Richard II

5 down…11 to go!

So I’m getting there with the reading and this is the second of my Shakespeare play’s with Hamlet to follow shortly. Richard II is one of the history plays that Shakespeare wrote. I liked this play because it wasn’t what I expected it to be. I assumed that it would be full of war, fighting, tragedy, killing and violence and if it had been then I would have thoroughly enjoyed it. However although I was expecting something different, I actually found the unexpected intricacies, the peacefulness and the comic elements  a pleasant surprise. (Note to self: from now on, expect the unexpected)

Another surprise was that this whole play was written in verse and at times is quite magnificent and poetic, some of the great speeches coming from John of Gaunt and Richard II himself. This play explores the historical elements of English history and draws on the idea of  abdication and the loss and gain of power. The play begins with the exiling of Thomas Mowbray and the King’s cousin, Henry Bolingbroke. They are exiled after a dispute of a political murder of the King’s Uncle,  Thomas of Woodstock (Duke of Gloucester) and we are later informed that King Richard II was actually involved in his murder. As a result of the exiles John of Gaunt, another of the King’s Uncles and father of Henry Bolingbroke, is taken ill and dies cursing the King on his deathbed.

Now, it may just be me who thinks this but a curse in a Shakespeare play is bad news for anyone and here, it definitely is a bad omen for Richard and combines with his foolishness to his downfall. He ignores John of Gaunt’s advice and takes all his assets from him and his heir. This, alongside the exile of Henry Bolingbroke, is ultimately the reason of why Henry breaks his exile and returns to overthrow the King. Henry times his return for when Richard is out of the country pursuing a war in Ireland and Henry is able to build an army because he was well liked before his exile and Richard II was growing vastly unpopular. When Richard returns, his reign as King as practically over and Henry peacefully brings the King back to London, it is important to note that there is never actually a battle. In London, Henry Bolingbroke is named King Henry IV and Richard is imprisoned, later to be killed by an assassin; possibly under King Henry IV’s instruction. The play ends with the new King vowing to cleanse himself in the part of Richard’s death, much like a role-reversal of how the play actually begins and so the new King’s reign begins unpromisingly.

This play is very clever is the way that it begins and ends with different Kings but in relatively similar positions. I’ve never really even considered reading Shakespeare’s history plays before but I actually rather enjoyed it and therefore give it a 7/10 for the element of surprise that I found within it. I think I’m going to see if the rest of the history plays live up to this one too! Let me know if you’ve read any of them and if so, what you thought of them! If this is on your ‘to read’ list, then enjoy!




  1. Its surprising that we don’t see any many productions of this one as we do with the big hitters like Henry V. Its not as dramatic in the sense that there isn’t a hell of a lot of action (most of the drama comes from the language) but the themes in this play connect so well with the other histories – Richard comes across as rather self indulgent for a lot of the time but he does raise good questions about the nature of kingship

    • Yes, I agree that Richard II raises a lot of important questions in relation to the nature of kingship. However, he was not a very successful King and a failure as executing a great economy for England. Seems he spend most of his time speaking in verse and creating beautiful literary metaphors, similes, etc but the man itself a deficient king in political strategy. To be well spoken and in verse is not enough to be a man.

  2. Why is that Shakespeare wrote the play Richard II in verse? I can think only that is because the royalty is educated and speaks in verse. However, it should be another reason and sure do not know why is written in verse and is the only play written in verse.

  3. I don’t think this is as good a play to read as it is to see performed. Othello, that’s a great play to read. Romeo and Juliet–great read. Merchant of Venice–read it! Much Ado, YES! Read it, it’s brilliant literature… This one, you need to see actors playing Richard II, Gaunt, Bolinbroke, York, Northumberland, Aumerle, et al. because they are such weird and mysterious characters–actors give you a psyche you can relate to… If this play were actually written in verse for the sake of poetry, then it would be a poem, not a drama. It’s about the conflicted/complicated characters… I think you need to see great actors playing these characters to really feel the depth of this play.

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