Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes)


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Thus the public characters of Hotspur and Hal are already well established. But, in Richard II, when Hotspur reports Hal's impudent reply to the news of his father's triumph, Bolingbroke replies, As dissolute as desperate; yet through both I see some sparks of better hope, which elder years May happily bring forth. Henry is presented first as a ruler who has been beset with troubles from the start: civil strife in England, attacks by Scottish forces moving across the northern border, and the defeat and capture of the still loyal Mortimer by Glendower. He thus is unable to fulfill his earlier vow to lead a crusade to the Holy Land.

But there is one piece of good news: English forces led by young Hotspur have defeated the Scots at Holmedon and have captured the renowned Earl of Douglas. The comic subplot deals most amusingly with this same Falstaff and his boon companions, including Prince Hal, as he is appropriately called in this setting. In the initial episode, Hal joins with Poins, Bardolph, and Peto in a plan to gull Falstaff, contriving to have him participate in a robbery at Gadshill, be robbed in turn, and finally exposed as a coward and liar.

Alone, Prince Hal soliloquizes, letting the audience know that, although he now chooses to enjoy himself in riotous company, he has no illusions about the character of his associates and will redeem himself publicly at the proper time. The main plot takes precedence at this point. He sternly rebukes them and especially demands to be told why the ranking Scottish prisoners taken by Hotspur have not been turned over to the Crown. The Percies, deeply resenting the fact that the man they helped to the throne now intends to enforce absolute obedience, begin to plot their revolt.

They will make peace with Glendower and gain his support and that of Mortimer.

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It is time to advance the comic subplot. Arrangements are completed for the robbery at Gadshill during the night. When the victims, a group of travelers, approach, Poins and the prince use an excuse to separate themselves from Falstaff and the others. Falstaff, forced to proceed on foot, is the leader of the robbers, who then are set upon by the disguised prince and Poins and robbed in turn.

Falstaff exhibits almost miraculous alacrity in beating a retreat.


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He can hardly contain himself as he reads the excuses offered, and he denounces the writer as a coward. Then, in an exchange with his attractive young wife, Kate, he reveals himself as a man practically obsessed with matters relating solely to the planned revolt against the Crown. But, not unexpectedly, in view of his already demonstrated wit, he not only survives the ordeal of being derided as a coward and liar but emerges comically triumphant. Prior to all this, Hal had made satiric reference to the prowess of Hotspur; now an emissary from the king informs Hal that he must appear at court promptly.

This turn of events provides the prince the opportunity to participate with Falstaff in a "play extempore," each successively enacting the role of King Henry rebuking the wayward son and heir. At the residence of the Archdeacon in North Wales, Hotspur, Worcester, Mortimer, and Glendower hold a parley, one not without some dissension.


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They plan the campaign against the royal forces and the later division of England into three parts. The absence of the Earl of Northumberland is significant in light of later events. In the meantime, the confrontation between the king and Prince Hal takes place, the former sternly rebuking his son and comparing him unfavorably to the valiant Hotspur. But when Hal soberly vows to redeem his tarnished reputation at Hotspur's expense, the king not only forgives him but places him in command of royal forces. At that very moment the two learn that the rebels will be assembled at Shrewsbury.

The prince and Peto arrive, and we learn that Hal has reimbursed the travelers who had been robbed at Gadshill and has arranged for Falstaff's commissioning as a leader of the king's forces. Hotspur, Worcester, and Douglas learn that the Earl of Northumberland and his retainers will not join them. Apparently illness has incapacitated him. Not for long is Hotspur dejected by this bad news; sure of victory, he sees this as providing a greater opportunity to impress the multitude, whose support the rebels must gain and retain.

Vernon arrives with the news that the royal army has set forth for Shrewsbury and that second in command to the king himself is the Prince of Wales. Hotspur, at first depressed by Vernon's glowing description of Hal, quickly recovers himself and declares that he will oppose the prince in single combat. Yet a third report is received: Glendower will require fourteen days to raise a force of Welshmen.

But nothing can dampen the ardor nor restrain the impetuosity of Hotspur. Now we meet Falstaff as a military commander. Unscrupulously he has managed to enlist a group of pitiful, physically unfit "soldiers" whom he will lead to Shrewsbury. Both Prince Hal and Westmoreland remark on their unfitness but do nothing to stop Falstaff. Sir Walter Blunt, emissary from King Henry, arrives in the rebel camp and addresses the rebel leaders, voicing the orthodox condemnation of their disloyalty and conveying to them the king's willingness to listen to their grievances.

