Richard II (1595)
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1596). In 1601, Devereux staged the earliest definite production of Richard II.
- First official record: entered into the Stationers' Register by Andrew Wise on 29 August 1597 as "the Tragedye of Richard the Second."
- First published: published in quarto in 1597 as The Tragedie of King Richard the second (printed by Valentine Simmes for Andrew Wise). This text was republished twice in 1598 (on both occasions by Simmes for Wise), 1608 (by William Wright for Matthew Lawe) and 1615 (again by Wright for Lawe). The Folio text appears under the title The life and death of King Richard the Second.
- First recorded performance: possible performance on 9 December 1595 at Sir Edward Hoby's house. On that date, Hoby's wife, Margaret Carey, daughter of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon (chief patron of the Lord Chamberlain's Men), wrote a letter to Robert Cecil inviting him to supper and to see "K. Richard present him self to your vewe." This could be a reference to a private performance of Richard II, especially because of the Hunsdon connection with Shakespeare's company. However, some scholars argue that "K. Richard" could be a painting, not a play, whilst others argue there is no evidence that even if it is a play, it necessarily refers to Richard II, suggesting it could refer to Richard III or to another play entirely. There is no complete consensus on this issue, although most scholars do tend to favour the Richard II theory. The earliest definite performance was at the Globe on 7 February 1601, organised by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. This performance was probably intended to inspire his supporters on the eve of his armed rebellion against Queen Elizabeth.
- Evidence: Richard II is usually seen as one of the 'lyrical plays', along with Love's Labour's Lost, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream; four plays in which Shakespeare used rhymed iambic pentameter more than anywhere else in his career. The four plays also include elaborate punning, rhetorical patterning, a general avoidance of colloquialisms and a high volume of metrical regularity. All four of these plays tend to be dated to 1594–1595. Also important in dating the play is Samuel Daniel's The First Four Books of the Civil Wars, which was entered into the Stationers' Register on 11 October 1594, and published in early 1595. Although some scholars have suggested that Daniel used Shakespeare as a source, which would mean the play was written somewhat earlier than 1594, most agree that Shakespeare used Daniel, especially in some of the later scenes, meaning the play could not have been written earlier than 1595.