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Richard II

by William Shakespeare

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,118542,857 (3.78)142
Before 1790, the criticism of Richard II is fragmentary and this volume takes up the major tradition of criticism, including Malone, Lamb, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Chambers, Boas, Brandes, Yeats, Schelling, Swinburne, A.C. Bradley, Saintsbury, and Masefield.

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Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
This is not one of the better known of Shakespeare's historical plays, but I found its language rich and quite stirring. It centres around the King's conflict with the Lords Appellant who opposed him during the tyranny into which his reign had descended by the 1390s, in particular his cousin Bolingbroke, son of the King's uncle John of Gaunt, and the future King Henry IV. I think this will stimulate me to read the other historical plays covering the tumultuous 15th century. ( )
  john257hopper | Feb 6, 2024 |
While I was glad to read/listen to this historical play (I read the text in my Kindle omnibus "The Works of Shakespeare" while listening to this LibriVox full cast recording), I was annoyed by Richard II. I appreciated that the way that Shakespeare made his character seem more likeable in the final few acts and his speeches about 'woe to those who depose a king' were most likely written with an eye to pleasing Queen Elizabeth I, but to my modern (and American) sensibilities, it struck me as outrageous that Richard II never acknowledged that he had done anything wrong!

The LibriVox audiobook was OK but not one of their better efforts. The voice of John of Gaunt in particular was difficult for me to listen to. I probably should have just read the text... ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 27, 2023 |
I find it exciting to pick up a Shakespeare play that I have not read before and Richard II proved to be a straightforward read. Let me explain: my modus operandi with Shakespeare is to read through the play in one sitting if possible and then note down any thoughts. I will then read the introduction and any notes or commentaries before reading through the play again at a slower pace. I finish off by watching a video performance of the play (usually a BBC production). On my first reading I was surprised how easy it was to follow the story. It is a history play and Shakespeare although reorganising and adapting the historical facts still tells a recognisable story of the latter part of Richard's reign and Bolingbroke's seizing of the crown. Other first impressions were that the heightened language that Richard and others use reminded me of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II or even Tamburlaine. It is a political play, perhaps the most political play I have read so far and its major theme is the divine right of kings. There is only a little light relief from the tragedy of the unfolding story. There are no prose passages and plenty of poetry in the iambic pentameter. The play is usually dated at 1595 and would seem to be a thoroughly professional job, by a playwright who had learnt his craft.

On to the commentaries and notes of which there were plenty, being from the Arden Collection of plays. There is certainly enough here to explain and enhance the enjoyment. I also had in my library a copy of MAXnotes from the Research & Education Association's collection of study guides, I had previously not read any of these and found it concise and easy to read. It summarises the play scene by scene and provides a good analysis of the themes and story as it goes along. It stars with a very useful introduction on Shakespeares language and was a useful back-up to the Introduction and notes in the Arden publication. I usually spend some time researching on the internet for different aspects or views, but found much of this to be superfluous for this play. I felt I really did not need to know anymore to the information to hand.

The editors of the Arden Shakespeare of course talk up the play that they have been asked to edit, but I have to agree with Charles R Forker who says:

"Its unusual formality of structure and tone as well as the impressive eloquence of its style seems to have been crafted to express the mystique of kingship more emphatically than any of the earlier histories, without neglecting a subtle handling of its major action........................In the character of Richard, Shakespeare achieved a higher degree of psychological complexity than he had yet managed in tragedy"

Forker goes on to say that Richard II is now regarded as one of the greatest of Shakespeares histories, with over 3000 books/commentaries written about it, which means that you could spend any amount of time reading about other peoples research or views if you wished.

Shakespeare starts the play with the confrontation between Thomas Mowbray Duke of Norfolk and Henry Bolingbroke in front of King Richard II. They accuse each other of being traitors to the king. Richard cannot settle the dispute and so they agree to a trial by combat. At the very last moment before the lethal joust Richard stops the contest and exiles them both. Mowbray for life and Bolingbroke who has family connections to the king for six years. Richard lives a dissolute lifestyle spending much money on his friends and hangers on, he decides to lead an army to quell a revolt in Ireland, but the treasury is nearly empty. He raises money by enforced loans on the English nobility and by the sequestration of land and property from Bolingbroke who has inherited his fathers estates, the wealthy John of Gaunt. While Richard is in Ireland Henry Bolingbroke with a host of titled followers lands in the North of England and soon attracts more support including eventually the Duke of York who Richard has entrusted with guarding his kingdom whilst he is in Ireland. Richard arrives back in England after a successful campaign to find that his army has been let go and his court favourites have fled or been executed by Bolingbroke. He is powerless and Bolingbroke looks for a way to seize power by persuading Richard to abdicate in his favour. Richard is forced to agree and becomes Bolingbroke's (now Henry IV) prisoner. Richard is murdered in Pontefract castle.

