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Richard II

In Richard II, anger at a king's arbitrary rule leads to his downfall—and sets in motion a decades-long struggle for the crown that continues in several more history plays.

Richard II begins as Richard's cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, charges Thomas Mowbray with serious crimes, including the murder of the Duke of Gloucester. Bolingbroke's father, John of Gaunt, privately blames the king for Gloucester's death. At Richard's command, Bolingbroke and Mowbray prepare for a trial by combat. The king halts the fight at the last minute, banishing both men from England.

When John of Gaunt dies, Richard seizes his possessions to help finance a war in Ireland, thus dispossessing Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke returns to England, quickly gathering support. By the time Richard returns from Ireland, many of his former allies have joined Bolingbroke. Richard abdicates, yielding the crown to Bolingbroke.

Richard is held at Pomfret Castle and Bolingbroke becomes King Henry IV. A murder plot against him is uncovered and stopped. Richard is murdered by a follower of Henry.

Early printed texts

Richard II was first printed in 1597 as a quarto (Q1) and then reprinted twice in 1598 (Q2 and Q3). In 1608, the play was printed again (Q4), this time including what we now refer to as the deposition scene (4.1.160–331). This version of the play was then reprinted in 1615 (Q5). The play was included in the 1623 First Folio (F1) in a text that includes a fuller version of the deposition scene, supplies more detailed stage directions, omits around 51 lines, and divides the play into acts and scenes. The Folger edition of the play follows Q1, except for the deposition scene, which it supplies from F1.

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Item Title: 
[King Richard II] The tragedie of King Richard the second.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22308 copy 1
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1598

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Item Title: 
[King Richard II] The tragedie of King Richard the second.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22309
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1598

030015.jpg

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Item Title: 
[King Richard II] The tragedie of King Richard the second.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22310
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1608

014243.jpg

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Item Title: 
[King Richard II] The tragedie of King Richard the second: with new additions of the Parliament sceane, and the deposing of King Richard.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22312 copy 1
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1615

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Item Title: 
Works. 1623] Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1623

014346.jpg

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Item Title: 
[King Richard II] The life and death of King Richard the second. With new additions of the Parliament scene, and the deposing of King Richard.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22313 copy 1
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1634

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Item Title: 
Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, and tragedies. : Published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1632

Picturing Richard II

As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Richard II is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.

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Edmund Kean as Richard II (1815)

Edmund Kean as Richard II (1815)

Item Title: 
Lay on our royal sword your banish'd hands [Edmund Kean as Richard II] [graphic].
Item Call Number: 
ART File K24.4 no.67 (size M)
Item Date: 
London : Published by W. West, April 7, 1815.

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Lily Brayton as Queen Isabella (1900)

Lily Brayton as Queen Isabella (1900)

Item Title: 
Lily Brayton [as] Queen to King Richard and attendants [in the play by Shakespeare, King Richard II, act III, scene 4] [graphic] / photo, J. & L. Caswall Smith.
Item Call Number: 
ART File B827 no.2 PHOTO (size M)
Item Date: 
London [England] : Virtue & Co., [1900?]

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Oscar Ashe as Bolingbroke (late 19th or early 20th century)

Oscar Asche as Bolingbroke (late 19th or early 20th century)

Item Title: 
Bolingbroke. (Oscar Asche) [in Shakespeare's play, King Richard II] [graphic] / photo, J. & L. Caswall Smith.
Item Call Number: 
ART File A812.9 no.1 PHOTO (size M)
Item Date: 
London [England] : Virtue & Co., [late 19th or early 20th century]

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Richard in prison (early 19th century)

Richard in prison (early 19th century)

Item Title: 
Richard II, Richard in prison at Pomfret Castle [graphic] / [J. Coghlan].
Item Call Number: 
ART Box C678 no.7 (size S)
Item Creator: 
Coghlan, J., active early 19th cent., artist.
Item Date: 
[early 19th century?]

More images of Richard II can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)