Character Directory

KING RICHARD II

Richard II, King of England (1367-1400) is the title character of Richard II, king deposed by Henry Bolingbroke. Richard is a self-centered man and an inept ruler; his fall seems both deserved and inevitable. Nevertheless, Shakespeare elicits strong sympathy for the fallen king as he suffers painful psychological trauma before coming to accept his fate. 

It is quickly established that Richard is an incompetent king. In 1.2 we learn that Richard, before the play begins, had arranged the murder of his uncle the Duke of Gloucester, an admired member of the royal family. Furthermore, his ordinary conduct as king is persistently disastrous. When his 'coffers, with too great a court / And liberal largess, are grown somewhat light' (1.4.43-44), he turns to extortionate abuses of the public. And he seizes the estate of John of Gaunt, rightly the inheritance of the exiled Bolingbroke. This not only stimulates Bolingbroke's rebellion, but it alarms many other nobles, who fear that their own holdings may similarly be in jeopardy. Richard's wrong-headedness is exemplified by his obstinate refusal to heed the good advice of his uncles Gaunt and the Duke of York. He delights in ceremony and the trappings of power, and his rhetoric is windy. Narcissistic and arrogant, he does not rule; he enjoys himself in the role of ruler. Despite all his boasting, Richard cannot use the power of his position, and Bolingbroke's triumph, when it comes, is almost effortless. 

However, in political decline Richard becomes a more sympathetic character. His speech is no less extravagant, but now his mannered style is plainly a manifestation of inner distress. He is a more complex person than he had seemed earlier; in his isolation, he is intensely introspective and racked with anxiety, alternating between unjustified hope and exaggerated despair. Finally, imprisoned and due to be killed, he acknowledges that his own failings have played some part in his fall: 'I wasted time, and now doth time waste me' (5.5.49). Richard, with his penchant for strong imagery and elaborate metaphor, is the first of Shakespeare's protagonists to demonstrate an extraordinary imagination and artistic sense. A complex and ambiguous personality, Richard foreshadows the great heroes of Shakespeare's later Tragedies. 

Richard's poetic language and love of ceremony place him in striking opposition to the prosaic and practical Bolingbroke. This powerful contrast reflects a basic human conflict between the doer and the dreamer. It also enhances Richard's strong symbolic role as the last representative of the medieval England of Edward III, in which the ethos of chivalry was still dominant. The passing of this nostalgically romantic period is a major theme of the play. 

The historical Richard is for the most part ignored by Shakespeare, who focuses entirely on the last year of a 22-year reign. When Edward III died, Richard, his grandson and heir, was only 10 years old. The young king seems to have been fond of pomp and splendor, and he had a reputation as a dilettante, but he was also courageous.  At 14 he faced a murderous crowd during the great peasants' rebellion of 1381 and convinced them to disperse. However, England was governed during Richard's minority by his uncles, especially the Duke of Gloucester. When Richard attempted to assert himself 10 years later, an armed conflict ensued and Richard was nearly forced from the throne. A coalition of nobles ruled for two years, but Richard gathered supporters and successfully began to rule at the age of 22. He seems to have governed well. His reign was noted for his emphasis on peace; he concluded truces in Ireland in 1394 and, more important, in the Hundred Years War against France in 1396. (By the latter treaty, he agreed to marry the young Princess Isabel, who was a child, not the adult Queen of the play.) In 1397 another rupture between the king and Gloucester resulted in the duke's imprisonment and death. Modern scholarship tends to confirm the contemporary opinion that Richard was responsible for his uncle's murder, but the truth cannot be ascertained. 

The political events of the play are roughly accurate—Shakespeare followed his sources, for the most part—but the emphasis on Richard's incompetence is distinctly overdrawn. His departure for Ireland, shortly after seizing Gaunt's estate and alienating the nobility, was a grave error, but even worse was his delay in returning once Bolingbroke's invasion had begun. This procrastination, as well as the dismissal of much of his force upon arrival in England, appears to have been advised by Richard's second-in-command, Aumerle, who promptly deserted his master, an event that Shakespeare omits. Richard was given sworn oaths by Northumberland, who was speaking for Bolingbroke, that the latter did not intend usurpation and would disarm if Gaunt's titles and estates were restored to him. Richard accepted these terms and unknowingly allowed himself to be taken prisoner. Thus his final fall was due as much to treachery as to wrongdoing on his part. The deposition scene (4.1) is entirely fictitious; Bolingbroke certainly could not afford to give his enemy a platform, and he did not. Sir Piers Exton’s murder of Richard is also a fiction, although Shakespeare took it from his source and doubtless believed it. A contemporary report states that Richard died of starvation, either deprived of food by his jailer or refusing to eat. The actual circumstances of Richard's death are not known, although his bones were exhumed in 1871 and no signs of violence were found.

JOHN OF GAUNT

John of Gaunt is Richard II’s uncle and father of Bolingbroke. Gaunt, though he dies in 2.1, is an important figure.  He represents a grand tradition of statesmanlike patriotism and honor, encouraging Bolingbroke, in 1.1 and 1.3, towards the ideal of obedience to the King, whom he believes rules by divine right. On the same grounds, he resists the Duchess of Gloucester's demands in 1.2 for vengeance against the King for the murder of her husband, Gaunt's brother. Yet he is aware of Richard's failings, and, before dying, he chastises the King severely for ruining the country through overtaxation and self-indulgence. Preparing himself for this final encounter with Richard, he meditates on England in a patriotic passage that has been famous since it was first performed: 'This royal throne of kings, this scept'red isle, . . . This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England, . . .' (2.1.40-50). 

