For further information regarding the critical and stage history of Richard II, see SC, Volumes 6, 24, 39, 52, 58, and 70. INTRODUCTION
Richard II (ca. 1595) is the first drama of Shakespeare's second historical tetralogy, a sequence of chronological narratives based on events in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries that chronicle the ascent of the Lancastrian line to the throne of England. In the play, Richard, an ineffectual monarch and the last of the Plantagenet kings, is deposed and imprisoned after his cousin Henry Bolingbroke launches a successful coup to usurp the English crown. Following Richard's assassination, Bolingbroke becomes King Henry IV, the subject of the following two plays in the sequence. Written entirely in verse, Richard II features what numerous critics perceive as Shakespeare's most brilliantly realized rhetorical tragedy, a work centered on the poetic, introspective persona of King Richard II. Devoid of the spectacular battles, much of the violence, and the epic sweep of Shakespeare's subsequent historical works, the play has sometimes been faulted for dramatic unevenness, but is nevertheless highly regarded for its moments of superbly crafted and penetrating poetic dialogue. Dorothy C. Hockey (1964) compares the dramatic language of Richard II to Shakespeare's later dramas, noting that while his later dramas use a masterful plain style that seamlessly incorporates prose and verse, the ornate and elevated rhetorical manner of Richard II elegantly matches the play's high style and regal subject. Character-based study of Richard II has overwhelmingly focused on its title figure, and on the relationship between Richard and his usurping rival, Henry Bolingbroke. In general, Richard has been viewed in sharp contrast with Shakespeare's other English kings. Louise Cowan (1981) characterizes Richard II as a dignified but brooding monarch whose irresponsibility as a ruler is an affront to his hereditary authority. His...
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