Sample Essay Outlines
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.
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
III. Act II
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
IV. Act III
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...
(The entire section is 3,586 words.)