The historical Gaunt was a very different sort of man from the paragon of virtue presented in the play. Shakespeare altered the much more accurate portrait found in his principal source, Holinshed’s Chronicles, in part because Queen Elizabeth traced her ancestry to Gaunt, but also in order to hold up an ideal representative of the chivalric age, whose passing is a major theme of the play. Gaunt, named for his birth in English-occupied Ghent, in Flanders, was a greedy and aggressive aristocrat, devoted to his own interests, not to the common welfare. Before the time of the play, he spent several years—and vast amounts of English wealth—fighting in Spain in an unsuccessful attempt to seize the crown of Castile for himself. He was widely detested in England, and during the great revolt of 1381 his palace in London was thoroughly sacked by gleeful crowds.

DUKE OF YORK

Edmund of Langley, Duke of York (1341-1402) is uncle of King Richard II. Like his brother John of Gaunt York deplores the misguided rule of their nephew but believes strongly in the divine appointment of kings and is doggedly loyal to Richard. Richard, even as he is censured by York, appoints him Governor of England to rule in the king's absence, observing that 'he is just' (2.1.221). However, he is helpless to prevent the usurpation of the crown by Bolingbroke, and, once this is accomplished, he transfers his loyalty to the new king, despite his own grief at Richard's fall. He even denounces his son, the Duke of Aumerle, as a traitor. 

York is a representative of a vanishing medieval world of inviolable political and social hierarchies. In 2.3.96-105 he consciously identifies himself with that system, nostalgically recalling his comradeship with the Black Prince in the days of King Edward III. Ironically he speaks just as Bolingbroke is preparing the triumph of a more modern world of opportunistic, Machiavellian politics. York's sympathetic character is intended to heighten the pathos that colors the passing of that older world, one of the principal themes of the play. 

The historical York apparently resembled Shakespeare's character. He was noted for his gentle, peaceloving nature, combined with a marked incapacity in political and military matters. He was the founder and namesake of the York branch of the Plantagenet family; through a younger son than Aumerle, the Earl of Cambridge, who appears in Henry V, York's great-grandson would eventually claim the crown and rule as King Edward IV.

HENRY BOLINGBROKE

Henry Bolingbroke (later King Henry IV, 1366-1413) is the usurper of the throne from King Richard II. (The same individual appears as King Henry IV in 1 and 2 Henry IV.) Bolingbroke's rise to the throne balances Richard's fall, and Bolingbroke, like Richard, undergoes personal change. In 1.1 he uses elaborate rhetoric to accuse Mowbray of murdering the Duke of Gloucester and to challenge him to a trial by combat. We learn in 1.2 that Gloucester's murder was Richard's doing, as Bolingbroke must have known. It is clear that Bolingbroke is hostile to Richard from the very beginning and that the King has no effective response. Bolingbroke's triumph can already be foreseen. (Shakespeare will have assumed that his audience knew that Bolingbroke was to become King in any case.) Although Bolingbroke accepts his banishment, we know that he will shortly reappear as Richard's enemy. Thus Bolingbroke seems an unscrupulous schemer from the beginning. 

When he returns from exile to claim his inheritance—the estates of his father, John of Gaunt—his first actions reinforce this impression. In 2.3 he welcomes Percy, Ross, and Willoughby as his allies with apparently frank gratitude, but, having seen his ambition we doubt his sincerity. Moreover, the playwright will probably have counted on his audience's familiarity with the fate of Percy, who later died in rebellion against Bolingbroke (as is enacted in 1 Henry IV). Later in this scene, Bolingbroke offers an elaborate rationale for his rebellion against the crown when he is criticized by the Duke of York; it is clear that he thinks it important to maintain an appearance of justified innocence, masking his ambition with assertions of political rectitude. Further, he proclaims that he has come only to claim his inheritance, but he also proceeds to execute the alleged villains Bushy and Greene for 'crimes' that are actually offences against Bolingbroke personally rather than against the state. 

Significantly, Bolingbroke's diction changes at this point. As Richard's strikingly poetic manner of speaking becomes prominent in his emotional collapse, Bolingbroke adopts a plainer mode of speech intended to reveal his motives. His practical realism is emblematic of the new era in politics that he represents. Bolingbroke is a Machiavellian leader, prepared to take whatever measures are necessary to acquire and preserve power, whereas Richard, relying on long-standing tradition, believes in the ancient theory of divine right. The passing of the romantic medieval world represented by that tradition is a major theme of the play. Bolingbroke's easy reliance on his own strength is a new attribute of kingship, reflected in his speech and manner as soon as he begins to assert his power. 

