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.
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.
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.)