Shakespeare Study Guides in Kindle
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Table of Contents
Type of Play
Composition and Publication
Climax Extended Anaphora
Figures of Speech
Study Questions and Essay
War of the Roses Complete
Type of Play
Richard II is a stage
play that is both a history and a tragedy. It
depicts the downfall of the title character,
or protagonist, partly because of flaws in his
character. He is a weak, unwise, and unduly
Date Written: Probably
Publication: Richard II was published
in a quarto edition
in 1597, two quarto editions in 1598, a quarto
edition in 1608, and a quarto edition in 1615.
It was printed again in 1623 as part of the First Folio, a
collection of thirty-six Shakespeare plays.
Shakespeare based Richard II
on accounts in The Chronicles of England,
Scotland and Ireland (Holinshed’s
Chronicles), by Raphael Holinshed
(?-1580?). The first edition of the chronicles
was published in 1577 in two volumes.
Shakespeare may also have based part of his
plot on The Civil Wars (1595), by
Samuel Daniel; on an anonymous play called Woodstock
(early 1590s); and on an anonymous play called
The Life and Death of Jack Straw (early
The action in the play takes
place in England and Wales, beginning in 1398.
(Richard II reigned between 1377 and 1399.)
Locales include London, Coventry, the wilds of
Gloucestershire, Bristol, a camp in Wales, and
the coast of Wales.
The tone is bitter,
contentious, and deadly serious as Richard vies
for power with his political enemies, who also
vie with each other.
Protagonist: King Richard
Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford
Richard II: Intelligent but weak and
duplicitous monarch who musters enough courage
and dignity to die bravely when set upon by
of Gaunt: Duke of Lancaster. He is the
king's uncle and father of the king's rival,
Henry Bolingbroke. His name, Gaunt, is a
corruption of Ghent, the name of the
Belgian city where he was born.
Bolingbroke: Duke of Hereford, son of John
of Gaunt, and the king's rival. He seizes power
and becomes King Henry IV.
Mowbray: Duke of Norfolk and opponent of
Ross, Lord Willoughby: Supporters of
of Langley: Duke of York and king's uncle.
of Aumerle: Son of the Duke of York. He
plots against Bolingbroke when the latter
ascends the throne.
of Carlisle, Abbot of Westminster: Co-conspirators
in Aumerle's plot.
of Surrey: Supporter of Aumerle.
Fitzwater: Opponent of Aumerle.
of York: Mother of Aumerle.
of Salisbury, Sir Stephen Scroop: Members
of the king's party.
Berkeley: Messenger for the Duke of York.
Bagot, Green: Servants of King Richard.
of Northumberland: Proud and arrogant
follower of Bolingbroke.
Percy, nicknamed Hotspur: Promising son of
Northumberland who aids Bolingbroke.
Pierce of Exton: Bolingbroke's hatchet
man. When Bolingbroke, as the new king, asks
whether anyone will rid him of Richard, Exton
assumes Bolingbroke wants Richard dead. With two
assistants, he kills the king, who goes down
Loyal wife of King Richard.
of Gloucester: Aunt of Richard and
of a Band of Welshmen
attending on the Queen
Characters: Lords, heralds, officers,
soldiers, two gardeners, keeper, messenger,
staging Richard II, William Shakespeare
assumed that his Elizabethan audience was
familiar with historical events that led up to
the events depicted in the play. Here is a
summary of the events with which modern readers
need to familiarize themselves to understand the
historical Richard II was born in 1367,
reigned as king from 1377 to 1399, and died in
1400. When he was only ten, he acceded to the
throne as the grandson of King Edward III and
ruled under the protection and guidance of
John of Gaunt (1340-1399), Duke of Lancaster.
In the first two decades of Richard’s reign,
Gaunt spent much of his time fending off or
pacifying other nobles seeking to control the
1386, these nobles persuaded Parliament to
establish a commission to supervise and
manipulate the teenage king. One of the
ringleaders of these nobles was Gaunt’s
brother, Thomas Woodstock, the Earl of
Gloucester. Another was Gaunt’s son, Henry
Bolingbroke, the Duke of Hereford (later to
become King Henry IV). A third was Thomas
Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk. Two years later,
the parliamentary faction ousted and even
executed some of Richard’s advisers and
friends. However, in 1389, Richard, when he
was twenty-two and fully of age to rule
England, asserted his royal authority,
regained control of the government, and forged
a settlement with the rebellious nobles. One
of its provisions was to grant Woodstock a
measure of control in Ireland. The king also
turned Mowbray into an ally by using him to
execute military and diplomatic missions. He
also made peace with Bolinbroke—or so it seemed.
the king never really forgave any of the
nobles who earlier opposed him. In 1397, he
had Woodstock (referred to in the play as
Gloucester) arrested and imprisoned at Calais,
France, under the watchful eye of Mowbray.
