12a. Richard II 1595-7

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams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)



    There is some evidence that Richard II was written and performed in 1595 or earlier (211). Samples of relevant marginalia on Hall's Chronicles made by the anonymous annotator said to have been the young Shakespeare earlier still are well worth study and comparison (McLaren 1949, 47-67). He was certainly the first known dramatist, pace 'W. Har.' (207), to draw his subject-matter from English history; but Richard IIrepresents his first acknowledged appearance as a patriotic playwright. Its anonymous first edition of 1597 (232) was twice republished in 1598 under his name (248), with a few corrections and many new errors. Meanwhile Francis Meres (242) had included it among Shakespeare's tragedies. It was his only play ever to have three editions and a mention in two years; it must either have attained popularity or had popularity thrust upon it.

     Each of those three Quarto issues refers to performances by Shakespeare's own company. But none of them contains the famous deposition-abdication scene, 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). Now, Shakespeare was (RS1 169f) a revising author whose later versions often contain material previously unknown. So the obvious inference is that the deposition scene had been added after 1598, as indeed the first edition to contain it specifically confirms; the Q4 1608 title-page (390) announces 'new additions [i.e. new since Q3 1598 third edition, Q3] of the…deposing of King Richard'; and these same words reappear on Q5 1615 (452). By further inference, the new scene was added for good reason. Some version of it was presumably present in the performances of Richard II reported as warmly applauded by the Earl of Essex in about 1600, and it 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.

     But 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 subconscious conviction that the 'new additions' were always part of the play ('this is quite clear', loc. cit.) but had not been printed because of their political overtones – although this is more proof than disproof of complicity, given the strong topical feeling of parallelism. As Queen Elizabeth herself reportedly and pointedly remarked, to a lawyer with close Shakespearean connections, 'I am Richard the Second' (299).

     Nor, pace Chambers, is there any compelling textual evidence that the deposition 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 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), take due account of his self-deposition; but there are still no definable grounds for supposing that any scene omitted from the earliest versions conformed exactly or even closely with the 1608 text. But 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 also invents unknown texts; such notions have also been foisted off on Richard II (Ure 1956, xvii-xxvi). Nowadays they are forgotten, as all such theories will be before long; but the 'omission' of the deposition scene is still freely asserted as an established fact (e.g. Wells 1986, 413), although it is just another modern editorial theory whose authority is weakened if not terminated by the acceptance of Shakespeare as a reviser.