For heaven’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories about the death of kings:How some have been deposed, some slain in war,Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed,Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed–All murdered. For within the hallow crownThat rounds the mortal temples of a kingKeeps Death his court, and there the antic sits,Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,Allowing him a breath, a little sceneTo monarchize, be feared, and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit.
When Shakespeare wrote the play, Elizabeth I sat on the throne, and there are many obvious parallels Shakespeare draws between the tyranny of Richard II and the current monarch. Upon seeing the play, Elizabeth is reputed to have said: “I am Richard II, know ye not that?” Records hold that this particular performance in 1601 was sponsored by the Earl of Essex, who paid Shakespeare’s company forty shillings above the normal rate. Shortly after the performance, the Earl of Essex led a rebellion against Elizabeth with a band of 300 armed men (known as the Essex Rebellion of 1601). Shakespeare’s play directly criticized the current leader of their country and his open questions about the nature of monarchy fueled open rebellion. This is not the only play of his to speak out against the government. It should be noted that the English Civil War which shifted political power away away from the monarch and created the more Democratic system they have today began in 1642, only a handful of years after Shakespeare’s death. (You can read more about the history of this play and its connections to Elizabeth I here and here )