Woodstock was later murdered in mysterious
circumstances, probably at the behest of the
vengeful king. Another noble—the Duke of Surrey—was beheaded. A
third was exiled for life.
and Mowbray then seemed ripe subjects for the
king’s crackdown. Worried, Mowbray foolishly
disclosed his fears to Bolingbroke, an
ambitious man who took advantage of the
situation by accusing Mowbray of killing
Woodstock. Mowbray in turn accused Bolingbroke
of slander. Shakespeare’s play begins with a
hearing on these accusations before King
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003,
A vicious quarrel erupts in
1398 in the realm of England’s King Richard II
between two nobles. One is the king’s cousin,
Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford; the other
is Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. They had
been allies as part of a powerful faction of
five nobles that gained control of Parliament
in 1386 and attempted to manipulate the young
king, then twenty-one. Richard, now
thirty-one, orders John of Gaunt—the Duke of
Lancaster and father of Bolingbroke—to summon
Mowbray and Bolingbroke to court for a
When they appear, Bolingbroke
accuses Mowbray of being a “traitor and a
miscreant” (1.1.42) for supposedly misusing
government money and for plotting the death of
the Duke of Gloucester, Thomas Woodstock.
Mowbray, in turn, calls Bolingbroke a
“slanderous coward and a villain” (1.1.64) and
declares “most falsely doth he lie” (1.1.71).
Bolingbroke wants to demonstrate that he is a
loyal subject of the king even though he
formally participated in schemes to limit the
king’s power. Mowbray, too, is eager to
impress the king; hence, he vigorously denies
charges that he betrayed the king. Bolingbroke
throws down his gauntlet, challenging Mowbray
to a jousting duel, and Mowbray quickly takes
it up. Unable to persuade the adversaries to
put aside their differences, Richard sanctions
upon Saint Lambert’s day:
On the appointed day at Coventry, a
crowd surrounds the fenced-in field to observe
the joust. However, just before the combat is to
begin, Richard realizes that the victor will
receive popular acclaim that could rival his own
standing with the people. So, before the two men
can raise shields and strike metal, he cancels
the contest. Then he banishes both men, Mowbray
for life and Bolingbroke for “twice five
summers” (1.3.145), or ten years. Richard makes
both swear they will never plot against the
There shall your swords and
The swelling difference of your
settled hate. (1.1.204-206)
Moments later, when Richard sees
how the sentence aggrieves John of Gaunt, he
shortens Henry’s banishment to six years.
However, Richard’s show of mercy masks inner
rancor toward his cousin. Henry, it seems, has
grown so popular with the people that he poses a
threat to the Crown. Thus, the king is only too
glad to have Henry out of the way. Good
Richard then turns his attention to
organizing and leading a military campaign to
quell a rebellion in Ireland. But because he
spends lavishly and has run low on money, he
plans to bleed the already overtaxed people to
pay for the campaign. His spending has already
aroused the common people against him. So has
his policy of forcing former enemies among the
nobility to buy pardons at a high price. In
addition, the enmity building against him has
been exacerbated by his manner—egotistical and
autocratic. The innocent boy king who first sat
on the throne has become a tyrant. Even old John
of Gaunt, the king’s longtime protector, is
Gaunt, broken down by advancing age
and the banishment of his son (Bolingbroke), is
now dying. Richard, displaying the cruelest of
his sides, cheers for Gaunt’s death, for Gaunt
has money and property—enough to finance
Richard’s incursion into Ireland. Bolingbroke,
of course, is in line to inherit Gaunt’s
property. But Richard, regarding Bolingbroke as
his enemy, believes Gaunt’s wealth should go to
the Crown. He says:
Now put it,
God, in the physician’s mind
When King Richard visits the dying
man, Gaunt—realizing that Richard has become
a less-than-honorable monarch—tells him that he
too is sick, in a manner of speaking: “Thy
death-bed is no lesser than thy land / Wherein
thou liest in reputation sick” (2.1.98-99).
Richard, infuriated, calls Gaunt “a lunatic
lean-witted fool / Presuming on an ague’s
privilege” (2.1.119). After Gaunt dies, the king
confiscates his property. Another uncle of
Richard, the elderly Duke of York, protests the
king’s action on behalf of Gaunt’s son, Henry
Bolingbroke, saying the law dictates that all of
Gaunt’s money and lands should go to Henry. Many
other nobles, too, oppose the king’s action.