A third Bolingbroke, the generous victor, begins to assume importance in 3.1. Although he undertakes a ruthless act of state in condemning Bushy and Greene, he anticipates his later development in demonstrating his sympathy for Richard's Queen, instructing that she be treated well. Bolingbroke's magnanimity is further stressed in Act 5, when he pardons Carlisle and Aumerle and when he repudiates Richard's murder. The playwright is clearly paving the way for Bolingbroke's appearance as Henry IV. 

The historical Bolingbroke was Richard's close contemporary, although the playwright makes the usurper younger than the deposed King (e.g., in 3.3. 204-205) to emphasize his greater vitality. Henry Bolingbroke was so called because he was born at Bolingbroke, a castle in Lincolnshire. (The alternative version of his name, Bullingbrook, first used in the Q,l edition of the play, suggests its probable pronunciation in Elizabethan English.) As a young man, Bolingbroke belonged to a political faction, led by Gloucester, that nearly dethroned Richard in 1387. However, he remained aloof from the politics of the court throughout the 1390s, spending much of his time as a Crusader in Lithuania, and he seems to have had nothing to do with the conflict of 1397 that resulted in Gloucester's death. His motivation in challenging Mowbray two years later is unclear, although the play makes it appear to be ambition for the throne. Actually, even after his invasion, Bolingbroke may have intended only to claim his inheritance; it is unclear when he decided to seize power. 

Shakespeare invented several aspects of Bolingbroke's assumption of the crown. The deposition scene, in which Bolingbroke formally displaces Richard, is entirely fictitious; the triumphant usurper had no interest in providing his defeated opponent with a public platform. Similarly, his instigation of the murder of Richard by Piers Exton is unhistorical. The episode, in which Bolingbroke vows to go on crusade to atone for Exton's crime, is intended to introduce the religious tendencies of Henry IV,  Although the playwright took this incident from his chief source and certainly believed it.  Bolingbroke’s repudiation of Exton after the murder is Shakespeare’s fiction.  A similar story concerning Thomas a Becket and Henry II was one of several apocryphal anecdotes that the playwright might have used as a model’ an account in Plutarch was another.

AUMERLE

Edward York, Duke of Aumerle (c. 1373-1415) is a supporter of Richard II. Aumerle is a flattering courtier whose loyalty to King Richard is later undercut by his willingness to betray his fellow conspirators, who attempted to restore the deposed king, in order to save his own life. Aumerle displays his hypocrisy with seeming pride in 1.4, when he boasts of having feigned affection for Bolingbroke. He offers advice to Richard at several points; in 3.2 he suggests firmness in resisting Bolingbroke but then shifts to less honorable stalling tactics (3.3.131-132). After Bolingbroke has triumphed, Bagot accuses Aumerle of complicity in Richard's murder of the Duke of Gloucester; Bolingbroke postpones the question, but we hear in 5.2 that Aumerle has been stripped of his dukedom (though he continues to be designated Aumerle throughout the play). In this scene Aumerle's father, the Duke of York, discovers his son's involvement in the Abbot’s plot against Bolingbroke and angrily declares that he will inform the new king. Aumerle's mother, the Duchess, sends him to court to beg for mercy before York can expose him. She follows and successfully pleads for his life. This episode contrasts Aumerle's devious character with his father's forthright patriotism, his mother's maternal passion, and Bolingbroke's generosity. 

The historical Aumerle was a favorite of King Richard; when the Duke of Gloucester was killed, before the play opens., Aumerle was awarded much of the dead man's property and was created Duke of Albemarle (corrupted to Aumerle in Elizabethan English). Aumerle accompanied Richard to Ireland, and it was apparently his bad advice that led the King to delay his return to England upon Bolingbroke's arrival and then to dismiss his army when he got there.  Further, in an episode probably unknown to Shakespeare, Aumerle abandoned Richard for Bolingbroke at that point; therefore, when he joined the Abbot's conspiracy against Bolingbroke, he was being doubly treacherous, and he was shortly to betray his fellow conspirators as well. His father's part in this action is probably not historical, although it is reported in Shakespeare's chief source, Holinshed’s Chronicles. In any case, Aumerle was pardoned by Bolingbroke, by then Henry IV, but his mother's involvement is entirely Shakespeare's invention; the Duchess had actually been dead for six years. Moreover, to increase the pathos other plea, Shakespeare presented Aumerle as an only child; the Duke actually had a younger brother, the Earl of Cambridge, who is a character in Henry V. Aumerle himself reappears as the Duke of York in that play.

MOWBRAY

Mowbray is an enemy of Bolingbroke. The play opens with Bolingbroke's accusation to King Richard II that Mowbray has committed treason by embezzling military payrolls, engaging in unspecified plots, and, most important, having murdered the king's uncle, Thomas, Duke of Gloucester. Mowbray hotly denies these charges, and a trial by combat is scheduled. In their vehement, fiery rhetoric, both contestants evoke the stylized pageantry of a medieval world that was remote even in Shakespeare's day and whose passing is a basic theme of the play. Before the trial by combat begins, in 1.3, two decidedly sympathetic characters, John of Gaunt and the Duchess of Gloucester, the widow of the murdered duke, make it clear that Mowbray had in fact killed Gloucester and that he had done so on Richard's orders. The king, presumably hoping to avoid potential embarrassment, cancels the combat and banishes both disputants from England. Mowbray's response is again highly oratorical, but it contains one particularly distinctive passage (1.3.159-173), in which he regrets his departure to non-English-speaking lands, asserting a psychological dependence on the ability to express himself through language. This attitude surely reflects Shakespeare's own. Later Carlisle declares (4.1.91-102) that Mowbray has died in Venice after fighting bravely against the Saracens in a Crusade. 