In Plantagenet England kingly succession was more often than not a tricky business, because of disputes over birthrights, however in this instance Shakespeare's focus is on a direct usurpation which brings starkly into question the divine right of kings. Richard claimed amid popular contention that he was appointed by God to rule England, still a feudal state at this time (mid 14th century) and so Richard supported by the clergy has an indisputable right to govern as he sees fit and he makes this case throughout the play. For political reasons Bolingbroke is able to lead a successful revolt, but cannot rule in security until the old king is dead. Shakespeare's skill here is in leading his audience firstly to admire Richards kingly qualities in settling a difficult dispute and then to turn them against the king when they see his unjust behaviour, to the noble families and particularly Bolingbrook. Unjust, vindictive behaviour or a politician indulging in realpolitik it's difficult to decide. However sympathies are swayed back to Richard when he is devastated by the loss of his kingship. Watching the BBC production I thought that Richard got what was coming to him, despite his tragic circumstances, but in Elizabethan England where the idea of the divine right of kings was almost sacrosanct, Shakespeares arguments brilliantly portrayed by Richard would have swayed many people to feel the tragedy of his final months.

The play is notable for its poetry and word play. There are some impressive speeches, for example John of Gaunt's patriotic 'sceptered Isle' speech or Richards 'hollow crown' speech. There are many such as these, even the assistant gardener can get in on the act:

"Why should we in the compass of a pale
Keep law and form and due proportion,
Showing, as in a model, our firm estate,
When our sea walled garden, the whole land
Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up,
Her fruit trees all unpruned, her hedges ruined
Her knots disordered and her wholesome herbs
Swarming with caterpillars."

He is talking about the state of England under Richard's kingship and the caterpillars are the kings flattering supporters. We know this about the caterpillars because one of Bolingbroke's followers has already referred to Richards' flatterers as caterpillars. This is an example of the unity of Shakespeares vision and poetry in this play, which has patterns and themes interweaved throughout, for example: the idea of blood which stands for family and murder, the tears and weeping which show emotion, images of blots stains and poison, the powerful image of the mirror where Richard examines his dual identity of man and divine monarch, the idea of people and things which can be sweet or sour according to the wheel of fortune.

A Shakespeare play then that can hardly be faulted and one that has a unity of vision making it a delight to follow to the end. The character development of both Ricard II and Bolingbroke adds real depth and so 5 stars. ( )
2 vote baswood | Mar 31, 2023 |
Useful only for the chapter on the John Barton 1973/4 production. Some really odd omissions, most strikingly nothing at all on Terry Hands in 1981 for the RSC. Overall little original insight. Disappointing. ( )
  djh_1962 | Nov 13, 2022 |
“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” might sum up this drama as well as anything. Shakespeare’s play tells the story of Richard II’s deposition by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. There’s a lot of musing on the divine right of kings, as well as on the consent of the governed.

Henry Bolingbroke’s rise begins with a dispute with Thomas Mowbray over the death of Thomas of Woodstock, the king’s uncle (and also Bolingbroke’s uncle), apparently at the king’s behest. The play ends as it began, with Exton’s murder of the deposed Richard because he inferred it was Henry IV’s wish. ( )
  cbl_tn | May 14, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (82 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shakespeare, Williamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dawson, Anthony B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Edmondson, PaulEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Forker, Charles R.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gentleman, DavidCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harrison, G. B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hinman, CharltonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kittredge, George LymanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muir, KennethEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rasmussen, EricEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ridley, M. R.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rolfe, William J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ure, PeterEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wells, Stanley W.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Werstine, PaulEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, John DoverEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Yachnin, PaulEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Old John of Gaunt, time-honour'd Lancaster,
Hast thou, according to thy oath and band,
Brought hither Henry Hereford thy bold son,
Here to make good the boisterous late appeal,
Which then our leisure would not let us hear,
Against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray?
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This work is for the complete Richard II only. Do not combine this work with abridgements, adaptations or simplifications (such as "Shakespeare Made Easy"), Cliffs Notes or similar study guides, or anything else that does not contain the full text. Do not include any video recordings. Additionally, do not combine this with other plays.
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Before 1790, the criticism of Richard II is fragmentary and this volume takes up the major tradition of criticism, including Malone, Lamb, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Chambers, Boas, Brandes, Yeats, Schelling, Swinburne, A.C. Bradley, Saintsbury, and Masefield.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140714820, 0141016639


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