Richard, however, refuses to back down and, with
Gaunt’s wealth now in his keep, marches off to
Ireland to wage war. After Henry Bolingbroke
learns of his father’s death and the king’s
appropriation of the inheritance, he raises an
army of his own and returns to England to claim
his property. Nobles join his cause, and Henry
orders the execution of two of Richard’s
favorites, Bushy and Green. The king then
returns from Ireland, landing in Wales, to deal
with Henry. He believes God is on his side:
To help him [Gaunt] to his grave
The lining of his coffers shall
To deck our soldiers for these
Irish wars. (1.4.62)
The breath of
worldly men cannot depose
But woe unto Richard, for twenty
thousand Welsh soldiers have deserted him and
gone over to Henry. Sir Stephen Scroop tells
Richard that all of England seems to oppose
The deputy elected by the
For every man that Bolingbroke
To lift shrewd steel against our
God for his Richard hath in
A glorious angel: then, if angels
Weak men must fall, for heaven
still guards the right. (3.2.58-64)
have arm’d their thin and hairless scalps
After Richard takes refuge in Flint
Castle, Henry arrives to claim his rightful
inheritance. Richard yields and Henry escorts
him to London.
Against thy majesty; and boys,
with women’s voices,
Strive to speak big and clap
their female joints. (3.2.116-118)
Meanwhile, the queen, who loves
Richard dearly, is visiting two ladies in the
garden of the Duke of York when she overhears a
gardener criticize Richard for not tending his
kingdom in the same way that one tends a garden.
Plants and trees must be trimmed and dressed,
the gardener says, and superfluous branches must
be cut away. When the queen reproaches him for
his criticism, the gardener informs her that
King Richard no longer holds sway in the realm;
it is uncrowned Henry who rules. The queen says,
“What, was I born to this, that my sad look /
Should grace the triumph of great Bolingbroke?”
(3.4.105-106). Deeply grieved, she leaves
immediately for London. The gardener plants a
bank of rue in the spot where one of her tears
has fallen “in the remembrance of a weeping
Before Parliament in Westminster
Hall, the Bishop of Carlisle, one of Richard’s
few remaining defenders, speaks out against
Henry and his claims to the crown, but to no
avail. After Richard’s adversaries accuse him of
high crimes, he signs a confession and yields
the throne. Henry orders him confined to the
Tower of London, then announces his own
coronation as Henry IV. The Duke of Aumerle, the
Bishop of Carlisle and the Abbot of Westminster
organize a last-minute plot against Henry, but
it fails. Henry has Richard transferred to
Sir Pierce Exton overhears Henry
ask a deadly question: “Have I no friend will
rid me of this living fear?” (5.4.4). The
“living fear” is, of course, Richard. Without
direct orders from Henry, Exton decides to
fulfill Henry’s wish. With two henchmen armed
with axes, he goes to Pomfret Castle to murder
Richard. To his credit, Richard goes down
swinging. After snatching away an axe, he kills
one henchmen, then the other. But a blow from
Exton brings him down. Before dying, he warns
Exton that the hand that struck him “shall burn
in never-quenching fire” (5.5.113). Exton bears
the body to Henry and proclaims, “Great king,
within this coffin I present / Thy buried fear”
(5.6. 36-37). Henry is horrified and tells Exton
When Exton reminds Henry that he
wished Richard dead, Henry, full of guilt,
banishes Exton, then announces:
A deed of slander with thy fatal
Upon my head and all this famous
I’ll make a
voyage to the Holy Land,
To wash this blood off from my
March sadly after; grace my
In weeping after this untimely
kingly authority inviolable? The central
theme of the play is whether the subjects of a
king have a right to overthrow and replace him if
he is weak, unwise, or unduly harsh. Richard
himself enunciates the view that his authority
comes from God himself; thus, he has a divine
right to rule. John of Gaunt and the Duke of York
support this view even though Richard exhibits
qualities unbecoming a king. Henry Bolingbroke, on
the other hand, believes the people have the right
to depose the king if he does not act in the best
interests of the realm. Many nobles support this
view and help Bolinbroke unseat Richard. However,
after Sir Pierce Exton and his henchmen kill
Richard, Bolingbroke feels deep remorse. Which
view Shakespeare supported is unknown; in the
play, he does not openly take sides.
arouses the wrath of the people. Richard II
spends lavishly and bleeds his subjects to fill
his coffers. Richard fails to realize an old
political truth: When pockets lack jingle, the
patriots remain steadfast and loyal. Old
John of Gaunt (Duke of Lancaster) remains
steadfastly loyal to his country through the
turmoil unfolding around him. For years, he
protected young King Richard against the
machinations of nobles who attempted to manipulate
the callow monarch. But after Richard comes of
age, Richard himself resorts to petty politics to
get his way. Gaunt, deeply disappointed in the
king, bemoans the fact that his beloved country
has been brought so low. In one of the most
patriotic passages in all of Shakespeare, Gaunt
refers to England as “this scepter’d isle, / This
earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, / This other
Eden, demi-paradise” (2.1.42-44). Then, with his
dying breath, he rebukes Richard and pronounces a
curse: “Live in thy shame, but die not shame with
thee! These words hereafter thy tormentors be!”
