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Themes

Families are complicated, even when the people involved aren't kings and dukes. Mix in a monarchy and you have a perfect recipe for some good old-fashioned family drama. In this play, several characters are trying to figure out how to act when cousins, sons, and fathers end up politically opposed. It doesn't help that the two guys fighting over the crown, Henry Bolingbroke and Richard, are cousins, both descended from Edward III, who everyone seems to think was a great king. Even though Richard is <em>politically </em>the legal heir to the throne (mostly because he inherited the crown from his father), Henry Bolingbroke seems to have more in common with his grandfather – and more of the qualities that make for a good ruler.

The play also asks us to think about whether family ties should be stronger or more important than political alliances. The women in the play choose family loyalty every time, while most of the men don't. Family is obviously a powerful category with major political consequences.

Questions About Family

  1. How important does Richard think family is?
  2. Why does York turn so violently on his own son? What does this say about his character?
  3. Do the women characters see family differently than the men in this play?    (Give some specific examples to support your claim.)
  4. Why is it illegal for Richard to take Henry Bolingbroke's inheritance? Why do you think this prompts a lot of members of the nobility to join forces with Henry?
  5. Take a look at the Duchess of Gloucester's big speech about family in Act 1, Scene 2. Explain how and why she uses a tree as a metaphor for the royal family line. What is she hoping to accomplish with this speech?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Since the crown could only be passed down from father to son, the fact that Richard doesn't have a son makes his hold on the throne that much weaker.

In Richard II, family cannot be separated from politics.

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