Richard II

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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Richard II, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
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At the center of Richard II, as in many other Shakespeare plays, is a family drama. Many characters are related to one another, and family obligations are constantly pitted against religious and moral duties. However, as is also common in Shakespeare, the family drama is elevated to a royal family drama, raising the stakes of the “domestic” conflict. One’s obligation to King Richard can be doubled, for example, if one is both a subject and a cousin to the king. These raised stakes lead to political motivations, which in turn cause people to act towards their families in ways they otherwise might not. Henry’s accusation of Mowbray at the beginning of the play, for example, is centered on the murder of Henry’s uncle (and Gaunt’s brother) the Duke of Gloucester. The irony here (exposed explicitly in the following scene) is that Richard himself is known to have been involved with Gloucester’s murder, despite the fact that Gloucester was his uncle. (We can note, however, that Richard also seems swayed by family ties, as he gives Henry a lighter sentence than Mowbray for no apparent reason other than the fact that the two are cousins.)

Gloucester’s murder looms over the play, and it’s the knowledge of Richard’s involvement that prompts the Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke’s widow, to plead with Gaunt to act against Richard. In order to appeal to him, she appeals to the obligations of brotherhood, saying that it should spur him to action. Gloucester, like Gaunt himself, carried Edward III’s sacred blood, and the Duchess says that the blood of a brother spilled is equivalent to Gaunt’s own blood being spilled. They shared the same blood and a birth from the same mother, and so they also share a death. The Duchess means this figuratively, but also literally, as she believes that by not resisting Gloucester’s killer, Gaunt opens himself to assassination. And though Gaunt feels this strong obligation to answer the call of brotherhood, for him the obligations of honor and of religion are stronger. Thus, though he suspects Richard of murdering his brother, he will not challenge the king for fear of challenging and blaspheming God.

Within Richard II we can also note a preview of the family relationship that will be central to Henry IV 1 and 2: the relationship between fathers and sons. In the first act, Henry laments that he might appear upset in his father’s sight, which would be a great dishonor. Henry has the full support of Gaunt and the utmost desire to impress and honor him. Likewise, Gaunt says that the banishment of Henry destroyed his life (even though we should note that he encouraged the banishment so as to appear impartial, again putting religious / royal duty above his family commitment). And, indeed, Gaunt will become deathly ill, criticize Richard for murdering his grandfather’s son (i.e. his uncle Gloucester), and die almost immediately after Henry’s banishment. The stress on this father-son relationship foreshadows that of Henry IV with his own son, Prince Hal, the prodigal miscreant who in later plays will ultimately become King Henry V.

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Family Quotes in Richard II

Below you will find the important quotes in Richard II related to the theme of Family.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Wrath-kindled gentlemen, be ruled by me.
Let's purge this choler without letting blood.
This we prescribe, though no physician.
Deep malice makes too deep incision.
Forget, forgive; conclude and be agreed,
Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.—
Good uncle, let this end where it begun;
We'll calm the Duke of Norfolk, you your son.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV, Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk
Related Symbols: Blood, The Crown
Page Number: 1.1.156-163
Explanation and Analysis:

After Henry and Mowbray have made their accusations, argued, and offered to fight one another, King Richard intercedes in an attempt to placate both men and resolve the matter without violence. He tells them to “be ruled by [him],” emphasizing that at this point his position on the throne is still secure. He hopes to end the situation without blood being spilled. The symbol of blood is used most basically here with a literal meaning; violence causes blood to spill.

But Richard also evokes bloodletting, an early medicinal practice of letting someone bleed in order to heal them. Richard, we see, rules with language, and favors figurative imagery to make his points. We can also note the sage advice in “deep malice makes too deep incision,” which suggests that hatred often plunges too deep. Richard advises the men to forgive and forget the matter, and if they had listened to him, Richard’s downfall might have been prevented.


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Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Finds brotherhood in thee no sharper spur?
Hath love in thy old blood no living fire?
Edward's seven sons, whereof thyself art one,
Were as seven vials of his sacred blood,
Or seven fair branches springing from one root.

Ah, Gaunt, his blood was thine! That bed, that womb,
That metal, that self mold that fashioned thee
Made him a man; and though thou livest and breathest,
Yet art thou slain in him.

Related Characters: Duchess of Gloucester (speaker), King Richard II, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester, Edward III
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 1.1.9-26
Explanation and Analysis:

The Duchess of Gloucester delivers these lines to her brother-in-law, John of Gaunt, in order to convince him to act against Richard. Gaunt has expressed his frustration at wanting to act against Richard for killing his brother Gloucester, but also feeling a religious obligation not to speak out against Richard since he is king.

The Duchess of Gloucester tries to use vivid imagery to convince Gaunt that his familial obligation is greater than his obligation to a king. She says that all of Gaunt’s brothers are like seven vials of Edward III’s sacred blood. Here blood symbolizes both familial bonds and the royal lineage. Gaunt and Gloucester shared the same blood. What’s more, the Duchess argues, they shared the same bed and womb, and were formed by the very same parents. And though Gaunt is alive, she says, he has also been killed through the death of Gloucester.

