Richard the 2

Anon. (1611)

Historical Records

Simon Forman's "Book of Plays"

The following images from MS Ashmole 208 are reproduced by permission of The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford.

Bodleian Ashmole 208, 201r.jpg Bodleian Ashmole 208, 201v.jpg
Bodleian MS Ashmole 208, fol.201r. Bodleian MS Ashmole 208, fol.201v.

Forman's heading: "IN Richard the 2 At the glob 1611 the 30 of Aprill/" (Riverside Shakespeare, p. 1967)
Forman's text:

Remember thein howe Iack strawe by his overmoch boldnes, not beinge pollitick nor supporting Anye thinge, was Soddenly at Smithfeld Bars stabbed by walworth the major of London & soe he and his wholle Army was over throwen Therfore in such a case or the like, never admit any party wthout a bar between. For A man Cannot be to wise, nor kepe him selfe to safe.

Also remember howe the duke of gloster. The Erell of Arundell oxford and others. Crossing the king in his humor. about the duke of Erland and Bushy wer glad to fly and Raise an hoste of men. and beinge in his Castell, howe the d of Erland cam by nighte to betray him wth 300 men. but hauinge pryuie warninge ther of kept his gates faste And wold not suffer the Enimie to enter, wch went back Again wth a flie in his eare, and after was slainte by the Errell of Arundell in the battell

Remember also. When the duke and Arundell cam to London wth their Army. kinge Richard came forth to them and me them and gaue them fair wordes. And promised them pardon and that all should be well yf they wold discharge their Army. vpon whose promises and faier Speaches, they did yt and Affter the king byd them all to A banker and soe betraid them And cut of their heades &c because they had not his pardon vnder his hand & sealle before but his worde/

Remember therin Also howe the ducke of Lankaster pryuily contryued all villany. To set them all together by the ears and to make the nobilyty to Envy the kinge and mislyke of him and his gouernmentes by which means. He made his own sonn king which was henry Bullinbrocke

Remember also howe the duke of Lankaster asked A wise man, wher him selfe should ever be kinge And he told him no, but his sonn should be a kinge. And when he had told him, he hanged him vp for his Labor. Because he should not brute yt abrod or speke ther of to others. This was a pollicie in the common wealthes opinion But I sai yt was a villaines parte and a Iudas kisse to hange the man. For telling him the truth Beware by this Example of noble men/ and of their fair wordes & sai lyttell to them, lest they doe the Like by thee for thy good will/

Theatrical Provenance

"Richard the 2" was performed at the Globe by the King's players in the spring of 1611; Forman saw the play on 30 April 1611, a Tuesday.

Probable Genre(s)

History (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Narrative Sources and Analogues

Hall's Union of … Lancaster and York

Mirror for Magistrates

Holinshed's Chronicles

Holinshed's 1587 account of the Peasants' Rebellion begins in Dertford, Kent, when tax collectors demanded payment for the daughter of John Tiler, whom Tiler claimed was not old enough to be taxed (Holinshed, 1587, VI.429) and continues through a rendering of the confession of Jack Straw (aka Wat Tiler) at his execution (Holinshed, 1587, VI.438). Excerpts are given here as they relate to Forman's version of the action on stage during "Richard the 2."

Samuel Daniel's Civil Wars

Dramatic Sources and Analogues

There being controversy over just what play "Richard the 2" actually was, there is controversy also over its dramatic sources. If this play was discrete from previous dramatic treatments of the history of King Richard II (and that is the position of the LPD), its sources and analogues include the anonymous Jack Straw, the anonymous Woodstock, and Shakespeare's Richard II.

Jack Straw


Shakespeare's Richard II

References to the Play

None known, though any reference after 1611 to a play on Richard II might be to the play Forman saw, "Richard the 2."

Critical Commentary

S. P. Cerasano discusses "Richard the 2" in the context both of Simon Forman's playgoing and his interest in magic: "Forman is tied to theatrical circles by the common culture of the occult" (149). Expanding on that interest in witchcraft and drama, she adds in a note that "Forman's rendition barely sounds like Shakespeare's play" (149, n. 15). Further in the note, she provides a transcription of that portion of the entry in which Forman recalls the duke of Lancaster's consultation of a wise man (repeated below, For What Its Worth), observing that the dramatic moment "sounds remarkably like Macbeth. Cerasano confirms her inclination to separate the play Forman saw from the play Shakespeare wrote with this qualification: "Whether Shakespeare's Richard II or not …" (149, n. 15)

Forker characterizes "Richard the 2" as "an anonymous play now lost" (5). He points out the plot-line that concerns John of Gaunt (Duke of Lancaster), the wise man, and the prophecy that Henry Bolingbroke (Gaunt's son) would become king, and he observes that this Gaunt "was uncommonly cruel and Machiavellian" (146, n. 2). Forman implies a connection between Shakespeare's Richard II and the play Forman saw through the narrative detail of the duke of Gloucester's (Woodstock's) beheading. He opines that "Shakespeare may have invented the beheading" implied by the imagery of "Sluiced out his innocent soul through streams of blood" (1.1.103), whereas Holinshed, Froissart, and Woodstock describe the duke's death as smothering or strangling (188, note to l. 103). Describing the deaths of Gloucester and the earl of Arundel, Forman says that in "Richard the 2" the king "cut of their heades."

Gurr characterizes the "Richard the 2" seen by Forman as "otherwise unknown" (137); although the performance Forman saw was on 30 April 1611, Gurr lists the play with those acquired by the King's men from 1606-1609 (284).

