This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise
Act 2, scene 1, lines 45–47
For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings
Act 3, scene 2, lines 160-161
Shakespeare's Richard II presents a momentous struggle between Richard II and his cousin Henry Bolingbroke. Richard is the legitimate king; he succeeded his grandfather, King Edward III, after the earlier death of his father Edward, the Black Prince. Yet Richard is also seen by many as a tyrant. He toys with his subjects, exiling Bolingbroke for six years.
When he seizes the title and property that should be Bolingbroke's, Richard threatens the very structure of the kingdom. Bolingbroke returns with an army that is supported by nobles and commoners alike, both believing themselves oppressed by Richard. This sets the stage for a confrontation between his army and the tradition of sacred kingship supporting the isolated but now more sympathetic Richard.
Richard II was probably written in 1595, and may have been first performed that year. It was published as a quarto in 1597. Sources include Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles and Edward Hall’s Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York; Samuel Daniel’s Civil Wars may be a source, too.
Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1992 Folger Shakespeare Library
Graham Holderness. Shakespeare: The Histories. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.
Jean E. Howard and Phyllis Rackin. Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare’s English Histories. New York: Routledge, 1997.
Jeremy Lopez, ed. Richard II: New Critical Essays. New York: Routledge, 2012.
John Julius Norwich. Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England, 1337-1485. New York: Scribner, 1999.
Peter Saccio. Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Nigel Saul. The Three Richards: Richard I, Richard II and Richard III. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005.
The Hollow Crown: Richard II (2012, Neal Street Productions, NBC Universal Television, WNET Thirteen, and BBC). Directed by Rupert Goold. Cast includes Ben Whishaw, Patrick Stewart, David Suchet, David Morrissey, and Rory Kinnear.