Richard II


William Shakespeare

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Richard II Study Guide

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Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on William Shakespeare's Richard II. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of William Shakespeare

Though he is perhaps the most famous writer in history, much of Shakespeare’s life remains a mystery. His father was a glove-maker, and the young Shakespeare received no more than a grammar school education. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, but left his family behind around 1590 and moved to London, where he became an actor and playwright. He was an immediate success: Shakespeare soon became the most popular playwright of the day as well as a part-owner of the Globe Theater. His theater troupe was adopted by King James as the King's Men in 1603. Shakespeare retired as a rich and prominent man to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and died three years later.
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Historical Context of Richard II

Richard II takes place during two years of the life of England’s King Richard II, who reigned from 1377 to 1399. Born the grandson of Edward III and a member of the Plantagenet family, Richard II inherited the throne as a child. The play begins the story of the Tudor reign, which culminated with Shakespeare’s Queen Elizabeth I. Richard II also sets up the divide within the Plantagenet family and the War of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York.

Other Books Related to Richard II

Richard II is the first play in the tetralogy of Shakespeare plays known as the Henriad, which also includes Henry IV Part 1, and Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V. Together, the plays enact the historic rise of the House of Lancaster to England’s throne. Richard II tracks Henry Bolingbroke’s defeat of King Richard II to become King Henry IV; Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2 track King Henry IV’s reign, struggle to keep his throne, and eventual death; and Henry V follows the reign of Henry IV’s son King Henry V, who is just a boy and is mentioned briefly in Richard II but does not appear on stage.
Key Facts about Richard II
  • Full Title: The Tragedy of Richard II
  • When Written: 1595
  • Where Written: London
  • When Published: 1597 (Quarto)
  • Literary Period: Elizabethan England
  • Genre: History Play
  • Setting: England, Wales
  • Climax: Richard relinquishes the throne and Henry is crowned King Henry IV
  • Antagonist: Richard II / Henry Bolingbroke (later King Henry IV)

Extra Credit for Richard II

Elevated Language (By the Numbers). Richard II is one of Shakespeare’s only plays containing no prose whatsoever. The entirety of the play is made up of verse, 81 percent of which is blank, meaning non-rhyming. By contrast, the other plays in the Henriad are around 40% prose, and about 50% blank verse. Of all of Shakespeare’s history plays, Richard II is the most rhyming. It is also the most rhyming of any Shakespeare play that is not a comedy.

Historical Sources. The primary source material for Richard II was a work known as Holinshed’s Chronicles. This historical chronicle also provided source material for most of the history plays, as well as the tragedies Macbeth, King Lear, and Cymbeline.