Places: Richard II

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1600

First produced: c. 1595-1596

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: Late fourteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*England

*England. Richard IISet during the late fourteenth century reign of the historical English king Richard II, the play does much to offer audiences a variety of English locales, encompassed by a sense of national identity. This emphasis is not merely a mark of Shakespeare’s English patriotism, but a recognition of the crucial link between a king and his land. When John of Gaunt curses his nephew King Richard for exiling his (John’s) son, he calls on the land to reject its sovereign and prophesies that the land will suffer from the blood of the countrymen who will die as a result of Richard’s mismanagement.


Battlefields. After King Richard goes to Ireland to prosecute a war, he returns to find Henry Bolingbroke, whom he had earlier exiled, back in his lands and supported by a considerable army. Although armed conflicts in the play are minimal, they take place on the field of contention, and much of the play’s middle action transpires over clashes of armed men.

Royal palace

Royal palace. The first and last scenes of the play are set at England’s royal court, whose throne and altar of kingship project the cold power inherent in the royal court. Richard’s confrontation with his uncle John of Gaunt and his conversation with his queen are set in secluded private rooms, which project a palpable sense of the division between the king’s public persona and his private person.

In the palace’s garden, an odd and seemingly irrelevant scene occurs involving a discussion between the queen and the palace gardeners. However, their conversation about the garden provides a key to understanding Richard’s problem: Having allowed too many weeds to grow unchecked, he has failed to exert sufficient care for his land.

*Tower of London

*Tower of London. Historic prison to which Richard is sent after Bolingbroke makes himself King Henry IV. Richard’s incarceration and death in the tower represent the reduction of the kingdom’s mightiest personage to its lowliest. The prison is a state of mind as well as a physical restraint, for without his land, the king is no more than a slave to others.

BibliographyEvans, Gareth Lloyd. The Upstart Crow: An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Plays. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1982. A comprehensive discussion of the dramatic works of William Shakespeare. While the major emphasis is on critical reviews of the plays, there are also discussions of sources and information on the circumstances surrounding the writing of the plays.Holderness, Graham, ed. Shakespeare’s History Plays: “Richard II” to “Henry V.” New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. An anthology of critical works on Shakespeare’s history plays. James L. Calderwood’s “Richard II: Metadrama and the Fall of Speech” discusses the language used in the play and the power of that language as used by King Richard and his rival, Bolingbroke.Leggatt, Alexander. Shakespeare’s Political Drama: The History Plays and the Roman Plays. New York: Routledge, 1988. A discussion of the Shakespeare plays dealing with English history from the reign of King Henry II to that of Henry VIII, and with the three plays dealing with Roman history.Pierce, Robert B. Shakespeare’s History Plays: The Family and the State. Columbus: University of Ohio Press, 1971. A general discussion of Shakespeare’s history plays. Pierce considers Richard II to be a direct forerunner of the plays on Henry IV and V.Ribner, Irving. The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare. 1957. Rev. ed. London: Methuen, 1965. A discussion of history plays in the Elizabethan era of English drama and Shakespeare’s contributions in the field. Considers the development of the form and the sources.
Categories: Places