This final point has a dual meaning. First, as Gaunt and Gloucester share the same blood (and all of the other imagery) they are presented as essentially the same. Gaunt loses a bit of his own blood and dies when his family members die. But the Duchess also suggests that by refusing to speak against his brother’s killer, Gaunt dangerously opens himself up to attack.

Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

Shorten my days thou canst with sullen sorrow,
And pluck nights from me, but not lend a morrow.
Thou canst help time to furrow me with age,
But stop no wrinkle in his pilgrimage,
Thy word is current with him for my death,
But dead, thy kingdom cannot buy my breath.

Related Characters: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (speaker), King Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Page Number: 1.3.233-238
Explanation and Analysis:

Gaunt speaks these lines in anguish after his son’s sentencing. He says that he only supported the idea of banishing Henry to appear impartial, and that he (Gaunt) will most likely die before Henry returns to England. Richard attempts to comfort Gaunt and tell him that he’s mistaken, but here Gaunt makes an important distinction about the limitations of a king’s speech.

Richard’s speech has the power of action; with one word he could sentence Gaunt to death, basically killing him with words. But Gaunt notes that Richard is powerless to grant him life, to undo or slow time. Like time, Richard can use his word to kill Gaunt, but once Gaunt is dead, no royal words, nor the entire kingdom of England can be used to bring him back to death. This power to give life is one reserved only for God, an important limitation to the speech powers of a king who is understood as God’s substitute on earth.

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

O, but they say the tongues of dying men
Enforce attention like deep harmony.
Where words are since, they are seldom spent in vain,
For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.
He that no more must say is listened more
Than they whom youth and ease have taught to gloze.

Related Characters: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (speaker), King Richard II, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York
Page Number: 2.1.5-13
Explanation and Analysis:

Gaunt speaks these lines while deathly ill after his son’s banishment. He says them to his brother York, after saying that he hopes to see Richard again before he dies to give him some final advice. The reason Gaunt believes this last meeting to be important is that “the tongues of dying men” (i.e. speeches from people who are about to die) carry more weight than those of regular, healthy people. Gaunt suggests that last words are rarely unimportant or spent in vain, and that they are most often important truths. Someone uttering their last speech, according to Gaunt, will be listened to more carefully than a young smooth talker (“someone taught to gloze”). Ultimately, though, Gaunt’s illness is used as the reason for Richard to ignore Gaunt’s dying speech.

Act 3, Scene 3 Quotes

He is come to open
The purple testament of bleeding war;
But ere the crown he looks for live in peace,
Ten thousand bloody crowns of mothers' sons
Shall ill become the flower of England's face,
Change the complexion of her maid-pale peace
To scarlet indignation, and bedew
Her pastures' grass with faithful English blood.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Related Symbols: Blood, The Crown
Page Number: 3.3.95-102
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard says these lines to Henry in a proud speech. In it, he demands that his subjects treat him with the respect a king deserves, and he reminds these subjects that he is ruler by divine right. Here, he addresses Henry directly to say that he will fight to keep the throne. Richard says that Henry is causing a bloody war, and that before he can take the crown he wants in peace, ten thousand bloody crowns (heads) of mother’s sons will stain the face of England, which is figured both as a maiden and as a garden. Richard plays on the two meanings of crown here, and he returns to the image of the blood of thousands of men and the face of England. Though instead of the blood rushing from his own face as above, in Act 3 Scene 2, here the blood will be spilled and will stain the pale face of the body politic.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

If you crown him, let me prophesy
The blood of English shall manure the ground
And future ages groan for this foul act,
Peace shall go sleep with Turks and infidels,
And in this seat of peace tumultuous wars
Shall kin with kin and kind with kind confound.
Disorder, horror, fear, and mutiny
Shall here inhabit, and this land be called
The field of Golgotha and dead men's skulls.
O, if you raise this house against this house,
It will the woefullest division prove
That ever fell upon this curséd earth!

Related Characters: Bishop of Carlisle (speaker), King Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Related Symbols: Blood, The Crown
Page Number: 4.1.142-153
Explanation and Analysis:

After saying that technically, Henry cannot be crowned or pass sentence on Richard, Carlisle here offers his prophesy as to what will happen if Henry somehow is crowned. He says that the blood of the English will spill onto the ground, and that future generations will despise the foul deed of crowning Henry. Other lands will find peace while England becomes home to wars, where the family fights itself and people slaughter each other. Chaos and horror, he says, will rule England, if one house (family) rises against another. Dramatically, Carlisle says that it will be the worst split to ever occur on earth. This vivid, intense prophesy, audiences would know, will ultimately come true in later plays in the extremely blood Wars of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York. We can note that part of the horror of this war is that it is a war between two sides of one family. Here the family drama is elevated to a royal scale, and to deadly effect.