The historical Mowbray, like Bolingbroke, belonged to a faction, headed by Gloucester, that had rebelled against Richard in the late 1380s, and, with Bolingbroke, he subsequently joined the king's party. When Richard was again opposed by Gloucester, in 1397, the king arrested his uncle and placed him in the custody of Mowbray, who commanded the English fortress at Calais. Gloucester died in prison, and, while it cannot be confirmed, 14th-century rumor and modern scholarship alike agree with Shakespeare

that Mowbray most likely had the duke killed at the king's command. When he was expelled from England, Mowbray went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but he did not fight there; the Crusades had ended a full century earlier. Mowbray's son, Thomas Mowbray, later rebelled against his father's foe, when Bolingbroke had become Henry IV. He was captured and executed in 1405, as is enacted in 2 Henry IV.

SURREY

Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey (1374-1400) is a supporter of King Richard II. In 4.1 Surrey disputes Lord Fitzwater’s account of the Duke of Aumerle’s role in the murder of the Duke of Gloucester. Fitzwater challenges him to a trial by combat, one of many similar conflicts that erupt in this scene. The episode serves to demonstrate the widespread disorder that the illicit assumption of power by Bolingbroke has engendered. 

Although he is not seen again in the play, Surrey subsequently joins the revolt against Bolingbroke, for his execution is announced by Northumberland in 5.6.8, where he is called Kent. Thomas Holland had been named Duke of Surrey by Richard in 1397, but Bolingbroke revoked that status at the time of the rebellion, so Northumberland refers to him by his lesser title, the Earl of Kent. Kent and the Earl of Salisbury were captured in battle by Lord Berkely, who turned them over to a mob, who beheaded them.

SALISBURY

John Montague (Montacute), Earl of Salisbury (c. 1350-1400) is a supporter of King Richard II. In 2.4 Salisbury receives notice from the Welsh Captain that his troops will no longer remain in Richard's army, and he mourns the likely downfall of the king. He himself stays loyal and is eventually killed fighting against Bolingbroke; his death is reported by the Earl of Northumberland in 5.6.8. The historical Salisbury was a trusted adviser to Richard for many years; in 1396 he negotiated the king's marriage to Queen Isabel. A year after Richard's deposition, Salisbury was captured in battle, along with the Duke of Surrey, by Lord Berkeley, who turned his prisoners over to a mob, which beheaded them. Salisbury's son was the Earl of Salisbury in Henry V and I Henry VI.

BERKELEY

Lord Thomas Berkeley (d. 1417) is an ally of the Duke of York. A Gloucestershire nobleman whose castle has assumed strategic importance in the rebellion of Bolingbroke against King Richard II, Berkeley greets Bolingbroke on York's behalf. The historical Berkeley apparently allied himself with Bolingbroke when York did, for he served on the commission of noblemen that issued the formal declaration of Richard's deposition, and he opposed the rebellion against the new king, capturing the Duke of Surrey and the Earl of Salisbury. He turned his prisoners over to a mob, who killed them; their deaths are reported in 5.6.8. In later years Berkeley fought for Henry IV, as Bolingbroke became known, against Owen Glendower.

BUSHY

Sir John Bushy (Bussy) (d. 1399) is a supporter of Richard II.  Bushy, John Bagot, and Henry Greene are the 'caterpillars' (2.3.165) whose influence on the King is alleged by Bolingbroke to have been disastrous for England. Bushy attempts to comfort the distraught Queen Isabel in 2.2; his elaborate courtier's language seems grotesque even to modern ears, unaware that it parodies 16th-century religious meditations.  Later in 2.2 Bushy, Bagot, and Greene recognize that their position as favorites of the King is likely to prove dangerous if their master is defeated by Bolingbroke. The three decide to flee when Bolingbroke approaches; Bushy and Greene seek safety in Bristol Castle, but Bolingbroke captures them and sentences them to death. The historical Bushy was a minor politician; he was frequently Speaker of the House of Commons—not an important post in his day—and was also three times Sheriff of London. Originally a supporter of the Duke of Gloucester, he was recruited to Richard's party in the 1390s, before the murder of the Duke. Butcher Minor character in 2 Henry VI.

BAGOT

Sir John Bagot (d. c. 1400) is a supporter of Richard II.  Bagot, with his colleagues John Bushy and Henry Greene, is one of the 'caterpillars' (2.3.165) whose influence on the King is said by Bolingbroke to have been disastrous |pr England. They recognize that their position as favorites of the King is likely to prove dangerous if Bolingbroke defeats him, and in 2.2 they decide to seek safety when Bolingbroke appears. Bushy and Greene are captured and executed, but Bagot joins the King in Ireland and thus lives to appear before the triumphant Bolingbroke at the beginning of 4.1. He brings an accusation against the Duke of Aumerle, presumably in exchange for clemency, and then disappears from the play.  The historical Bagot was a lesser aristocrat of Warwickshire and had originally been a supporter of the murdered Duke of Gloucester. He was later recruited to Richard's cause and became close to the King; it was at Bagot's residence in Coventry that Richard stayed at the time of the trial by combat between Bolingbroke and Mowbray that is depicted in 1.3. After the fall of the King, Bagot was imprisoned by Bolingbroke in the Tower of London, where he is last known to have been alive.

