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Sources of the Play

The chief source of Richard II was the second edition of Raphael Holinshed's chronicle.[1] We are assured that Shakespeare used the second edition by the fact that the portent of the withered bay-trees appears there and not in the first edition (see Boswell-Stone, Shakespeare's Holinshed, p. x., for a score of similar instances from other chronicle plays). From Holinshed Shakespeare drew practically all his historical material, and in general he shows no knowledge of facts or explanations of events recorded by other historians. Possible exceptions to this statement are as follows:

i. The allusion to Mowbray's fighting in the Holy Land (IV. i. 92–96) may have come from Stow's Annals.

ii. The business of actually handing the crown to Bolingbroke (IV. i. 181–183), not in Holinshed, may have come from Berners's Froissart, xiv. 220. It is also in Daniel, ii. 112.

iii. Shakespeare may have drawn from other plays on the subject then extant.

iv. He may have been influenced by Daniel's The First Fowre Bookes of the ciuile wars between the two houses of Lancaster and Yorke. 1595.

The two latter possibilities need to be discussed in detail. The manuscript diary of Dr. Simon Forman, preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (Shakespearean excerpts reprinted in Trans. New Shakspere Society, 1875–1878, App. II.), refers to a play of Richard II, acted at the Globe Theater, April 30, 1611; unlike Shakespeare's, it began with Wat Tyler's rebellion and concerned itself with the machinations of the barons during Richard's tutelage. It seems to have been completely lost. Again, on the eve of the Essex rebellion (February 8, 1601), 'the play of deposing King Richard II' was performed before the conspirators. One of them, Sir Gilly Merrick, got Shakespeare's company to put it on, after a payment of a bonus of forty shillings to overcome their objection that 'the play was old and that they should have a loss in playing it, because few would come to it.' Camden refers to it as 'exoletam tragoediam.' In spite of the fact that Shakespeare's Richard II, printed in quarto four times in ten years, is ill described as obsolete, the probabilities are in favor of its being the play concerned. It may well be that the players, reluctant to offend either Essex or the Queen, offered unpopularity as an excuse for demanding an extra sum as insurance against prosecution. Finally, there exists another play, A Tragedy of Richard II, concluding with the Murder of the Duke of Gloster at Calais, in a manuscript of about 1600, privately printed by Halliwell-Phillips in 1870, and reprinted in Shakespeare Jahrbuch, XXXV. 3–121. This is a rather crude play in a style between Greene's and Kyd's, dealing with Richard II's reign from his betrothal to Anne of Bohemia in 1382 to the murder of Gloucester in 1397. The German editor thinks, with good reason, that it was earlier than Richard II and unconnected with it. The hypothesis that it forms a 'first part' of Shakespeare's Richard II, written afterward, or continued by him, is disposed of by the following anomalies: (1) the death of the favorite, Green, who appears in Shakespeare; (2) Gloucester is killed by Lapoole and not by Norfolk; (3) the King is presented in an unsympathetic light throughout; (4) its end, with the King in the hands of the barons, does not join on with the beginning of Shakespeare's play.

Shakespeare's allusive treatment, it must be said, of the historical events of a reign two centuries removed from the time of his production presumes a familiarity on the part of the play-going public due either to other plays on the earlier part of the reign or to the persistent discussion of Richard II in poems like Daniel's and histories like Haywarde's First Part of the Life and Raigne of Henrie the IV. All these it is likely that Shakespeare used, not as source, but rather as background.

The first edition of the Ciuile Wars of Samuel Daniel (1595) stands in a different relation. R. G. White had the idea that two editions of Daniel's work appeared in 1595, the second of which showed several modifications in the sense of conformity to Richard II. Unfortunately, there is no objective evidence for this belief, and the modifications really date from 1599 and 1601. Aside from verbal parallels like C. W. I. 83 with III. ii. 106–111, I. 60 with I. i. 9, and IV. 90 with II. i. 44, there are at least two important departures from Holinshed common to both. One is the representation of Queen Isabel as of woman's estate, meeting and lamenting with her husband in his disgrace. The other is Richard's soliloquy in Pomfret Castle, just before his murder.

There is no proof that there was borrowing by either author from the other; since, however, in both cases Daniel's passages are cruder and tamer, besides being far from identical in substance with Shakespeare's, it seems more likely that the latter took the ideas of Daniel, infusing the soliloquy with his own richness of eloquence and imagination, and elaborating the one appearance of Queen Isabel into three, converting mere grief into premonition, dejection, and passionate reluctance of farewell. It is more in the nature of things for Shakespeare to color and dramatize a tame passage of a lesser poet (cf. his contemporary handling of Brooke's Romeus and Juliet) than for Daniel to change and reduce Shakespeare's brilliant scenes to his own dull stanzas.

The following excerpts from Shakespeare's sources, if compared with the pertinent passages in the play, will show something of the extent and nature of his indebtedness and the freedom with which he dealt with such material:

From Holinshed's Chronicles, ed. Wallace and Hansen, pp. 70–71. Compare with V. iii.

