Alan Howard as Richard II, 1980

The King's uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, has been murdered. His cousin Bolingbroke accuses Thomas Mowbray of causing his death, and challenges him to trial by combat. When Gloucester's widow demands that his brother, John of Gaunt, avenge her husband's death, Gaunt tells her he cannot do so, as the King himself is implicated in the murder. Before Mowbray and Bolingbroke can fight the King intervenes and banishes both men from the kingdom.

A sickly John of Gaunt accuses Richard of improper government, of burdening the country through taxation and giving away the land to his favourites. When Gaunt dies Richard orders the seizure of all his property, thus denying Bolingbroke his inheritance. He then departs for the wars in Ireland, appointing his uncle York to govern in his absence.

Northumberland reveals that Bolingbroke has returned to England with an army. Bolingbroke insists to his uncle York that he has returned for his rightful inheritance, not to start a rebellion against the crown. Nevertheless, taking the law into their own hands, they capture Richard's favourites, Bushy and Green, and execute them. Richard returns from Ireland to discover that his Welsh troops have deserted him, that York has allied himself with Bolingbroke, and that the country is rising against him.

Bolingbroke and his supporters meet with Richard at Flint Castle. Bolingbroke promises to surrender his arms if his banishment is repealed and his inheritance restored. Richard agrees to his demands.

Richard is finally persuaded to abdicate and Bolingbroke announces his coronation as King Henry IV.

York discovers that his son Aumerle is involved in a plot to kill the new King and restore Richard to the throne. Aumerle confesses to King Henry and is pardoned. In prison, in Promfret Castle, Richard is murdered.

As Henry receives news of the defeat of the rebels, Richard's body is dragged before him. King Henry promises to undertake a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to atone for his sins.

You can also listen to spoken word version of the Richard II synopsis:

(Photo shows Alan Howard as Richard II, 1980. Photo by Reg Wilson © RSC.)

Contact us & FAQs

Ticket Hotline

0844 800 1110
Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm

Email newsletter

Sign up to email updates for the latest RSC news:

RSC Members

Already an RSC Member or Supporter? Sign in here.

Teaching Shakespeare