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Richard II (play)

1595

King Richard the Second is a history play by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in approximately 1595. It is based on the life of King Richard II of England (ruled 1377–1399) and is the first part of a tetralogy, referred to by some scholars as the Henriad, followed by three plays concerning Richard's successors: Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V.

Although the First Folio (1623) edition of Shakespeare's works lists the play as a history play, the earlier Quarto edition of 1597 calls it The tragedie of King Richard the second.

The first page of Richard II, printed in the First Folio of 1623

The play was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 29 August 1597 by the bookseller Andrew Wise; the first quarto was published by him later that year, printed by Valentine Simmes. The second and third quartos followed in 1598 – the only time a Shakespeare play was printed in three editions in two years. Q4 followed in 1608, and Q5 in 1615. The play was next published in the First Folio in 1623.

Richard II exists in a number of variations. The quartos vary to some degree from one another, and the folio presents further differences. The first three quartos (printed in 1597 and 1598, commonly assumed to have been prepared from Shakespeare's holograph) lack the deposition scene. The fourth quarto, published in 1608, includes a version of the deposition scene shorter than the one later printed, presumably from a prompt-book, in the 1623 First Folio. The scant evidence makes explaining these differences largely conjectural. Traditionally, it has been supposed that the quartos lack the deposition scene because of censorship, either from the playhouse or by the Master of the Revels Edmund Tylney and that the Folio version may better reflect Shakespeare's original intentions. There is no external evidence for this hypothesis, however, and the title page of the 1608 quarto refers to a "lately acted" deposition scene (although, again, this could be due to earlier censorship which was later relaxed).

The title page from the 1608 quarto edition of the play.

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Published in 18/09/2018

Updated in 19/02/2021

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