. . . Except the earle of Rutland, by whose follie their practised conspiracie was brought to light and disclosed to king Henrie. For this earle of Rutland departing before from Westminster to see his father the duke of Yorke, as he sat at dinner, had his counterpane of the indenture of the confederacie in his bosome.

The father espieng it, would needs see what it was: and though the sonne humblie denied to shew it, the father being more earnest to see it, by force tooke it out of his bosome; and perceiving the contents therof, in a great rage caused his horsses to be sadled out of hand, and spitefullie reprooving his sonne of treason, for whome he was become suertie and mainpernour for his good abearing in open parlement, he incontinentlie mounted on horsse-backe to ride towards Windsore to the king, to declare unto him the malicious intent of his complices. The earle of Rutland seeing in what danger he stood, tooke his horsse, and rode another waie to Windsore in post, so that he got thither before his father, and when he was alighted at the castell gate, he caused the gates to be shut, saieng that he must needs deliver the keies to the king. When he came before the kings presence, he kneeled downe on his knees, beseeching him of mercie and forgivenesse, and declaring the whole matter unto him in order as everie thing had passed, obteined pardon. Therewith came his father, and being let in, delivered the indenture which he had taken from his sonne, unto the king, who thereby perceiving his sonnes words to be true, changed his purpose for his going to Oxenford. . . .

From Daniel's Ciuile Wars, ed. Grosart. II. 64–66; 90–91. Compare with V. ii. and V. i.

He that in glorie of his fortune sate,
Admiring what hee thought could neuer be,
Did feele his blood within salute his state,
And lift vp his reioycing soule, to see
So many hands and hearts congratulate
Th' aduancement of his long-desir'd degree;
When, prodigall of thankes, in passing by,
He resalutes them all, with chearefull eye.

Behind him, all aloofe, came pensiue on
The vnregarded King; that drooping went
Alone, and (but for spight) scarce lookt vpon:
Iudge, if hee did more enuie, or lament.
See what a wondrous worke this day is done;
Which th' image of both fortunes doth present:
In th' one, to shew the best of glories face;
In th' other, worse then worst of all disgrace.

Novv Isabell, the young afflicted Queene
(Whose yeares had neuer shew'd her but delights,
Nor louely eyes before had euer seene
Other then smiling ioyes, and ioyfull sights;
Borne great, matcht great, liv'd great, and euer beene
Partaker of the worlds best benefits)
Had plac't her selfe, hearing her Lord should passe
That way, where she vnseene in secret was;


(she recognizes him in the procession with difficulty, and seeing his misfortune, goes secretly to the Tower to comfort him.)

Entring the chamber, where he was alone
(As one whose former fortune was his shame)
Loathing th' vpbraiding eye of any one
That knew him once, and knowes him not the same:
When hauing giuen expresse command that none
Should presse to him; yet hearing some that came
Turnes angerly about his grieued eyes:
When, lo, his sweete afflicted Queene he spyes.

Straight cleares his brow; and with a borrowed smile,
What, my deare Queene? welcome, my deare, he sayes:
And (striuing his owne passion to beguile,
And hide the sorrow which his eye betrayes)
Could speake no more; but wrings her hands, the while:
And then, Sweet Lady; and againe he stayes:
Th' excesse of ioy and sorrow both affordes
Affliction none, or but poore niggard wordes.

From The Chronicle of Froissart: translated out of French by Sir John Bourchier Lord Berners. (The Tudor Translations) 1903. Cap. CCXL. Vol. vi. p. 378. Compare with IV. i. 162–222.

And on a day the duke of Lancastre acompanyed with lordes, dukes, prelates, erles, barones, and knyghtes, and of the notablest men of London, and of other good townes, rode to the Towre, and there alyghted. Then kynge Rycharde was brought into the hall, aparelled lyke a kynge in his robes of estate, his septer in his hande, and his crowne on his heed. Than he stode up alone, nat holden nor stayed by no man, and sayde aloude: I have been kynge of Englande, duke of Aquytany, and lorde of Irelande, aboute xxii. yeres, whiche sygnory, royalte, cepter, crowne, and herytage, I clerely resygne here to my cosyn Henry of Lancastre: and I desyre hym here in this open presence, in entrynge of the same possessyon, to take this septour: and so delyvered it to the duke, who toke it. Than kynge Rycharde toke the crowne fro his heed with bothe his handes, and set it before hym, and sayd: Fayre cosyn, Henry duke of Lancastre, I gyve and delyver you this crowne, wherwith I was crowned kyng of Englande, and therwith all the right therto dependyng. The duke of Lancastre tooke it, and the archebysshop of Caunterbury toke it out of the dukes handes. . . . Than Rycharde of Burdeaux retourned agayne into the chambre fro whence he came.

  1. The first and second volumes of chronicles, comprising (1) The description and historie of England, (2) The description and historie of Ireland, (3) The description and history of Scotland. First collected and published by R. H., W. Harrison and others. Now augmented and continued to the yeare 1586 by J. Hooker alias Vowell and others. In folio. 1587.