Knutson discusses issues of "Richard the 2" in the King's repertory of 1611 concerning diversity of subject matter and genre. Noting the performance of the play at the Globe, she argues that "the grouping" of "Richard the 2" with Macbeth (an old play), Cymbeline (comparatively more recent), and The Winter's Tale (new) raises further questions about the carry-over of offerings from Blackfriars the previous winter (88). She asks "why the King's men acquired 'Richard the 2' if they had [Shakespeare's Richard II] in stock" (88). She observes that the "reason cannot be some freshness in the treatment of subject matter" because the lost play has too many narrative moments in common with Jack Straw (1593) and hoary motifs such as "battlefields, peace accords, and duplicitous executions; rumor monitoring and the counsel of a wizard as political strategy" (88). She comments further on "Richard the 2" as part of a play-cluster with Jack Straw, Woodstock, and Shakespeare's Richard II" which illustrates "that the market could support a proliferation of plays on related popular subject matter regardless of artistic merit or generic purity" (89). In an even broader sense, as Knutson suggests, that play-cluster included three additional lost plays: "Pierce of Exton" (Admiral's, 1598 [featuring Richard's assassin?]), "John of Gaunt" (Queen's? 1594), and "The Conquest of Spain by John of Gaunt" (Admiral's, 1601). In regard to the entry of Richard ye Seconde in the records of Henry Herbert for June 1631, she points out that the "wording, which is tantalizingly ambiguous with a dramatist's name, leaves open the possibility that the play revived was not" Shakespeare's but the now-lost play Forman had seen (89).

For What It's Worth

Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels 1623-1673, received a "summer" benefit of £5 6s. 6d. for "Richard ye Second at the Globe," which played on 12 June 1631. Bawcutt transcribes the entry as follows: "12 June/ Received of Mr. Shanke, in the name of the kings company, for the benefitt of their summer day, upon ye second daye of Richard ye Seconde, at the Globe, this 12 of June, 1631, —5l. 6s. 6d (Item 219, p. 173). The Adams edition also transcribes this event, and it is available online (Herbert). Scholars have assigned the performance to Shakespeare's Richard II, but there is no compelling reason why this record could not be evidence for a performance of "Richard the 2" except for a universally assumed preference to assign performance records to Shakespeare's plays when a similarity in title permits.

Forman's entry, Cerasano transcription: "Remember also howe the Duke of Lankaster asked /a wise man, wher [whether] him self should ever be kinge / and he told him no, but his son should be a / kinge" (p. 149, n.15).

Forman, most probably, did not include every plot detail of "Richard the 2"; it is therefore possible, though fanciful, to consider theatrical material that occurs in Holinshed.

• John Ball: Ball is a compelling character in Holinshed and not insignificant in Jack Straw. For more than twenty years, according to Holinshed, Ball preached a theological version of egalitarianism, arguing “that from the beginning, all men by nature were created alike, and that bondage or seruitude came in by iniust oppression of naughtie men” (II.749). In the wake of the Peasants’ Revolt, Ball was arrested and executed by hanging, drawing, and quartering. The author of Jack Straw gives Ball more than a cameo role. In fact, in a long speech early in the play when the rebels are getting organized, Ball articulates their complaints about economic inequities and class division; the speech includes the couplet for which Ball was famous: “But when Adam delued, and Eve span,/ VVho was then a Gentleman” (Holinshed, 1587, VI.437; Jack Straw, A4, I.82-3). Ball is onstage for the killing of Jack, and, singled out with Wat Tyler for execution (the king calls him “a naughtie and seditious Priest” [Jack Straw, E3v, 1032]), Ball goes to his death unbowed: “what I said in time of our business I repent not” (Jack Straw, Ev, 1122).
•Rebel violence: Holinshed tells of two home invasions in Jack Straw's march into London. One concerns the queen mother, who figures prominently in narratives of Richard as the boy-king in the put-down of the Peasant's Rebellion. Jack Straw gives Richard's mother two scenes: one a fairly colorless confab with some officials, the other an invented comic moment in which the queen pronounces Tom Miller “a starke nidiot” for trying to hang himself when the state will soon do that for him. Holinshed tells an additional story that a dramatist who was giving an unflattering portrait of John of Gaunt might have picked up: Straw's rebels broke into the queen’s bed chamber in the Tower on their way to invade London, “offered to kisse her, and swasht downe vpon hir bed, putting hir into such feare, that she fell into a swoone” (II, 739). Holinshed also narrates a second home invasion: the rebels also broke into the duke’s Savoy residence; thirty-two of the looters got so drunk in the cellar on the duke’s sweet wines that they were trapped when “stones & wood that fell downe as the house burned” (Holinshed, 1587, VI.431). Holinshed says that they cried out under the rubble for seven days before dying.

Works Cited

Cerasano, S. P., "Philip Henslowe, Simon Forman, and the Theatrical Community of the 1590s." Shakespeare Quarterly, 44 (1993): 145-58.
Evans, G. Blakemore, gen. ed. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
Forker, Charles R., ed. King Richard II. The Arden Shakespeare. London: Thomson Learning, 2002.
Forman, Simon. MSS Ashmole 208, fol. 201r—v (Division of Western Manuscripts, Bodleian Library).
Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespeare Company, 1594-1642. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Knutson, Roslyn L. "The History Play, Richard II, and Repertorial Commerce." in Jeremy Lopez (ed) Richard II: New Critical Essays. London and New York: Routledge: 2012. 74-94.

Richard II editions

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita; updated 11 October 2012.