(2.1.139-140). Gaunt dies with dignity. Today, the
words Shakespeare gave him continue to live in
England on the tongues of every schoolchild who
values his heritage.
is thinner than water, or familiarity breeds
contempt. The main enemies in Richard II are
relatives. John of Gaunt is Richard II’s uncle.
When Gaunt dies, Richard seizes his property.
Henry Bolingbroke is the son of Gaunt and
Richard’s cousin. He deposes Richard and seizes
central conflict in the play is between King
Richard and Henry Bolingbroke. Richard, an
unwise and unpopular ruler, believes his
authority comes from God. Therefore, he says, he
has a divine right to rule; no one may usurp his
authority. Bolingbroke believes that the people
have a right to replace a king if he does not
act in their best interests.
The climax of a play or
literary work, such as a short story or a
novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point
at which the conflict begins to resolve itself
for better or worse, or as (2) the final and
most exciting event in a series of events. The
climax of Richard II occurs, according
to the first definition, in Westminster Hall
when Richard surrenders the crown to
Bolinbroke, reciting these lines: “I give this
heavy weight from off my head / And this
unwieldy sceptre from my hand” (4.1.211-212).
According to the second definition, the climax
seems to occur in the final act, when Richard
bravely confronts his enemies and dies
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Phones and Accessories
Among the most memorable
passages in Richard II is the
following one, in which John of Gaunt
glorifies England while lamenting the shameful
behavior of Richard. The success of the
imagery depends in large part on a figure of
speech called anaphora, the repetition
of a word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of
word groups occurring one after the other.
Notice the extended repetition of this.
royal throne of kings, this scepter'd
This earth of majesty, this
seat of Mars,
This other Eden,
This fortress built by
Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of
This happy breed of men, this
This precious stone set in
the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of
Or as a moat defensive to a
Against the envy of less happier
This blessed plot, this
earth, this realm, this
This nurse, this
teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous
by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far
For Christian service and true
As is the sepulchre in stubborn
Of the world's ransom, blessed
This land of such dear
souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through
Is now leased out, I die
Like to a tenement or pelting
England, bound in with the
Whose rocky shore beats back the
Of watery Neptune, is now bound
in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten
That England, that was wont to
Hath made a shameful conquest of
Ah, would the scandal vanish with
How happy then were my ensuing
Shakespeare relied heavily on
the pun in his comedies for humorous effect.
In Richard II, however, he uses an
extended pun at a deadly serious time: John of
Gaunt is dying. The pun begins when King
Richard asks Gaunt how he fares as he nears
death. Gaunt uses his name (spelled the same
as the adjective gaunt, meaning thin,
bony and haggard) several times
in his reply.
KING RICHARD: What comfort,
man? How is’t with aged Gaunt?
O! how that name befits my
Gaunt indeed, and gaunt in being
me grief hath kept a tedious fast;
who abstains from meat that is not gaunt?
sleeping England long time have I
breeds leanness, leanness is all gaunt.
pleasure that some fathers feed upon
my strict fast, I mean my children’s
therein fasting hast thou made me gaunt.
am I for the grave, gaunt as a
hollow womb inherits nought but bones.
are examples of figures of speech in Richard
II. For definitions of figures of speech,
see Literary Terms.
treasons for these
Complotted and contrived in this land,
Fetch from false Mowbray their first head and
nearness to our sacred blood
Be Mowbray’s sins so heavy
in his bosom
That they may break his
foaming courser’s back.
as to jest.
This tongue that runs so roundly in thy head
Should run thy head
bread of banishment.
those seven are dried by nature’s
Some of those
branches by the Destinies cut. (1.2.16-17)
must the king do now? Must he
The king shall
do it: must he
The king shall
be contented: must
name of king? (3.3.149-151)
With mine own
tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own
hands I give away my crown,
With mine own
tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own
breath release all duteous rites:
Mount, mount, my soul! thy seat is
up on high,
my gross flesh sinks downward, here to die.
addresses the soul.
earth, I do salute thee with my hand,
rebels wound thee with their horses’ hoofs.
addresses the earth.
