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Richard II

Written: 1595 Texts: Quartos 1597, 1598 (two), 1608, 1615; First Folio 1623 (History)

Source: Hall, Edward (1498-1547). The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (3rd. ed., 1550); Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587); Anonymous. Thomas of Woodstock(c. 1592); Froissart, Jean(c.1337-1410). Chroniques (1495?)(John Bourchier's English translation in 1523-5); William Baldwin ed. The Mirror for Magistrates (1559 ed.); Daniel, Samuel (c.1562-1619). The Civil Wars between the Two Houses of Lancaster and York (1595-1609)

Characters: King Richard II, Sir John Bushy, Sir John Bagot, Sir Henry Green, Richard’s Queen (her name was Isabella but Shakespeare never used her name), John of Gaunt the Duke of Lancaster, Henry Bolingbroke the Duke of Hereford and son to John of Gaunt and later King Henry IV, Duchess of Gloucester the widow to Thomas the Duke of Gloucester, Edmund the Duke of YorkDuchess of YorkDuke of Aumerle the Earl of Rutland and son to Duke and Duchess of York, Thomas Mowbray the Duke of Norfolk, Earl of SalisburyBishop of CarlisleSir Stephen ScroopLord BerkeleyAbbot of WestminsterWelsh Captain, Henry Percy the Earl of NorthumberlandLord RossLord WilloughbyHarry Percy the son of Northumberland and later known as “Hotspur”, Lord Fitzwater, Duke of SurreyAnother LordGardenerGardener’s ServingmenSir Pierce of Exton, and others.

Setting: London and Wales; TimeAD 1398-1400

Richard II, in historical chronological order, is the first play in what is now known as the Second Tetralogy, written between 1597 and 1598. Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V are the other three. The First Tetralogy, written earlier between 1591 and 1595, includes Henry VI Part 1Henry VI Part 2, Henry VI Part 3, and Richard III.

Richard II, while lyrical in style, became, in Shakespeare's lifetime, one of his most controversial and political plays. On February 7, 1601, supporters of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, paid the Lord Chamberlain's Men to mount a performance of the play the day before Essex attempted a coup against Elizabeth I. Perhaps his partisans believed that the abdication scene, which was so provocative it did not even appear in print until the fourth quarto in 1608, would inspire playgoers to join Essex's attempted coup the next day. It did not. But it did briefly cast a shadow on the Lord Chamberlain's Men's loyalty to the Queen. Shakespeare, unlike several of his contemporaries such as Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe and others, shrewdly avoided jail due to political overreach in his plays. This was his closest call. While a few members of the audience for that command performance were arrested and executed, the Lord Chamberlain's Men were not. In fact, the night before Essex's execution, the company again performed Richard II, this time at Whitehall at the Queen's command. The play was not a comedy but the queen clearly had the last laugh.

Cousin of Hereford, what dost thou object

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King Richard
Cousin of Hereford, what dost thou object
Against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray?
Bolingbroke
First—heaven be the record to my speech!—
In the devotion of a subject’s love,
Tend’ring the precious safety of my prince
And free from other misbegotten hate,
Come I appellant to this princely presence.—

Since the more fair and crystal is the sky,
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Act 1
Scene 1
Line 29

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Look what I speak, my life shall prove it true

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Look what I speak, my life shall prove it true:
That Mowbray hath received eight thousand nobles
In name of lendings for your Highness’ soldiers,
The which he hath detained for lewd employments,
Like a false traitor and injurious villain.

And, by the glorious worth of my descent,
This arm shall do it, or this life be spent.
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Act 1
Scene 1
Line 89

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Wrath-kindled gentlemen, be ruled by me

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King Richard
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.

Forget, forgive; conclude and be agreed.
Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.—
Good uncle,
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Act 1
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Line 156

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Alas, the part I had in Woodstock’s blood

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Gaunt 
Alas, the part I had in Woodstock’s blood
Doth more solicit me than your exclaims
To stir against the butchers of his life.
But since correction lieth in those hands
Which made the fault that we cannot correct,
Put we our quarrel to the will of heaven,
Who, when they see the hours ripe on Earth,
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Act 1
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Farewell, old Gaunt

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Duchess of Gloucester
Farewell, old Gaunt.
Thou goest to Coventry, there to behold
Our cousin Hereford and fell Mowbray fight.
O, sit my husband’s wrongs on Hereford’s spear,
That it may enter butcher Mowbray’s breast!

Grief boundeth where it falls,
Not with the empty hollowness, but weight.

Or if misfortune miss the first career,
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Act 1
Scene 2
Line 46

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O, let no noble eye profane a tear

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Bolingbroke
O, let no noble eye profane a tear
For me if I be gored with Mowbray’s spear.
As confident as is the falcon’s flight
Against a bird do I with Mowbray fight.

As gentle and as jocund as to jest
Go I to fight. Truth hath a quiet breast.

My loving lord, I take my leave of you.—
Of you,
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Act 1
Scene 3
Line 59

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Let them lay by their helmets and their spears

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King Richard
Let them lay by their helmets and their spears,
And both return back to their chairs again.
 To his council.
Withdraw with us, and let the trumpets sound
While we return these dukes what we decree.
 Trumpets sound while Richard consults with
 Gaunt
 and other Nobles.
 To Bolingbroke and Mowbray. 
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Act 1
Scene 3
Line 119

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Norfolk, for thee remains a heavier doom

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King Richard
Norfolk, for thee remains a heavier doom,
Which I with some unwillingness pronounce:
The sly, slow hours shall not determinate
The dateless limit of thy dear exile.
The hopeless word of “never to return”
Breathe I against thee, upon pain of life.
Mowbray
A heavy sentence, my most sovereign liege,
And all unlooked-for from your Highness’ mouth.
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Act 1
Scene 3
Line 150

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O, to what purpose dost thou hoard thy words

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Gaunt, to Bolingbroke
O, to what purpose dost thou hoard thy words,
That thou returnest no greeting to thy friends?
Bolingbroke
I have too few to take my leave of you,
When the tongue’s office should be prodigal
To breathe the abundant dolor of the heart.

All places that the eye of heaven visits
Are to a wise man ports and happy havens.
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Act 1
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Line 259

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Will the King come, that I may breathe my last

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Gaunt
Will the King come, that I may breathe my last
In wholesome counsel to his unstaid youth?
York
Vex not yourself nor strive not with your breath,
For all in vain comes counsel to his ear.

This blessèd plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
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Act 2
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