Richard II: About The Play

David Tennant takes on the title role in Richard II this October, part of the Winter 2013-14 season at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Details were announced today by the new Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, who will direct the production.

The play will open at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon on 10th October 2013 and will run untill 16th November 2013. It will then transfer to the Barbican Theatre in London from December 9th 2013 until 25th January 2014. Visit here for information on booking tickets.

Richard II by William Shakespeare

Richard II was written by William Shakespeare in around 1595 and is the first of four plays based on the lives of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. Unusually for a Shakespeare play it is written almost entirely in prose. The play explores the concept of power and how it can corrupt. The character of Richard is complex - at the height of his power he is morally ambiguous and not likeable, but as the balance of power shifts towards his successor Henry he becomes less arrogant and more vulnerable. 

There is some thought that the events of the play reflect Shakespeare's own views on the monarchy of his time, as the weak and ageing Queen Elizabeth faced the threat of rebellion at the hands of her former favourite the Earl of Essex. A special performance of Richard II was commissioned at the Globe the night before the ill-fated rebellion and attended by a number of Essex's supporters.


King Richard and his uncle John of Gaunt are acting as arbiters in a dispute between Henry Bolingbroke, Gaunt’s son and Thomas Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk. Bolingbroke accuses Mowbray of embezzlement and the murder of the Duke of Gloucester. Richard permits them to compete in a duel, but just as the duel is starting he stops it and banishes them both, Bolingbroke for six years and Mowbray for life.

John of Gaunt is subsequently taken ill, but speaks upon his deathbed before the King and court of his concerns that Richard’s vanity, wastefulness and ill treatment of the public will bring his rule to an end. Upon Gaunt’s death Richard ignores the pleas of York to save his wealth for the return of Gaunt’s banished son Bolingbroke and takes it for himself before departing for war in Ireland leaving York to govern in his place

Northumberland later speaks to Lords Ross and Willoughby about news he has had from Bolingbroke – that he has gathered an army and intends to return to England while Richard is absent. They pledge to support him. With the Queen alarmed by the news that Bolingbroke is returned and having had word that his intends to overthrow Richard, York meets with Bolingbroke as he and his supporters arrive in England. On learning that Bolingbroke has returned not to spark revolution but to claim his rightful inheritance he agrees to lend him some support and allow him to proceed in his action while he himself remains neutral. Meanwhile, Richard’s Welsh troops also join Bolingbroke’s cause, having received false news that he has been killed in Ireland.

Richard returns to the news that many of his noblemen and soldiers are now siding with Bolingbroke, that his loyal supporters have been put to death and that the common people of the land are rising up and taking arms against him. He flees to Flint Castle where he meets with Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke pledges allegiance to the king as long as his inheritance is returned and the banishment lifted. Richard agrees to the demands but still does not trust Bolingbroke to uphold his side of the bargain. He confronts Bolingbroke who seizes him.

Bolingbroke forces Richard to give up the crown and is proclaimed as King Henry IV in his place. Richard is accused of a great number of crimes and plots and is imprisoned in the Tower. When the Duke of Aumerle, son of the Duke of York is discovered to be part of a conspiracy to kill King Henry and restore Richard to the throne, his parents plead for Henry to forgive him. Aumerle is pardoned because of his confession, but others involved in the conspiracy are executed.

The nobleman Exton visits Richard in his cell and kills him. His body is brought before King Henry who mourns him and vows to travel to the Holy Land to repent.

Keep a close eye on our Richard II pages for all the news and information about the play over the coming months.