Here, cousin, seize the crown.
Here, cousin.
On this side my hand, on that side thine.
Now is this golden crown like a deep well
That owes two buckets, filling one another,
The emptier ever dancing in the air,
The other down, unseen, and full of water.
That bucket down and full of tears am I,
Drinking my grief, whilst you mount up on high.

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Related Symbols: The Crown
Page Number: 4.1.190-198
Explanation and Analysis:

In this climactic moment, the transition of power from Richard to Henry is made through the physical object of the crown, which symbolizes power and the throne itself. Both men hold either side of the crown, while Richard characterizes it as a deep well with two buckets alternately rising (when empty) and falling (when full of water). While Richard passes his power to Henry, he envisions Henry as a higher bucket pouring sorrows, grief, and tears down to a lower bucket that is Richard. It is fitting that as his fall is enacted and Henry’s rise to power is made official, Richard uses more low and high imagery with himself occupying the lowly figure.

Alack the heavy day,
That I have worn so many winters out
And know not now what name to call myself.
O, that I were a mockery king of snow
Standing before the sun of Bolingbroke,
To melt myself away in water drops.—

Related Characters: King Richard II (speaker), Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV
Page Number: 4.1.268-273
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard speaks these lines as a subject, having transferred away his kingly power to Henry IV. This excerpt speaks to the loss of identity that Richard feels upon losing the throne. After so many years alive, he doesn’t know what to call himself, since he has only been king thus far. After using “winters” for years, Richard uses another winter image and reverses the imagery that he has previously used to describe himself as king. Throughout the play, Richard characterizes himself as the sun, but here he wishes that he were a fake king made of snow standing before the sun that is Henry, so that he could be melted away into water. This image at once clarifies the reversal of power roles and shows Richard’s deep despair and wish to melt away into water drops, reminiscent of Hamlet’s desire to “melt into dew.”

Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

Can no man tell me of my unthrifty son?
'Tis full three months since I did see him last.
If any plague hang over us, 'tis he.
I would to God, my lords, he might be found.
Inquire at London, 'mongst the taverns there,
For there, they say, he daily doth frequent
With unrestrainéd loose companions,

Yet through both
I see some sparks of better hope, which elder years
May happily bring forth.

Related Characters: Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.1-22
Explanation and Analysis:

Henry speaks these lines to Henry Percy and some other nobles at the beginning of a scene. He has officially been crowned king by this point in the play. The excerpt is the first (and only mention) of Henry’s own son during the play, which partly focused at the beginning on Henry’s relationship with his father, Gaunt. Henry describes his son Hal (though unnamed here) as “unthrifty,” and notes that he hasn’t seen him in three months. If anything can threaten his crown, he says, right now it’s this prodigal son, who can be found, most likely, at a tavern in London with wild companions that sometimes even commit robberies.

This depiction of Hal is proved exactly accurate in the following play, Henry IV Part 1, which focuses in part on the father-son relationship between Henry and Hal. It’s fitting that Henry has this conversation with Percy, since in the next play Henry will even say that he wishes Percy were his son instead of Hal.

It’s also fitting, though, that Henry concludes the discussion of his son by saying that he sees sparks of hope in the boy, and that he might grow up and become a son of whom he can be proud. Henry’s prediction is also proved true by the rest of the tetralogy. In fact, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2 and Henry V can even be seen as three plays telling the story of Hal’s transition from miscreant prince to the successful King Henry V.

Act 5, Scene 6 Quotes

They love not poison that do poison need,
Nor do I thee. Though I did wish him dead,
I hate the murderer, love him murdered.
The guilt of conscience take thou for thy labor,
But neither my good word nor princely favor.

I’ll make a voyage to the Holy Land
To wash this blood off from my guilty hand.

Related Characters: Henry Bolingbroke / King Henry IV (speaker), King Richard II, Sir Pierce of Exton
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 5.6.38-42
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are exerpted from the final speech in the play, delivered by Henry, which is traditional, since often the most powerful figures receive the last word in Shakespeare’s plays. Henry speaks these lines after finding out that Exton has murdered Richard. While Exton claims that he did so under order from Henry, the new king tries to make it clear that he never ordered such a killing. He says that no one loves poison that needs it, and that he doesn’t love Exton. By this he means that though he desired the death of Richard, he would never order or enact it, and though Exton performed a difficult, needed service, he did so without the support of the king. Essentially, this is a paradox. Henry loves that Richard was murdered, but hates the murderer. He must take this position to ensure the legitimacy of his crown. He doesn’t want to get himself into the same position that Richard was at the start of the play, where everyone knew that he was implicated in the death of Gloucester.

At the same time, though, Henry does admit some guilt, saying that he needs to make a pilgrimage or crusade to the Holy Land in order to wash the blood from his guilty hands (even though a “crusade” typically means spilling more blood). Though Henry didn’t literally kill Richard, the situation is enough to put figurative blood on his hands, representing his guilt. Ultimately, though, he will not end up making this journey in the following plays.