GREEN

Greene (1) (Green), Henry (d. 1399) is a supporter of King Richard II. Greene, John Bagot, and John Bushy are the 'caterpillars' (2.3.165) whose influence on the King is alleged by Bolingbroke to have been disastrous for England. In 1.4 Greene, the least prominent of the three, advises the King that he must address the pressing problem of a rebellion in Ireland. The three favorites recognize that their closeness to the King is likely to prove dangerous if their master is defeated by Bolingbroke. In 2.2 they decide to flee when Bolingbroke appears; Bushy and Greene seek safety in Bristol Castle, but Bolingbroke captures them and sentences them to death.  Little is known about the historical Greene, a member of the gentry who was recruited for Richard's faction from among the supporters of the Duke of Gloucester some time before the Duke’s murder.

NORTHUMBERLAND

Northumberland is a supporter of Bolingbroke against Richard II in the first play, and a rebel against him—after he has begun to rule as Henry IV—in the two later works. In Richard II Northumberland is Bolingbroke's chief lieutenant; in 2.1 he leads others into rebellion against Richard by providing a rationale for revolt: 'The king is not himself, but basely led by flatterers ...' (2.1.241-242). In 2.3 Northumberland himself resorts to flattering his leader unctuously, and in 3.3 he hypocritically conveys Bolingbroke's false declaration of loyalty to Richard. In 4.1 Northumberland takes on the most boldly disrespectful functions in the process of removing the king from his position, and in 5.1 he is the hard-hearted deputy who separates Richard and the grieving Queen. On that occasion he tersely states a cruel principle that aptly represents the new world of Machiavellian politics that Bolingbroke has inaugurated: replying to a request for mercy, he observes, 'That were some love, but little policy.' (5.1.84) 

In the Henry IV plays he is a less prominent but no more likeable figure. Northumberland and his son, the fiery Hotspur, join in rebellion against King Henry, whom they perceive as ungrateful to the Percy family. However,' the earl fails to appear with his forces at the crucial battle of Shrewsbury, sending word that he is ill; the rebel forces are defeated there and Hotspur killed. At the outset of 2 Henry IV the personification of Rumour claims that Northumberland was 'craftysick' (Ind. 37), and in 2.3 Lady Percy, Hotspur's widow, chastises her father-in-law for having dishonorably abandoned his son; no other evidence is presented that Northumberland's illness was feigned, however. The earl then deserts the rebels again, fleeing to Scotland rather than supporting the renewed efforts of the Archbishop of York. His final defeat is reported in 4.4.97-101.

The historical Northumberland did first rebel with Bolingbroke and then against him, but Shakespeare exaggerates his treachery and alters the facts of his life considerably. A man of King Henry's age in the play, Northumberland was actually a generation older; this change is part of Shakespeare's development of the rivalry between Hal and Hotspur by making them contemporaries. Northumberland, a major landowner in northern England and a distinguished warrior in the Scottish border conflicts, was a close friend and supporter of King Henry's father, John of Gaunt. Like Gaunt, he had supported Richard II against Thomas of Gloucester, but he was alienated by Richard's seizure of Gaunt's estate, and when Bolingbroke returned from exile, the earl became one of his chief allies, as in Richard II. His despicable personality as Bolingbroke's lieutenant may derive from the playwright's knowledge of a famous incident that, surprisingly, he did not use. Sent by Bolingbroke to negotiate with Richard, Northumberland swore a sacred oath that Bolingbroke intended to allow Richard to remain in power if he were restored to Gaunt's title and estates. Richard was thus induced to forgo escape by sea and leave the castle in which he had taken shelter. He was promptly ambushed by Northumberland and taken to London, where he was deposed. It is not known whether or not Northumberland used this ploy under orders, but it was reported in Shakespeare's source, Holinshed’s Chronicles, as a heinous betrayal.

Once Henry was in power, disputes arose between him and the Percies, eventually leading to their revolt. However, Northumberland's role in it in the Henry IV plays is almost wholly fictitious. According to Shakespeare, his unforeseen illness shocks the rebels, disturbs their plans, and contributes to their defeat at Shrewsbury, but in reality he had been sick for some time and his absence had been anticipated.. The playwright's version is dramatically more interesting, and it allows the rashness of Hotspur and Douglas to be  emphasized. The earl's pretending to be ill is also unsupported by Shakespeare's sources; it is simply an appropriately nasty rumor to associate with his Machiavellian character. Further, his betrayal of the Archbishop is untrue; Northumberland was the elected leader of the renewed rebellion, and the Archbishop commenced the uprising prematurely, before Northumberland could join him. Only after the disaster at Gaultree Forest, when Henry marched on his headquarters at Warkworth Castle, did Northumberland flee to Scotland. Several years later, after recruiting arms and money in Flanders and France, he again revived the rebellion and invaded England, dying in unsuccessful but valorous combat, according to Holinshed. This account of tenacious courage did not at all suit Shakespeare's model of a contemptible rebel, and he simply ignored it.

