The History of the Play
Date. The question of the date of Richard II is involved with that of its relation to Daniel's Ciuile Wars (see App. A). If we admit that Shakespeare was influenced by Daniel, then our play was written between 1595 and August, 1597, when it was entered in the Stationers' Register. If we suppose Shakespeare to have been independent of Daniel, there is no external evidence to fix the earlier limit of the date-bracket. The words in IV. i. 321 show that the deposition scene was part of the original play, and its omission from the First Quarto may point to the effect of Queen Elizabeth's alarm at the bull of Pope Clement VIII (1596) exhorting her subjects to depose her. This circumstance, the results of metrical tests, and the general character of the style, all go to confirm an assignment of the date of composition to a period from the middle of 1595 to the middle of 1596.
Stage History. In the course of the centuries, Richard II has proved more successful in the closet than on the stage. Critics discover in it high poetry and masterly delineation of national problems and human character; actors and producers find in it disappointment and financial loss. Since Shakespeare's time, accordingly, the separate productions are to be numbered on the fingers of two hands.
Of the performances of our play before the closing of the theaters in 1642, nevertheless, we have an unusual record. First, there is its probable representation before the conspirators in the Essex rebellion, February 8, 1601. (See App. A.)