Hotspur restates the rebels' arguments, and the royal offer is rejected. In Yorkshire, the Archbishop of York and one Sir Michael, both in sympathy with the rebellious Percies, discuss the impending battle at Shrewsbury.

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Learning that Mortimer and his battle forces will not be able to join the rebels, the archbishop expresses his deep concern for the success of the enterprise. He directs Sir Michael to leave at once to enlist support, for he knows that King Henry, aware of his disaffection, will move against him "if Lord Percy thrive not. Prince Hal speaks words of praise for Hotspur, modestly concedes that he himself has been derelict, and offers to fight his rival in single combat.

The two rebel leaders depart, ostensibly to report to Hotspur what has been said by the king and prince. Present during all this is Sir John Falstaff, who, left to himself, soliloquizes on the impractical aspects of heroism and honor. Worcester does not tell his nephew about the king's offer, convinced that under any circumstances the older leaders of the revolt will be the objects of Henry's wrath.

But Vernon reports honestly and clearly to Hotspur how Prince Hal conducted himself. When a messenger announces the approach of the royal forces, Hotspur sounds the call to battle. In the course of that battle, Douglas slays Blunt, mistaking him for the king, and he exchanges words of warlike determination with Hotspur.

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A contrast is provided by Falstaff, who suddenly appears after the two have left. We learn that he has committed his tattered troops to battle, wherein they, with the exception of one or two, have been slaughtered. When the prince appears, deadly serious, Falstaff employs his verbal wit once more--and is sternly rebuked.

Prince Hal rescues his father from the sword of Douglas and meets and slays his great rival, Hotspur.

After the prince's departure for another part of the battlefield, Falstaff reappears. Then, when Hal returns with his brother, Prince John of Lancaster, Falstaff claims to have slain the young rebel leader.

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Neither of the princes bothers to refute him at any length. Worcester and Vernon are captured and later put to death. But Douglas, also a captive, is set free by the generous Prince Hal. The rebel forces have been badly defeated. King Henry then dispatches John of Lancaster to the North, where he will oppose Northumberland and the Archbishop Scroop; he himself will leave with Prince Hal to fight the forces led by Glendower and Mortimer.

As these events were dramatized in Shakespeare's Tragedy of Richard II, he led a revolt against the Crown, forced Richard to abdicate, and became the first of the Lancastrian rulers of England; subsequently he had the hapless Richard put to death. History reports him as a brave, active, and temperate man who had been welcomed to the throne by all classes, pledging "to abandon the evil ways of Richard II" and to govern "by common counsel and consent. Nevertheless, his position was insecure and trying because of the manner in which he attained kingship. Bitter experience was to make him somewhat suspicious and calculating.

Henry, Prince of Wales Prince Hal, as he is usually called in this play, the high-spirited eldest son of Henry IV, had indeed been a carefree, boisterous youth, and the "wild prince" stories were circulated beginning in his own lifetime. History records also that he distinguished himself in the Welsh wars and gained valuable experience in government. Holinshed, Shakespeare's chief source, says: "Indeed he was youthful lie given, growen to audaucitie.

David Tennant on Shakespeare's Richard II

But yet. Again in the words of Holinshed, "The king after expelled him out of his privie councell, banisht him the court, and made the duke of Clarence his younger brother president of the counsell in his steed. In the Henry IV plays, the dramatist depicts the apparent waywardness of the prince and the profound concern of the king, both happily resolved by Hal's chivalry and heroism at Shrewsbury. Again it was Holinshed who provided the basic elements of his character; but it remained for Shakespeare to so develop that character, consistent with his purpose of providing a strong contrast primarily to Prince Hal and secondarily to King Henry, that the Hotspur of this play is almost an original creation.

He is identified only as "Percy" in Richard II; in the present chronicle-history play, he is a major figure whose name suggests that the is indeed, in the words of Holinshed, "a capteine of high courage" spurring on the horse that carries him into battle. He appears as he did in Richard II--cold and politic, in marked contrast to his son, a man who is, from the royalist point of view, certainly "a haughty, insulting" enemy of the Crown.

Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester Brother of the Earl of Northumberland and uncle of Hotspur, it is he who has especially influenced his impressionable young nephew. According to Holinshed, his "studie was ever. Owen Glendower First referred to as "the irregular and wild Glendower" I. It was he who defeated and took captive Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, who married one of Glendower's daughters.

Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes) Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes)
Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes) Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes)
Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes) Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes)
Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes) Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes)
Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes) Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes)
Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes) Shakespeares Richard II (Cliffs Notes)
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