HENRY PERCY

Henry Percy (1364-1403) is a supporter of Bolingbroke son of the Earl of Northumberland. The same historical figure appears as Hotspur in 1 Henry IV. In Richard II Percy is a minor figure who primarily delivers information. He is plainly introduced solely in anticipation of his far greater importance in I Henry IV. Presented as younger by a generation than he really was Percy is thus made the contemporary of Bolingbroke son, Prince Hal, who is to be his great rival Significantly, it is Percy who tells Bolingbroke the disreputable news of his son in 5.3.13-19. Percy’s role is clear evidence that Shakespeare had already formulated the general outline of 1 Henry IV while writing Richard II.

LORD ROSS

William de Ross (d. 1414) is a supporter of Bolingbroke. In 2.1 Ross, Lord Willoughby, and the Earl of Northumberland agree to join Bolingbroke's rebellion against King Richard II. They fear that their own estates are endangered by such acts as Richard's illegal seizure of Bolingbroke's inheritance. In 2.3 they accompany Bolingbroke as he marches against the King. The historical Ross, a prominent landowner in northern England, went on to serve for a time as Lord Treasurer of England during Bolingbroke's reign as King Henry IV.

LORD WILLOUGHBY

William de Willoughby (d. 1409) is a supporter of Bolingbroke. In 2.1 Willoughby and Lord Ross join the Earl of Northumberland in rebellion against King Richard II, agreeing that their status as aristocrats is imperiled by Richard's seizure of Bolingbroke's inheritance. In 2.3 they accompany Bolingbroke as he marches against the King.  The historical Willoughby, a prominent landowner in Lincolnshire, was descended from a knight in the army of William the Conqueror and thus had great prestige among the aristocracy. He later married the widow of the Duke of York, Joan of Kent—the successor to the Duchess of the play—who went on to marry a third Shakespearean character, Henry Scroop.

LORD FITZWATER

Lord Walter Fitzwater (Fitzwalter) (c. 1368-1407) is a supporter of Bolingbroke. In 4.1 Fitzwater seconds Bagot’s assertion that Aumerle had boasted of killing the Duke of Gloucester, and he challenges Aumerle to a trial by combat. He is in turn challenged by the Duke of Surrey, as the scene erupts in charges and counter-charges. The episode reflects England's political chaos, for Bolingbroke has just displaced King Richard II. In 5.6 Fitzwater reports the defeat of a rebellion against Bolingbroke, and is promised rewards by the new king.

CARLISLE

Thomas Merke, Bishop of Carlisle (d. 1409) is a supporter of King Richard II. Carlisle accompanies Richard on his return from Ireland to face Bolingbroke, and he warns the King against inaction, but his speech is equivocal. His ambivalence is immediately emphasized by the Duke of Aumerle’s much more pointed statement of the same warning. Nonetheless, Carlisle is the only defender of Richard in the deposition scene, 4.1. In a formal speech he appeals to the assembled aristocrats not to violate the sanctity of a King, divinely placed on the throne—What subject can give sentence on his king?' (4.1.121), he asks rhetorically—and he predicts disaster for England if the deposition is carried out. Northumerland promptly arrests him for treason, and he is placed in the custody of the Abbot of Westminster. At the close of the scene Carlisle joins the Abbot and Aumerle in a plot against Bolingbroke. At the end of the play he is brought before Bolingbroke, now King Henry IV, who pardons him referring to his honorable character.   

The historical Carlisle was a Benedictine monk who served Richard ably as an administrator and was rewarded with his bishopric as a result. He did not protest Henry's accession; his speech is drawn from accounts of his opposition to a later proposal to try Richard on criminal charges. These accounts may have been invented, however, for they derive from an unreliable, propagandistic tract, probably written by a member of Queen Isabel's French household, that was the source for Shakespeare's source, Holinshed’s Chronicles. However, regardless of its historical reality Carlisle's speech presents an important aspect of Tudor political dogma: the citizenry may not judge its monarch in any way. This idea is emphasized in Holinshed, and it is present throughout the History Plays.  Carlisle did participate in the Abbot s conspiracy, but he was not willingly pardoned by Henry. Tried and convicted, he was dismissed from his see. and his life was spared only by papal intervention.

Abbot

William Colchester Abbot of Westminster (c. 1345-1420) is a conspirator against Bolingbroke. After Richard is formally deposed in 4.1, the Abbot conspires with the Bishop of Carlisle and the Duke of Aumerle to kill the usurper. The plot is discovered, and the Abbot's death, apparently of a bad conscience, is reported in 5.6.19-21. The historical Abbot was pardoned by Bolingbroke, by then King Henry IV, after one month in prison, and was permitted to retain his office, which he held until his death. Shakespeare may have confused the Abbot's fate with Carlisle's, as reported (inaccurately) by Holinshed. The Bishop is said to have died upon capture, 'more through feare than force of sick Abergavenny, George Neville, Lord (d. 1535) Historical figure and minor character in Henry VIII, sonin-law of the Duke of Buckingham. As the play opens, Abergavenny joins Buckingham and the Duke of Norfolk in their complaints about Cardinal Wolsey’s abuse of power. At the end of 1.1 Abervagenny and Buckingham are arrested for treason, the victims of a plot by Wolsey. Like his father-in-law, Abergavenny calmly accepts his fate, 'The will of Heaven be done, and the king's pleasure / By me obey'd' (1.1.215-216), offering a strong contrast with Wolsey's villainy. Shakespeare took Abergavenny's involvement from Holinshed’s Chronicles, and the lord is merely an echo of Buckingham. At 1.1.211 of the First Folio edition of the play, Abergavenny's name is spelled 'Aburgany', indicating its ordinary pronunciation.

