Richard II: by Shakespeare - Summary

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      The Life and Death of Richard II is a historical tragedy by William Shakespeare, published in two good Quartos in 1597 and 1608 (Q4) before the First Folio of 1623. The main source is Holiushed’s Chronicles.

      The play, Richard II opens with the conflict of two powerful noblemen, Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Hereford. Richard II orders them to settle their differences in a duel at Coventry. With all preparations made, the king suddenly intervenes and banishes both men. Bolingbroke’s resentment is exacerbated when Richard takes advantage of John of Gaunt’s death to confiscate Bolingbroke’s inheritance. He needs the money to finance his Irish wars. But the confiscation gives the calculating Bolingbroke a pretext for bringing an invading force to England. He receives sufficient support from English lords, overtaxed to gratify Richard’s extravagance, to encourage In to claim the throne. In a famous scene, the histrionic Richard stages his own deposition. He is then confined to Pomfret Castle, where he reflects on the divine right of kings. Threatened by conspiracies, Bolingbroke exercises a diplomacy and discipline that distinguish him from the deposed king. Sir Pierce of Exton, interpreting Bolingbroke’s secret wishes, kills Richard II at Pomfret, but is repudiated by Bolingbroke, now firmly enthroned as Henry IV The play ends with the new kings expressed intention to epiate the regicide by making a pilgrimage to the holy land.

      Richard II, because it deals with the deposition of an anointed king, was a controversial play. Shakespeare’s company earned the queen’s displeasure by performing it on the eve of the Early of Essex’s rebellion in 1601. Shakespeare, conscious of the notoriety of Marlowe’s Edward II wrote it as the tragedy of a misguided king. Although it stands as the first of sequence of English history plays, to be completed by the two parts of Henry IV and by Henry it was written as a single tragedy.

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