What is the Tudor Myth

Summary of King Richard II

The end of the Elizabethan age

In 1603 the Elizabethan Age came to an end in England. Queen Elizabeth I. had ruled the UK for 45 years. During this time England experienced an impressive political and economic boom. The country replaced Spain as the strongest seafaring nation and became a major European power. The growing prosperity of the bourgeoisie also contributed to national self-confidence.

Elisabeth's father already had it in 1534 Henry VIII broke with Rome and founded the Anglican Church; in Elizabeth's time the country emancipated itself even more from Catholicism. Spiritual and religious tolerance were the result and had a stimulating effect on the Empire in many ways. The fact that a single woman was at the head of the empire did nothing to change the rule of men within English society. Women, especially aristocrats, were married by their fathers and then had to obey their husbands.

Shakespeare's London was a comparatively modern, lively and intellectually open city with around 200,000 inhabitants. Elisabeth was considered a great patron of art and drama. Under her reign, the venues became places of experience for the people. There was a real theater boom, accompanied by an artistically fruitful competition between professional actors.


As with many of Shakespeare's dramas, the date of origin is King Richard II not exactly known, since plays at that time were primarily utility literature for theater troupes and as a rule were initially not published in writing. It is believed that the piece was written in 1595. At that time Shakespeare was writing for Lord Chamberlain's Men theater company in London.

The drama is based heavily on the historical events at the end of the reign of Richard II and his assassination in 1400. Shakespeare used the chronicles and oral traditions available to him as inspiration. Especially Raphael HolinshedsChronicle of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1587 served as a template.

The piece was first printed in 1597 in the so-called quarto edition, as the works published during Shakespeare's lifetime are called. It is heralded as a tragedy and only referred to as a historical drama in the first folio edition of 1623. In the early quarto editions (for political reasons) the discontinuation scene, which was only integrated into the fourth quarto edition in 1608, is missing. King Richard II is the first piece of a tetralogy. It is completed by three more dramas that deal with Richard's successors.

Impact history

The repeated reprints of the quarto edition in the 1590s suggest that the piece was extremely popular with the public. The verifiable mentions of earlier performances, however, testify to rather curious circumstances:

The earliest mention refers to the performance of the drama as part of an attempted revolt of the Earl of Essex. The Count's supporters had hired the Chamberlain’s Men to perform the play at the Globe Theater. The next day the count launched his putsch against Queen Elisabeth, but it failed. Investigations showed that the rebels wanted to use the effect of the deposition scene on the audience to support their revolt. However, the effect did not materialize, the revolt failed and the subversives were executed. Shakespeare was also questioned, but found innocent.

Another performance from 1680 illustrates the political explosive power of the work: The theater director NahumTate tried to alter the drama by moving it to an exotic setting and it The Sicilian Usurper called. This version was banned by the insecure and nervous government after just two performances. Shakespeare's original version was not performed again in England until 1738.