The history plays (especially Richard II and Henry IV Part 1) read like an armchair traveler's guide and a mini-geography lesson all rolled into one. You know what that means, right? It's time to pack your suitcases and grab your cameras, Shmoopsters, because we're going on an all-expenses paid trip through medieval Britain, with Shakespeare as our very own personal tour guide. Seriously. Have you read John of Gaunt's big "I <3 England" speech? "This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle, / This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, / This other Eden, demi-paradise" (Richard II, 2.1.3). If we didn't know better, we'd think the guy was the official spokesperson of VisitBritain.com.
What? You're not sure what to pack? No sweat. Here's the official itinerary for our trip. (As you read this, feel free to check out this map, which locates all the important places in Shakespeare's history plays.)
Windsor Castle: The first stop on our tour is Windsor Castle, near London, where Richard II chills in Act 1, Scene 1, and where Henry Bolingbroke will later make himself at home in Act 5, Scene 3 (after snagging the English crown, of course).
The Lists (a.k.a. big tournament arena) at Coventry: Coventry is a city 95 miles northwest of London. The tournament arena is where the big showdown between Bolingbroke and Mowbray is supposed to go down in Act 1, Scene 3, until it gets cancelled when Richard decides he'd rather banish the two noblemen than watch them duke it out.
Ely House: Richard visits a dying John of Gaunt at Ely House in London, where Gaunt delivers his famous speech about how amazing England is in Act 2, Scene 1.
Ireland: In Act 2, Scene 1, we find out that Richard is headed to Ireland to take care of a war that has broken out there.
Brittany: Henry Bolingbroke winds up in Brittany (northeastern France, south of England and across the English Channel) after Richard II boots him out of the country. In Act 2, Scene 1, we learn that Henry has raised a huge army there and is getting ready to sail back to Britain.
Windsor Castle (again): In Act 2, Scene 2, Bushy and Bagot visit Richard's queen (Isabella), where they learn from Green that Henry Bolingbroke sailed from Brittany and has just landed at Ravenspurgh (a.k.a. Ravenspur) , on the northeast coast of England.
Pleshey (a.k.a. Plashy): Pleshey is the Duchess of Gloucester's house near London. We find out in Act 2, Scene 2 that the Duchess has died there (probably by suicide, since she hinted at it in Act 1, Scene 2).
Bristol Castle: Bushy and Green hightail it to Bristol Castle (about 118 miles west of London) in Act 2, Scene 2 in order to avoid a confrontation with Henry Bolingbroke.
Berkeley Castle: After landing at Ravenspurgh, Henry marches southwest through England in Act 2, Scene 3 and winds up at Berkeley Castle, near the southwest corner of Wales.
Back to Bristol Castle: Since Berkeley Castle is just to the northwest of Bristol Castle, where Bushy and Green are hiding out, Henry pops over there in Act 2, Scene 3 and takes the men prisoner. While he's at it, he sentences them to death.
Harlech Castle: This is on the coast of Wales. After Richard returns from Ireland to defend himself against Henry Bolingbroke, he lands near Harlech Castle, where he's supposed to meet up with a bunch of Welsh troops who will help him fight. The troops are a no-show (oops!), which bums Richard out so much that he sits down on the ground and feels sorry for himself. This goes down in Act 3, Scene 2.
Flint Castle: Knowing that he'll soon be defeated, Richard travels northeast from Harlech Castle to Flint Castle (also in Wales) and holes up there until Henry Bolingbroke shows up with an army and tells him to hand over the crown ASAP (Act 3, Scene 3). (FYI, if we were your English teacher and we wanted to test your knowledge of the important locations in the play, Flint castle would definitely be on our pop quiz.)
Westminster Hall (London): This is where Richard is taken and "deposed" (stripped of his crown) in Act 4, Scene 1, which is often called the "deposition scene."
Tower of London: Richard is originally supposed to be imprisoned in the Tower of London, which is why we see him in the equivalent of handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit on the streets just outside the Tower, where he's saying goodbye to his wife (Act 5, Scene 1). This is when we find out that Henry has changed his mind and wants Richard locked up at Pomfret Castle, which is in the middle of nowhere. (More on this in a second.)
Langley: The Duke of York's house, Langley, is near London. We drop in on the York household in Act 5, Scene 2, but we don't stay there long, because the Yorks are in the middle of a nasty little family feud. (This is where the Duke of York and his wife find out that their son, Aumerle, is plotting against the new king, Henry.) The Duchess doesn't want her husband to tattle on their son, so they race over to Windsor Castle to talk to Henry about it. By the way, Langley is also where Richard's queen (Isabella) shacks up (Act 3, Scene 4) after her husband loses the throne.
Windsor Castle: Now that Henry is king, he's moved all his clothes and his big flat-screen TV into Windsor Castle (Act 5, Scene 3). It's there that he chills (or tries to chill) for the rest of the play.
Pomfret Castle: In Act 5, Scene 5, we visit Richard in prison, where we listen to him whine about getting booted off the throne and then witness his murder. Pomfret Castle is way, way, way up north in Yorkshire (the medieval version of being banished to Siberia), which is pretty convenient, because Richard's cries can't be heard back in London.
Windsor Castle: Our little trip ends back at Windsor Castle. Henry is trying to relax here in Act 5, Scene 6, but his quiet time is interrupted when a guy named Exton shows up with Richard's corpse. This puts a major damper on Henry's mood and ends our little British vacation.