12b. Richard II 1597

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams


(Numbers in bold refer to the Documents section and bibliographical citations refer to the Bibliography of The Real Shakespeare II, on-line edition)



     It is possible (211) that Richard II was written and performed in 1595 or earlier; and relevant marginalia on Hall's Chronicles made much earlier still by the anonymous annotator said to have been the young Shakespeare (McLaren 1949, 47f, Keen and Lubbock 1954, 127f) are well worth study and comparison. He was surely the first known dramatist, pace 'W. Har.' (207), to draw his subject-matter from English history; thus the earliest text of 1 Henry VI c. 1590, though not printed at the time, had delighted the groundlings in performance by its presentation of an English warrior-hero (Nashe 1592). That same cult figure is also evinced in the name parts ofEdmund Ironside c. 1588 and Edward III.

     History plays need reference-books; and there has been much discussion about the provenance of Shakespeare's known sources, such as the Chronicles of Holinshed or Hall. Such volumes were expensive; no doubt the young author continued to be indebted to patrons and patronage in this regard as in others. But the far better known actor-playwright under the aegis of Southampton could afford to pay administrators and lawyers (II, IV, VI); so he could also buy his own books. If the Sonnets are to be believed (and the onus of proof surely falls on those who feel that such lyrics must be fictions) the poet had been poor (37.9) and disadvantaged, indeed ignorant (78.6, 14), but was now a person of some substance and attainment. In addressing a rich patron 'to whom my jewells trifles are', he says 'how carefull was I, when I took my way/ each trifle vnder truest bars to thrust...'. Other valuables, it appears, were locked up in a chest (48.1-2, 5, 9). But these words say that the poet had reasonably great possessions, including jewels which would impress a commoner, if not a nobleman. And source-books would be necessities, not mere ornaments. So Shakespeare could afford his own reference library; and its contents can be dispassionately inferred from known facts (as distinct from preconvictions about an 'odd choice'). It would be quite natural, furthermore, for the writer of a play about the warrior-hero Edward the Third, who reigned from 1327 until his death at 65 in 1377, to proceed to dramatise the next monarch in succession, Richard the Second, who was deposed in 1399 and murdered in the following year, at 34. The close verbal affinity between Edward III and the earlier English history Edmund Ironside has already been demonstrated in detail (Sams 1996, 203-223). Here is a corresponding alignment of Richard II with Ironside. There are dozens of parallels; so all but one of the following comparisons are limited to the first two acts of each, in that order.


1. 'What my tongue speaks my right-drawn sword may prove' (I.i.46): 'thus argue I, my sword is reason's proof'. He draweth.. (1830).

2. 'On pain of death, no person be so bold/or daring-hardy as to' intervene (I.iii.42-3): 'for your lives/none be so hardy as to' intervene (1965-6).

3. 'My name be blotted from the book of life' (I.iii.202): 'raze out this dishonourable blot out of the...book of living fame' (748-9).

4. 'countrymen...friends' (I.iv.34): 'countrymen...friends' (129, 133).

5. 'this sceptred isle...paradise...fortress... this little world...this precious stone set in the silver sea...wall... defensive...this realm, this England...stubborn Jewry...this land...leased out...like to a tenement or pelting farm...hath made a shameful conquest of itself' (II.i.40-66); 'this noble isle...paradise...fortress...this little world...this little isle...this solitary isle...bulwark...this realm of England...Jews, stubborn...this land...fallen to me... as copyhold, rent-run and wanting reparations...thy right hand shall make thy heart away' (in separate mentions passim itemised in Sams 1985, 2/1986, 320), 

6. 'I do remain as neuter' (II.iii.159): 'I here remain a neuter' (1583).

7. 'meteors fright...stars of heaven...pale-faced moon...bloody' (II.iv.9-10): 'pale, the moon... red...stars...perturbéd heaven...comets' (785-7).

8. 'did they not sometime cry "all hail!" to me? So Judas did to Christ' (IV.i.169-170); 'all hail...[you] Judas' (1643-4).


     Such deep and copious parallels about sword and tongue, non-intervention in duels, erasures from life's book, self-ingratiation with the mob, ideas about England (including Jewry), the legal status of leasehold, self-wounding, the neutrality of a turncoat, illusory omens, and the solecistic attribution to Judas of Christ's own greeting 'all hail!' as well as the blasphemous identification of the King of Heaven with a king of England, together with such devices as antithesis and chiasmus, and such topics as flattery and oath-taking, plus allusions to the Bible and Ovid, frequent reference to proverbs, and the presence of Shakespeare's 'blot'-cluster (Muir 1960, 23; Sams 1996, 177-8, 209-12): all these surely show the same actual known hand, not the depredations of an imaginary 'plagiarist' (pace Proudfoot 1986-1996, Bate 1997 among others), even if that 'plagiarist' is supposed to be Shakespeare himself (Foster 1988).

     Such evidence confirms Richard II as an early play1 in its inception; and this in turn poses the problem of its interrelation with Thomas of Woodstock c. 1590 – a topic that requires extended treatment, set forth in a separate Appendix (see Appendix 2). But no doubt Shakespeare the reviser took his time over the canonical text, first published in the anonymous 1597 Quarto (232) which was twice reissued in 1598 under Shakespeare's name (248), with a few corrections and many new errors.