Lord Marshal

Marshal is the nobleman who presides over the trial by combat between Bolingbroke and Mowbray in 1.3.  Historically, the Marshal on this occasion was the Duke of Surrey, a supporter of Richard II and thus an enemy of Bolingbroke. Shakespeare apparently forgot this fact, which appears in his chief source, Holinshed’s history, when he presented the Marshal as a friend of Bolingbroke in 1.3.251-252. This is one of the many minor errors and inconsistencies that appear throughout the plays.

EXTON

Sir Piers (Pierce) Exton is the murderer of Richard II. Exton, an ambitious nobleman who wishes to curry favor with Bolingbroke, the new king, decides in 5.4 that he will murder the old one, believing that Bolingbroke has expressed a desire that this deed be done. In 5.5 Exton leads a gang of hired murderers against Richard in his cell at Pomfret Castle, and they kill the ex-king, although Exton suffers pangs of conscience. He presents the corpse to Bolingbroke, now Henry IV, hoping for a reward, but the king rejects him. 

Shakespeare took the account of Exton's deed from his chief source, Holinshed, but the anonymous French author of Holinshed's source, probably a member of Queen Isabel's household, apparently invented the story. No other early source mentions Exton or supposes that Richard died violently; the only other contemporary chronicler asserts that Richard was starved to death, either by his jailers or by his own will. This source, also French, has its own propagandistic bias, and Richard may well have died of natural causes. His skeleton was exhumed and examined in the 1870s, and no evidence of violence was found. We cannot say conclusively how the ex-king died, but, in any case, Henry IV's rejection of the murderer appears to be Shakespeare's own addition to the tale, possibly in anticipation of the opening of 1 Henry IV. A similar story concerning Thomas a Becket and Henry II was only one of several apocryphal anecdotes that might have served the playwright as a model; an account in Plutarch was another. 

Captain The captain is the Welsh commander who desert the cause of Richard II in 2.4 after the King has not appeared for many days.  The Captain tells of rumors that Richard has died and cites menacing omens that seem to substantiate them.  Shakespeare may have associated the captain with Owen Glendower who is mentioned 3.1.43.
QUEEN

Queen Isabel of England (1389-1409) is the wife of Richard II.  The Queen is so completely different from her historical counterpart that she is virtually fictitious.  Shakespeare introduces her to help provide a human context for the political events of the play. In 2.3 she glumly regrets the temporary absence of her husband—'so sweet a guest as ... sweet Richard' (2.2.8-9)—casting the vain and headstrong King in a very different light than he has yet been seen. Later, after she overhears the Gardener’s remarks on Richard's capture and likely deposition by Bolingbroke, she responds with hysterical grief. She last appears in the famous farewell scene with Richard (5.1), which restates, on a personal level, the breach in the political fabric that Bolingbroke's usurpation has effected. (Richard refers to this in his speech beginning with the expostulation 'Doubly divorc'd!' [5.1.71].) The Queen's pleas that she be permitted to accompany her husband are rejected by the stony Earl of Northumberland, and the sorrowing couple are forcibly separated, just as Richard has been parted from his crown. The historical is presented on a human level, with a degree of poignancy far greater than any dismay we may feel for Richard's fall from worldly greatness or for the collapse of England's feudal traditions. 

The historical Isabel was no happier than Shakespeare's Queen, but she was a child of 10 when these events occurred. The daughter of Charles VI, the French King of Henry V, she was married to Richard when she was 7. While this couple seem to have been genuinely fond of one another, they had no opportunity to develop the mature relationship that Shakespeare depicts. Although she is banished to France in the play, she was actually detained in England for two years following Richard's deposition, virtually a prisoner, because the new government was reluctant to return her dowry. When she finally returned home, Isabel was still an eminently eligible princess, and she was married in 1404 to Prince Charles of Orleans (who appears in Henry V). She died in childbirth five years later, at the age of 20.

DUCHESS
OF GLOUCESTER

Eleanor de Bohun Duchess of Gloucester (1367-1399) is the sister-in-law of John of Gaunt and widow of Duke Thomas of Gloucester. In 1.2 the Duchess visits Gaunt to discuss her husband's murder. She blames King Richard II for his death and passionately entreats Gaunt to avenge it. He insists that vengeance against a king may be taken only by God, and the Duchess wrathfully expresses the hope that Bolingbroke will kill Mowbray, whom she says murdered Gloucester at the king's order. Then she resignedly asserts that she will soon die of grief and departs for her home. Her death is reported in 2.2.97. The episode casts light on the conflicts of 1.1 and 1.3, making clear to the audience that Richard is implicated in Gloucester's murder and that Bolingbroke's accusation of Mowbray is embarrassing to the king. 

