Richard II – Summary

David Tennant - Richard II


  • Theatre:
    • Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
    • Barbican Centre, London.
  • Play Run:
    • 10th October, 2013 to 16th November 2013 (RST)
    • 7th December, 2013 to 25th January, 2014 (Barbican)
  • Running Time: 3 hrs
  • Writer: William Shakespeare
  • Production: Royal Shakespeare Company


Note – this is the description as part of the classical Shakespeare folio. The RSC version starring David Tennant and directed by Gregory Doran differs slight in some key instances from the text.

King Richard sits in judgement over a dispute between his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Bolingbroke accuses Mowbray of high treason, of embezzlement and of being behind the death of his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. Unable to resolve their quarrel, Richard allows them to settle the matter through a duel, but as the pair start their fight he stops the combat and orders instead that they both be banished from the kingdom. Mowbray is exiled for life, and Bolingbroke for ten years, although Richard reduces this to six in deference to his uncle and Bolingbroke father John Of Gaunt.

Gaunt still fears that he will never see his son again. John of Gaunt subsequently falls ill and before he dies he attempts to warn first the Duke of York and King Richard himself that his rash actions and his arrogance are destroying the reputation of England. Ignoring the advice of the Duke of York, Richard takes Gaunt’s property, properly the inheritance of Bolingbroke and sets sail for Ireland, leaving York to govern in his place.

Northumberland receives word from Brittany that Bolingbroke is returning to England with an army of three thousand men, and he and a number of nobles pledge to join his cause. The Queen, already anticipating that some great tragedy is about to befall King Richard, is alarmed on hearing the news and York travels to meet Bolingbroke as he returns to English shores. Bolingbroke persuades his uncle York that he has returned to claim his inheritance and not to overthrow Richard and he agrees to support him as far as he can while remaining neutral.

Richard returns from war to discover that his Welsh troops, believing him dead in Ireland, have deserted him, that his nobles are with Bolingbroke, and his people, both young and old, are taking up arms against him. Bolingbroke meets with Richard and pledges to lay down arms if his banishment is revoked and his rightful inheritance returned. Richard agrees, although he will not confess to the list of other accusations made against him, and he is forced to abdicate.

Richard and Bolingbroke’s cousin Aumerle, who is still loyal to Richard, is accused of murdering the Duke of Gloucester. Bolingbroke arrests everyone involved in the allegations and imprisons Richard. Bolingbroke announces his coronation as King Henry IV. The Duke of York discovers that his son Aumerle is involved in a plot to kill Bolingbroke and restore Richard to the throne. Aumerle confesses and is pardoned, although the other conspirators are executed.

Sir Piers Exton and his men enter Richard’s prison cell and kill him. But when Exton brings Richard’s body before King Henry he finds himself banished while the King vows to undertake a journey to the Holy Land to cleanse himself of his own sins