      It was his only play ever to have three editions, as well as a commendatory mention (242), within two years. No doubt its public performances, as attested on the Quarto title-pages, were well attended; and its resounding patriotism (for example in John of Gaunt's famous lament for a much-loved England, cited at 4 above) would help to ensure its popularity. So would its implied male bonding, a theme made explicit in Marlowe'sEdward II. There were deeper and darker reasons. All Shakespeare's plays, in any genre, tended to touch upon personal and topical issues, with which the new enlightened paying public would be familiar. It is noteworthy that none of the Quarto issues contains the famous deposition-abdication episode, from Northumberland's 'May it please you, lords, to grant the commons' suit?' (IV.i.154) to Bolingbroke's 'On Wednesday next we solemnly proclaim/Our coronation. Lords, be ready, all' (ibid. 320). Shakespeare's later revisions often contain material previously unknown, like the fly scene in Titus Andronicus, first printed in 1623. So the obvious inference is that this episode had been added after 1598, as indeed the fourth edition in 1608 specifically assures all its readers, including those who could readily recall its first performances; its title-page (390) announces 'new additions of the...deposing of King Richard'; and these same words reappear on Q5 1615 (452). By further inference, the additions were made for good reason. They were presumably present in the performances of Richard II reported as warmly applauded by the Earl of Essex in about 1600, and this same episode was certainly the actual raison d'être of the Globe production instigated by his faction on 7 February 1601, the day before his abortive rebellion against his sovereign in which he was assisted by Shakespeare's much-loved patron the Earl of Southampton.

     The plain implication is anathema to most commentators. Seditious intent on Shakespeare's part 'is of course most unlikely' (Chambers 1930, i, 355). Hence perhaps the unevidenced yet widespread preconviction that the 'new additions' had always been part of the play ('this is quite clear', loc. cit.) but had not been printed because of their political overtones – although this is as much proof as disproof of complicity, given the strong topical feeling of parallelism between Richard the Second and Elizabeth the First. And that identification (Chapter 11) was confirmed by the Queen herself, in her pointed remark to a lawyer with close Shakespearean connections (VI), 'I am Richard the Second' (299).

     Nor, pace Chambers, is there any compelling textual evidence to show that the deposition-abdication scene as it stands in Q3 must have been written before Q1. His argument that it must have been the subject of the Abbot's comment 'A woeful Pageant haue we here beheld' (IV.i.321) had already been refuted by Daniel (1890, x) who pointed out that this phrase might well have meant Bolingbroke's symbolic ascension of the throne (IV.i.113). It is true that the chronicle accounts, and the annotator of Hall (McLaren 1949, 58; Keen and Lubbock 1954, 128), take due account of his Richard's self-deposition; but there are still no definable grounds for assuming that any scene omitted from the earliest versions conformed exactly or even closely with the 1608 text. However, the opposite assumption of early inclusion has taken firm root, even among those (e.g. Albright 1927) who actively implicate Shakespeare in the Essex rebellion. That topic now needs to be aired afresh (Chapter 23). It has long been overlaid by such baseless yet accepted assumptions as 'memorial reconstruction', which relies on the free invention of unknown texts. Such notions have also been off-loaded on Richard II (Ure 1956, xvii-xxvi), on no evidence at all. Nowadays they are rightly forgotten. They have also been rejected outright: NOT MEMORIAL RECONSTRUCTION (Maguire 1996, 334-5). Meanwhile, however, the 'omission' of the deposition-abdication scene from the first three editions is still repeatedly asserted as an established fact (e.g. Wells 1969, 269, to 1986, 413).

     All this should now be seen against the background of the Southampton connection. Richard II, like its (and that monarch's own) immediate predecessor Edward III, was surely written with Southampton in mind. He had been accused (the right term, in Tudor times) of homosexuality (RS1 99); he would rebel against his Protestant sovereign, who knew that she was sufficiently hated as a torturing tyrant, especially among Catholics, to be in daily danger of deposition and even assassination, like Richard the Second. That monarch is painted by Shakespeare in bright, even garish, colours; before his lordliness declines and withers, he is the rising sun (II.iv.21) in heaven, or the fair rose on earth (V.i.8). These are not emblems of kingship; they also characterise the male addressee of the Sonnets, who though no king figures freely as 'my sun' (33.9) and 'my Rose' (109.14); that latter word is also italicised, as if Rose (1.2) had some special significance. The latest edition of the Sonnets, which eschews personal interpretation, draws attention to thirty-two words found in the first sonnet 'which will take on special resonance in the sequence' (Vendler 1997, 47); twenty-eight of them occur, and the other four can be readily paralelled (e.g. 'remembrance' for 'memory') in Richard II.

     Shared ideas (father-son inheritance, unborn children, face in a looking-glass, blushing and paleness), imagery (the 'blot' cluster) and indeed actual phrases ('eye of heaven') proliferate throughout both sources. And both, in their very different ways, tell their readers about an author from a rural background (imagery of garden and farm) who has acquired some affluence (imagery of jewels, again including echoed words, ideas and even rhymes, such as keeping jewels in a locked or barred-up chest, just like the heart or spirit in one's breast). Finally, as we shall see, there is evidence that Richard II and the Sonnets were both composed at the same time and printed from an authorial manuscript.




1 though it is officially dated later than Richard III (as in Wells 1986), for no stated or ascertainable reason.