Although the Duchess appears to be Gaunt's contemporary, she was actually a generation younger, being only 32 when she died, reportedly of grief at the death other only son. Shakespeare's rendering of her as an older woman helps to heighten the pathos of the vanishing medieval world that colours his story of the king's fall.

DUCHESS OF YORK

Isabel of Castile Duchess of York (1355-1393) is the mother of the Duke of Aumerle. When her husband, the Duke of York, discovers Aumerle's part in a plot against the new king (Bolingbroke), he insists on protecting the monarch by revealing the conspiracy, exposing his son to charges of treason. The Duchess' objections go unheeded, and in 5.3, after sending Aumerle ahead, she goes to the king herself and argues against her husband, opposing her motherly anguish to his concern for the state. She receives Bolingbroke's pardon of Aumerle with great gratitude. A powerful dramatic presentation of maternal passion, the episode also serves to stress the magnanimity of Bolingbroke in preparation for his role as King Henry IV in 1 and 2 Henry IV

The incident is entirely fictitious; the real Duchess Isabel had been dead for years before the events depicted in the play took place. The Duke of York had remarried, but the second duchess, besides not being Aumerle's mother, had nothing to do with his being pardoned by King Henry.

Ladies The ladies are attendants to the Queen.  In 3.4 the Ladies try without success to alleviate the Queen's grief at the fall of King Richard II.
Lord The Lord is an accuser of the Duke of Aumerle in 3.1.  The Lord asserts that Aumerle falsely denied his complicity in an earlier murder plot, and he challenges Aumerle to a trial by combat.  His accusation and Challenge follow several others and lend a vivid sense of excess and confusion to the scene, thereby suggesting the potential for chaos produced by the victory of Bolingbroke over King Richard II.
Heralds The Heralds are petty officials at the trial by combat between Bolingbroke and Mowbray in 1.3.  Each Herald cries out a formal statement of purpose for one contestant.
Gardener

Gardener is a worker in the household of the Duke of York. In 3.4 the Gardener and his assistants discuss the news of the capture and likely deposition of King Richard II by Bolingbroke. In their conversation the garden is an extended metaphor for the state: just as a garden must be constantly tended if it is to bear flowers and fruits, so must the state be kept in order by its rulers if it is to function healthily. Thus the Gardener summarizes one of the play's important moral points. 

The episode also has another function. The Queen overhears the Gardener's remarks and reacts with hysterical anger. Although she curses him, the Gardener is sympathetic to her grief, and his response neatly emphasizes the human side of Richard's story.  Up to this point we have been encouraged to judge the King harshly as a self-centered and unreliable ruler; here, the Gardener's pity stirs an awareness that Richard's fall, however deserved it may be, has a personal dimension. Our sympathies begin to shift, preparing us for the tragic and philosophical Richard of the second half of the play.

Keeper The keeper is the jailer of King Richard who brings him a meal in 5.5.  The Keeper refuses to taste the meal for poison though it has been routine to do so.  He assets that Sir Piers Exton has forbidden him to do so.  Richard Strikes him in anger, and the Keeper's cries summon Exton and the other murderers who kill the king.
Groom The Groom is a supporter of Richard II who visits him in prison.  The visit raises the deposed king's spirits.  He tells Richard of the use of the horse Barbary by Bolingbroke.  This minor incident illustrates that Richard could inspire loyalty in a simple servant and thus heightens the pathos of the deposed ruler's murder, which follows immediately.
Servant Two servants appear in the Richard II as messengers.  The first servant brings news of the death of the Duchess of Gloucester.  This poignant moment emphasizes the duke's helplessness in the face on onrushing events.  The second is an attendant of Exton who supports him in assumption that Bolingbroke wants to have Richard murdered.

 

To view other Richard II sections:

Main Play Page      Play Text     Scene by Scene Synopsis     Character Directory     Commentary  

 

To view the other Plays click below:

By  Comedies    Histories    Romances    Tragedies

All's Well the Ends Well Antony & Cleopatra As You Like It Cardenio Comedy of Errors Coriolanus
Cymbeline Edward III Hamlet Henry IV, Part 1 Henry IV, Part 2 Henry V
Henry VI, Part 1 Henry VI, Part 2 Henry VI, Part 3 Henry VIII Julius Caesar King John
King Lear Love's Labours Lost Love's Labours Wonne Macbeth Measure for Measure Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor A Mid Summer Night's Dream  Much Ado About Nothing Othello Pericles Richard II
Richard III Romeo & Juliet Sir Thomas More Taming of the Shrew The Tempest Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus Troilus & Cressida Twelfth Night Two Gentlemen of Verona The Two Noble Kinsman The Winter's Tale

 

To view other Shakespeare Library sections:

Biography     Plays     Poems     Sonnets     Theaters     Shake Links   

 
Send mail to jciccarelli@hudsonshakespeare.org with questions or comments about this web site.
[Home]  [Upcoming Shows]  [HSC Venues]  [Past Productions]  [Articles] [HSC Programs]
 [Shakespeare Library] [Actor Resources]   [Contact Us]  [Links]  [Site Map]