Richard II


William Shakespeare

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Richard II Themes

Read our modern English translation.
Themes and Colors
The Throne Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Honor and Appearance Theme Icon
England Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Richard II, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Throne

Richard II is the first play in a tetralogy (a group of four plays) commonly referred to as the “Henriad.” This set of plays depicts the historic struggles for the English throne, and, along with Shakespeare’s other tetralogy, the changes of power that eventually led to the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, the monarch of England during the first part of Shakespeare’s career. In this way, the history plays can be seen as homages to…

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As in every Shakespeare play, language is explored and used playfully in Richard II. In this play, language can be seen as a source and means of power, as a connection to native lands, and as an act in and of itself. But Richard II is unique in that it is only one of two (or four, depending on whom you ask) plays that consist entirely of verse. While the next plays in the…

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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…

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Honor and Appearance

From the beginning of Richard II, honor—and particularly the appearance of honor—is of the utmost importance to the characters in the play. The dispute between Henry and Mowbray that opens the play, for example, is essentially one of honor. In the dispute, Henry and Mowbray stand before Richard and call each other traitors. Being a traitor is, of course, extremely dishonorable, and it is this attack on honor and his “spotless reputation” that makes…

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As noted above, the Henriad and all of the history plays trace the line of the English throne leading up to Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled during the first part of Shakespeare’s career. Thus, running through all of the other themes in the play are a strong sense of English pride and an exploration of England itself. The pride for England, for example, is expressed in the way that Henry and Mowbray react to being…

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