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Richard II


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Samuel Daniel (1562—1619) poet and historian

Earl of Essex Robert Devereux (1566—1601) soldier and politician

Raphael Holinshed (d. 1580) historian

Elizabeth I (1533—1603) queen of England and Ireland

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A: William Shakespeare Pf:c.1595, London Pb: 1597 (1st quarto); 1623 (1st folio) G: Hist. drama in 5 acts; blank verse S: England and Wales, 1397–1400 C: 23m, 4f, extrasHenry Bolingbroke has accused the Duke of Norfolk of treason, and to decide the matter, Richard orders that they settle their quarrel in a trial by combat. At the last minute, however, Richard stops the contest and orders both lords into exile. Richard is upbraided by Bolingroke's father, John of Gaunt, for being a spendthrift and for surrounding himself with sycophantic courtiers. When Gaunt dies, Richard seizes his lands. While Richard is suppressing a rebellion in Ireland, Bolingbroke, supported by a number of disaffected noblemen, returns to England to head a rebellion and succeeds in forcing Richard to abdicate in his favour, so becoming Henry IV. Richard is murdered in prison by a zealous nobleman. Henry, denying any complicity in the deed, plans a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to expiate the crime.

A: William Shakespeare Pf:c.1595, London Pb: 1597 (1st quarto); 1623 (1st folio) G: Hist. drama in 5 acts; blank verse S: England and Wales, 1397–1400 C: 23m, 4f, extras

Based primarily on Holinshed's Chronicles, Richard II forms the first part of Shakespeare's second tetralogy of historical plays (followed by Henry IV and Henry V). Richard II is remarkable in that, unlike his earlier chronicle plays (Henry VI, Richard III, King John), it is tightly constructed and presents the first of Shakespeare's genuinely tragic heroes taken from history. Richard is a weak individual but nevertheless blessed with the divine right to rule; so the audience is disturbed by the way in which he is treated while having to acknowledge, as in Marlowe's Edward II, performed a few years earlier, that he has brought his fate upon himself. Meanwhile, the usurper Bolingbroke, far from leading England into a promised era of stability, will have to confront new uprisings in his realm.

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism.


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