The Tragedie of King Richard the Second

As one of Shakespeare's plays about English history, Richard II appears to have been more popular with early readers than plays of other genres. It was printed in the First Quarto of 1597, and then in four further quarto editions before its inclusion in the 1623 First Folio. The play was also potentially controversial, in portraying the deposition of a monarch and his replacement with someone more capable of ruling effectively and justly. For the late Elizabethan authorities, the public discussion of what might constitute good government, and whether it might be justified to depose a wayward ruler, was not to be encouraged - even if such discussion occurred only in the examination of a historical case.

This is a copy of the Fourth Quarto. As its titlepage states, this edition contained 'new additions', for the first time printing the scene (Act 4 scene 1) in which King Richard is actually deposed. None of the earlier editions had dared, or been permitted, to print this. The manuscript from which the additional scene was taken, though, doesn't seem to have been a particularly authoritative one. In this copy, part of the Bute Collection, a reader has made a note of the differences at this point between the Fourth Quarto and preceding editions.


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Further Study

This copy is in the National Library of Scotland, shelfmark NLS Bute.506. For the textual and publication history of the play, see Andrew Murphy, Shakespeare in Print (Cambridge, 2003) and Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett and William Montgomery, eds, William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (Oxford, 1987).