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Themes

Little Words, Big Ideas

Power

Shakespeare is interested in royal power throughout his history plays. In Richard II, he dramatizes two very different attitudes about kingship. According to Richard II and his followers, kings sho...

Family

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 chara...

Language and Communication

How much power do words really have? In this play, Shakespeare pits the power of language against the power of action. On the one hand, Richard more or less believes that his speech is power. In on...

Identity

Many of the characters in this play get their identities from their titles, which is why they obsess so much about their names. (This makes some sense given that members of the nobility are named a...

Loyalty

One of the basic issues the play investigates is how you go about determining who or what deserves your loyalty. Are you loyal to a king? To a country? To your relatives? To the law? To justice? To...

Gender

If you're reading Richard II and you're hoping to bump into a powerful, dominating female figure like Lady Macbeth, you've chosen the wrong play. Talk to any of the three leading women in Richard I...

Appearances

Many of Richard's failures can be chalked up to the fact that he's pretty easily fooled by appearances. If someone flatters him and tells him he's awesome, he believes them; he never stops to think...

Suffering

Once Richard loses the crown, he becomes really good at playing the role of a suffering martyr. He may have murdered his uncle, almost bankrupted the kingdom, and suffer from way too much self-este...

Passivity

If Richard has a "fatal flaw," this might be it. The play is all about Richard's reluctance to actually do anything when he's directly challenged:Instead of going out and fighting France and earnin...

Pride

Richard uses the word "proud" more than any other character in the play. He uses it to describe Henry Bolingbroke, England's soil, and his own majesty. It could be argued that Richard's obsession w...

Exile

It seems like every time we turn around, someone is getting booted out of England in this play. What's interesting is how the theme of exile is closely linked with patriotism. For Mowbray – and e...
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