For gnarling sorrow hath less power
man that mocks at it and sets it light.
of sorrow to a biting creature.
am disgrac’d, impeach’d, and baffled
to the soul with slander’s venom’d spear.
of slander to a wielder of a spear
make leopards tame. (1.1.179)
Richard compares himself to a lion and
Mowbray and Bolingbroke to leopards.
are but gilded loam or painted clay. (1.1.184)
of men to loam (mixture of clay, sand, and
other matter) and to "painted clay"
seven sons, whereof thyself art one,
as seven vials of his sacred blood (1.2.13-14)
of the seven sons, including Gaunt, to vials
of Edward's blood
talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
dust our paper, and with rainy eyes
sorrow on the bosom of the earth.
of dust to paper and "rainy eyes" to writing
King Richard and myself should meet
no less terror than the elements
fire and water, when their thundering
meeting tears the cloudy cheeks of heaven.
of fire and water to beings that experience
of clouds to cheeks
lion dying thrusteth forth his paw
wounds the earth, if nothing else, with
be o’erpower’d; and wilt thou,
thy correction mildly, kiss the rod,
fawn on rage with base humility,
art a lion and a king of beasts?
queen compares the lion's paw mark to a
wound. She also compares
husband, Richard, to a meek student and to a
lion as king of beasts.
[Mowbray] sluic’d out his innocent
soul through streams of blood:
blood, like sacrificing Abel’s, cries,
from the tongueless caverns of the earth,
me for justice and rough chastisement;
comparison of Mowbray's "innocent soul" to a
liquid drained by a channel (sluice)
comparison of the "streams of blood" to the
blood of Abel, who was killed by his brother
Cain (Genesis 4: 1-16)
"Tongueless caverns" cry out.
For every man that Bolingbroke hath
lift shrewd steel against our golden
for his Richard hath in heavenly pay
glorious angel. (3.2.60-63)
represents King Richard.
Despite of death that lives upon my
My care is loss of care (4.1.203)
Some unborn sorrow, ripe in
coming towards me. (2.2.12-13)
of fortune to a pregant woman and sorrow to an
Be swift like lightning in the
tells Bolinbroke to be like lightning.
the dialogue of Richard II and other
Shakespeare plays, characters sometimes speak
wise or witty sayings, or epigrams, couched in
memorable language. Among the more memorable
sayings in Richard II are the following.
The purest treasure mortal times
spotless reputation. (1.1.182-183)
a metaphor, Thomas Mowbray compares reputation
honour is my life; both grow in one:
honour from me, and my life is done.
this couplet, Thomas Mowbray uses a metaphor
comparing honor to life.
ripest fruit first falls. (2.1.159)
uses an implied metaphor to compare old John
of Gaunt, dying, to a ripe fruit.
Alliteration occurs in fruit, first,
all the water in the rough rude sea
wash the balm from an anointed king.
expresses his view with a hyperbole and
alliteration (rough, rude).
see thy glory like a shooting star
to the base earth from the firmament.
Earl of Salisbury uses a simile to compare
glory to a shooting star.
may my glories and my state depose,
not my griefs; still am I king of those.
this couplet, Richard uses a metaphor
comparing griefs to king’s subjects.
Study Questions and
- What psychological affliction
does Henry Bolinbroke at the end of the play
have in common with Lady Macbeth after the
murder of King Duncan in Macbeth?
banishes Exton at the end of the play. What
was banishment? Where did a banished person
an essay focusing on this question: Does
Richard II become a better or worse man at
the end of the play, when he is about to
is the meaning of gage in this line
spoken by Henry Bolingbroke the first scene
of Act I: “Pale trembling coward, there I
throw my gage”? (1.1.72). What role did
gages play in the feudal age?
Richard II, Shakespeare frequently
uses the word “up”—and many words with an
opposite meaning—in figures of speech
focusing on the rising or falling fortunes
of the characters, notably Richard and
Bolingbroke. Write a research paper
cataloging and explaining Shakespeare’s use
of “up” and “down” imagery in the play. To
ease your task, download a public-domain
copy of the play, then use your search
command to find occurrences of “up,” “down,”
and related words.
an essay explaining the concept of “the
divine right of kings,” stating that a
monarch’s authority was God given and,
therefore, not to be tampered with by the
subjects of the monarch.
War of the Roses
Bolingbroke's ascendancy to the English throne
as Henry IV was the germinal event that
triggered the War of the Roses (1455-1485)
between the House of Lancaster—founded by
Bolingbroke's father, John of Gaunt—and the House of York.
For additional information on the War of the