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File:ShakespeareRichardII.jpg

You may my glories and my state depose,

But not my griefs; still am I king of those.
King Richard II, IV.i

An English history play by William Shakespeare. It's the first play in Shakespeare's second tetralogy, which includes Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, and Henry V. It is believed to have been composed in 1595, and is sometimes referred to as a tragedy. It chronicles the later years of King Richard II of England, who reigned from 1377 to 1399, as he is overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke, later King Henry IV.

The play opens with Bolingbroke and a rival challenging one another to a duel for their honour. Before they have a chance to fight, Richard II interrupts, banishing them both from England. John of Gaunt, Bolingbroke's father and the Duke of Lancaster, dies, and Richard decides to seize Bolingbroke's lands to fuel his war effort in Ireland. Bolingbroke returns, because he was banished as Duke of Hereford but is now Duke of Lancaster, and is rightfully pissed that his land and wealth has been taken by Richard. He organizes a campaign against Richard. At first, the campaign's goal is merely to get Bolingbroke's land back, but it quickly becomes an opportunity to seize the throne of England. In a scene that was originally censored out, Richard is forced to abdicate. He is sent to prison, where he angsts about the loss of his throne, before being killed by an ambitious nobleman. Henry IV regrets the death, and vows to redeem himself by starting a crusade against Jerusalem.

One of the main characteristics of the plays is its ornate, beautiful language, especially the flowery speeches of Richard II. He is contrasted with Bolingbroke, who is very plainspoken. Another notable feature is the "de-coronation" scene, which was cut from the original editions of the play because of its political touchiness-- the resemblances between Richard and Elizabeth are great. Indeed, the Earl of Essex requested the play be performed the evening before his failed uprising against the queen.

A performance of the play can be seen here.


Richard II provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Gay: Richard. This is possibly due to the fact that the play was heavily inspired by Marlowe's Edward II, wherein Edward is very gay and has a canonical male lover.
  • Anticlimax: The play leads up to Bolingbroke and Mowbray's duel like it's actually going to happen. It doesn't.
  • Banned in England: Used and requested by Essex and his plotters to advocate overthrowing Queen Elizabeth.
  • The Beautiful Elite: Richard and his favorites.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: They're Plantagenets: what did you expect?
  • Blood on These Hands: Bolingbroke, at the end (and all through the next two plays).
  • Bowdlerise: A case where it wasn't censored for lewdness or violence, but for political reasons.
  • Breather Episode: Bolingbroke's pardoning of Aumerle is very easy to play this way.
  • Cain and Abel: Bolingbroke references this in his first scene, referring to the slain Gloucester as Abel, and implicitly casting Richard as Cain. This is given an Ironic Echo in the very last scene where Bolingbroke, now king, refers to himself as Cain for setting Richard's death in motion, though it's uncertain how sincere he's being.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Bolingbroke, though he winds up being the one who gets backstabbed later in history.
  • Death Equals Redemption: in a variation of the trope, Richard finally lives up to his ancestors with his valor at the moment of death.
  • Death Is Dramatic
  • Despair Speech: "For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground / and tell sad stories of the death of kings..."
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Debatable. Richard is an awful king, but his punishment still seems overly harsh.
    • Even worse, he starved to death in Real Life.
  • Due to the Dead: Bolingbroke determines not only to give Richard a properly royal funeral, but to make a crusade of expiation (He never did fulfill the second part, either in Shakespeare or Real Life.)
  • Duel to the Death: Mowbray and Bolingbroke are fully prepared to have one before Richard stops them.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Prince Hal gets a mention in a throwaway line, but he never actually appears.
    • And Henry IV himself, if one counts "being a major character a play before you're the title character in the next".
    • Harry "Hotspur" Percy is another example; he has a minor role in this play before being a major character in 1 Henry IV.
  • Easily Forgiven: Bolingbroke is quick to pardon Aumerle, considering he was conspiring to overthrow him.
  • Famous Last Words: The title character.

 Richard: Mount, mount, my soul! thy seat is up on high;

Whilst my gross flesh sinks downward, here to die.

  • Fisher King: Deconstructed; garden imagery dominates the play, but it's more complicated than "the king is sad, so the land weeps."
  • Foe Yay: Richard and Bolingbroke. It's relatively subtle, but man, is it there.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: By the end of the play, Henry IV is doing some of the same things that Richard II was doing at the start of the play.
    • Appropriately, most of the rebels are ready to rebel again by the start of the next play.
  • Heroic BSOD: Both Richard and Henry IV, at the end of the play.
  • It's All About Me : Your nobles are declaring each other traitor and lots of behind-the-scenes maneuvering and murder threatens the stability of your crown. Clearly the thing to do is invade Ireland.
  • I Have No Son: the Duke of York reacting to Aumerle's treason against Bolingbroke.
  • Kangaroo Court: Richard's trial by Bolingbroke immediately after his deposition.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In story, the taking of Gaunt's land and money away from Bolingbroke, the rightful heir to them, is seen as this, and Richard is explicitly warned that once he does it there's no going back. He doesn't care.
  • The Paragon Always Rebels: Henry Hotspur.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege: Averted with John of Gaunt and Richard.

 Gaunt: A partial slander sought I to avoid,

And in the sentence my own life destroy'd.

Alas, I look'd when some of you should say,

I was too strict to make mine own away;

 Richard: O flattering glass,

Like to my followers in prosperity,

Thou dost beguile me!

  • Regent for Life: A more sympathetic example than most.
  • Rhetorical Request Blunder: May not actually be accidental.
  • Royal We: "Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings."
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Though not a traditional example of the trope, Richard never uses one word when ten will do.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Richard allows his dethroning without much fuss (besides the war, that is), but when asked to confess to his crimes, it is only his incessant speechifying that saves him from complete humiliation.
  • Throwing Down the Gauntlet:
    • Bolingbroke and Mowbray, with actual gauntlets.
    • Then again later in Act IV: Fitzwater and Aumerle have it out over Aumerle's supposed conspiring and challenge each other, then Hotspur, who just likes to fight, throws his gage down, and suddenly everyone's gloves are on the floor. Aumerle even has to ask someone to lend him a third!
  • Too Dumb to Live
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: The Duke of Gloucester, to hear some characters speak of it. Many 19th century productions played Richard this way, too.
  • Translation Convention: Averted--Mowbray has a moving speech about how his banishment from England means he will never be able to talk to anyone anywhere. Possibly a case of Did Not Do the Research, since the English court often spoke French during that period, but Richard's grandfather Edward III had made English the official language of the court in 1362, and Parliament had been opened in French for the last time in 1377.
  • Trial by Combat: Bolingbroke and Mowbray.
  • Wall Slump
  • The White Prince: Only he's the king, so that's going to end well.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Played straight with Mowbray, who is banished and dies offstage. Bolingbroke is also exiled, but he comes back.
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