The play must have been written after the publication in 1595 of Samuel Daniel’s The First Four Books of the Civil Wars, which is an important source. It can be no later than 29th August 1597, when the play was registered with the Stationers’ Company. It is usually dated to 1595.
The play was first printed as a quarto in 1597, using a manuscript bought from the Chamberlain’s Men. Further quartos – each typeset from the preceding one – were printed in 1598 (twice), 1608 and 1615. Most of Act 4, covering Richard’s abdication, was left out of the first quarto; an inferior version of it was added in the fourth quarto. The First Folio version was typeset from the third and possibly fifth quartos, with a good version of the Act 4 text added, possibly using the acting company’s prompt-book.
On this side, my hand; and on that side thine.
Now is the crown like a deep well
That owes two buckets, filling one another,
The emptier ever dancing in the air,
The other down, unseen, and full of water.’
Richard II, IV i
Brief synopsis of the play
The hubristic King Richard II initiates his downfall when his cousin Henry Bolingbroke alleges that the Duke of Norfolk has plotted to murder their uncle: Richard capriciously banishes both men, and when Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, dies, Richard takes Bolingbroke’s inheritance to finance his war in Ireland. This eloquent history play – controversial when written – weighs up a monarch’s divine right to rule and their fitness to do so.