “A god on earth thou art” (135)
C. In Scene 6, Northumberland proclaims to the new king: “To thy sacred state wish I all happiness” (6)

VII. Conclusion: Although King Richard asserts his divine right to the throne many times in this play, his human failings lead to his downfall. The Duke of York speaks for many of his countrymen when he remarks that Richard’s undoing was the will of heaven; by the end of the play Richard’s divine right has been effectively transferred to his successor.

Topic #4
The issue of loyalty is one of the many themes explored in Richard II. Write an essay in which you examine the conflict between personal loyalty and loyalty to the crown as evidenced by John of Gaunt, the Duke of York, and the Duke of Aumerle.

I. Thesis Statement: Loyalty is one of the many themes of Shakespeare’s Richard II.

II. John of Gaunt
A. In Act I, Scene 2, Gaunt is shaken by the fact that King Richard had ordered the murder of his brother, the Duke of Gloucester, yet he refuses to take vengeful action because he is loyal to the King and believes he rules by divine right
B. In Act I, Scene 3, Gaunt further reveals his loyalty to his sovereign when he counsels the King to banish his son; he acts as an impartial judge rather than a father
C. In Act II, Scene 1, the dying Gaunt abandons his allegiance to the monarchy when King Richard responds callously to his criticism; he rebukes the King and tells him, “These words hereafter thy tormentors be” (136)

III. The Duke of York
A. In Act II, Scene 1, York criticizes Richard’s seizure of his brother’s estate; Richard, however, is aware of York’s loyalty to the crown and appoints him Lord Governor while he is away in Ireland
B.In Act II, Scene 2, York reveals that his loyalties are divided between his nephews, King Richard and Bolingbroke; he is loyal to the monarchy but knows that Bolingbroke has been wronged by the King
C. In Act II, Scene 3, York criticizes Bolingbroke for leading an armed rebellion against the crown, but he acknowledges that Bolingbroke has been treated unfairly and pledges to remain neutral in the conflict
D. In Act III, Scene 2, we learn that York has now allied with Bolingbroke
E. In Act V, Scene 2, York, although sympathetic to King Richard, tells his wife that their loyalties now lie with Bolingbroke; he proves his allegiance to the new King by rushing to tell him that his son, the Duke of Aumerle, is involved in a treacherous plot to assassinate his sovereign

IV. The Duke of Aumerle
A. In Act I, Scene 4, Aumerle, who is cousin to both Richard and Bolingbroke, reveals that his loyalty lies firmly with the King
B. In Act III, Scene 3 (159), Aumerle further reveals his loyalty when he weeps at the thought of Richard’s loss of the throne
C. At the end of Act IV, Aumerle, still loyal to Richard after his deposition, joins in a plot to assassinate the new King
D. In Act V, Scene 2, Aumerle’s role in the conspiracy is exposed and his mother reveals that, unlike her husband, her loyalties lie with her only son

V. Conclusion: In Richard II, divided loyalties to family and crown provide one of the play’s many conflicts.

Topic #5
In Richard II, Shakespeare utilizes rich poetic imagery. One of the most potent images is that of blood, which is used in two basic senses: the blood of kinship and inheritance, and the blood of murder and violent conflict. Less frequently, blood is used to denote a character who is “hot-blooded.” This imagery helps to create an ominous atmosphere and also underscores the familial relationships in the play. Write an essay in which you explore Shakespeare’s use of blood imagery in each of the play’s five acts.

I. Thesis Statement: In Richard II, Shakespeare uses blood imagery to denote the blood of kinship and inheritance and the blood of murder and violent conflict.

II. Act I, Scene 1
A. Scene 1 features a dozen references to “blood” and
B. Blood is used in the sense of inheritance when Boling¬broke and Mowbray refer to “high blood’s royalty” (58; 71)
C. Blood is used in the sense of violence when Bolingbroke refers to the Duke of Gloucester’s murder (103-104)
D. King Richard refers to the blood of inheritance when he mentions “our sacred blood” (119); he later attempts to settle the conflict between Bolingbroke and Mowbray without “letting blood” (153; 157)

III. Act 1, Scenes 2 and 3
A. In Scene 2, Gaunt refers to the blood of inheritance to denote a kinsman (l)
B. The Duchess of Gloucester also refers to the blood of inheritance when she describes her late husband and his brothers as seven vials of King Edward’s “sacred blood” (12)
C. The Duchess evokes the blood of violence when she refers to “murder’s bloody axe” (22)
D. In Scene 3, blood denotes kinship and inheritance when King Richard refers to his cousin Bolingbroke as “my blood,” and when Bolingbroke calls his father “the earthly author of my blood” (57; 69)
E. King Richard refers to the blood of violent conflict when he claims that he halted the trial by combat so that “our kingdom’s earth should not be soiled/ With that dear blood which it hath fosterèd” (125-126)

IV. Act II
A. On his deathbed, Gaunt and York each evoke blood twice to censure King Richard for his role in the murder of a kinsman (II, i, 126; 131, 182-183)
B. Northumberland refers to Bolingbroke’s “noble blood” (II, i, 240)
C. Among the omens cited by the Welsh Captain is the fact that the moon “looks bloody on the earth” (II, iv, 10)

V. Act III
A. In Scene 1, Bolingbroke publicly accuses Bushy and Green of heinous crimes “to wash your blood/ From off my hands” before executing them (5)
B. In Scene 2, King Richard remarks that he looks pale after learning that his Welsh soldiers have deserted because he has lost “the blood of twenty thousand men” (76)
C. In Scene 3, Bolingbroke pledges that if Richard won’t grant his demands he will “lay the summer’s dust with showers of blood/ Rained from the wounds of slaughtered English- men (42-43)
D. King Richard uses blood to allude to his divine right when he comments, “no hand of blood and bone/ Can gripe the sacred handle of our sceptre” (78)
E. King Richard uses an extended reference to blood to evoke the results of the civil war he foresees if Bolingbroke usurps the throne (93-100)
F. Northumberland, referring to Richard and Bolingbroke, mentions “the royalties of both your bloods” (106)

VI. Acts IV and V
A. In Act V, the Bishop of Carlisle prophecies civil war if Bolingbroke is crowned: “The blood of English shall manure the ground” (137)
B. In Act V, Scene 5, Exton remarks that he has “with the King’s blood stained the King’s own land” ( 110)
C. In Scene 6, Bolingbroke laments, “Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe/ That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow”; he vows to make a pilgrimage “to the Holy Land/ To wash this blood off from my guilty hand” (45-46; 49-50)

VII. Conclusion: In his frequent use of blood imagery, Shakespeare underscores the theme of inheritance and the many violent conflicts in the play.

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