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Richard II Digital Study Guide.



Richard II


Richard II

By William Shakespeare
Adapted by Brad Fraser
Conceived by Jillian Keiley
Directed by Jillian Keiley
Choreographed by Cameron Carver

House Program for Richard II

Grade Recommendation  Post-secondary

Content Advisory

Please see the show page for a detailed audience advisory.


Richard II is the first of Shakespeare's epic four-play history cycle chronicling the violent clashes between the Houses of Lancaster and York, which culminated in the Wars of the Roses. The play is a tutorial in real politic, moral corruption and human fallibility as Richard unleashes chaos upon his sceptered isle.  

Richard II, as imagined by Shakespeare, is a man caught between ages. England and Europe were in flux. The continent had been torn apart by wars of territorial rights and royal succession, while the Black Death, which wiped out at least a quarter of the population, caused a labour shortage that emboldened the artisan class. Peasant revolts challenged the centuries-old compact between the peasants and the nobility. Richard's absolute belief in the Divine Right of Kings grates against a new generation of nobles less beholden to the Medieval era's rigid political, religious and cultural norms. When he exiles his cousin Henry Bolingbroke-later Henry II-then seizes Bolingbroke's inheritance, Richard's naked power grab and inept leadership divides the loyalties of the aristocracy. Henry soon gathers an army to launch an invasion of England and seize the throne, threatening Richard's dynasty. 

Shakespeare wrote Richard II at a time of great political anxiety. Queen Elizabeth's health was failing, and with no direct heir to the throne, the largely stable Tudor reign was about to end. Looking back in history to earlier era of unrest helped Shakespeare to clarify the tensions of his own times. In Canadian playwright and screenwriter Brad Fraser's bold adaptation, historical parallels are teased out between Richard's short reign and the glamour, grit and glitter of New York City in the late 1970s and early 80s. No matter what age we live in, Shakespeare reminds us, the personal and political consequences of resisting necessary change can be catastrophic. 

Curriculum Connections

  • Global Competencies:
    • Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Metacognition, Self-Awareness
    • Grade 10-12
      • The Arts (Dance, Drama, Music, Visual Arts)
      • English
      • Canadian and World Studies
    • Grade 11-12
      • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Appearances and Performance
  • Authority, Power and Responsibility
  • Abandonment, Banishment and Exile
  • Change and Rebellion
  • Consequences
  • The Crown
  • Desire
  • Determination
  • Family
  • Fear
  • Freedom
  • Honour 
  • Patriotism, Duty and Loyalty
  • Religion
  • Time



  • Richard II is a Shakespeare history play based on the life of Richard II. What do you already know about Richard II?
  • This production is an adaptation by Brad Fraser. What changes do you imagine he might make?
  • In your opinion, what kind of qualities does a good leader possess? Why are these qualities important for someone who is in a position of power?  
  • Is change inevitable? Why or why not?
  • How have you worked through conflict in the past? What is some advice that you would give to someone experiencing conflict or confrontation?
  • What does the word "entitled" mean to you? Can you think of examples of "entitlement"? How do you think that this concept might show up in the play Richard II?
  • Is ambition a positive or a negative quality in a person? Explain your position.
  • Are there characters or people in the media who are considered power-hungry? What characteristics do they have in common?
  • A popular saying is: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Do you agree or disagree? Why? 


  • What surprised you most about the play?
  • How did the set and costume design impact your experience of the show?
  • Who did you find yourself rooting for in the play? Why do you think this was the case?
  • How did family ties and connections come into play in Richard II?
  • In your opinion, were characters deserving of the consequences they received? Why or why not?
  • What do you think about Richard's decisions throughout the play? How does Richard interact with the other characters in the play and what are the results and/or consequences?
  • In your opinion, what ultimately causes Richard's downfall?
  • How does Shakespeare's version of events connect to real world history? Why do you think Shakespeare created historical plays?
  • Are there any unintentional harms that might be caused through the production of this play? If so, what are they and what might be done to take care of the artists and audience members participating in the work?


Objective:  Students will demonstrate their understanding of the main themes of Shakespeare's Richard II by creating a review of the play and performance.

Materials: computer/access to the Internet, writing utensils and paper


  • Using the Post-Show Questions as a guide, facilitate a discussion with students about their thoughts and reflections after having seen Richard II. Highlight key reflections.
  • Invite student to create their own review of the lay in the format of their choice. Before writing, share the following guide with students: How to write a theatre review (Karen Fricker, Young Critics Resource Suite, Youth Theatre Ireland)
    • Invite student to follow directions shared in the guide:
      • The First Line
      • Elements of the Production
      • The Three Major Components
      • In Closing
      • Acknowledging the Makers
      • Do your Research
      • Use the Present Tense
      • Revise and Revise Again!
      • 350-400 words maximum
  • Invite student to share their review with another peer, and then with the whole class. Provide time for discussion and debrief.

Possible Extensions:

  • Have students explore the symbolism of the crown in Richard II. What is the significance of the physical crown and its role? What do you image the crown to look like? Share this video about props at the Stratford Festival and guide students towards a discussion of the important role of props in a theatrical production. 

Debriefing Questions:

  • What elements stand out most to you when you see a theatrical production?
  • How do these elements contribute to your enjoyment/engagement with the piece?
  • Are there any specific examples or connections that you can make to Richard II?
  • What was your experience writing a review? What was the most challenging part for you?
  • Do you think theatre reviews are an important part of theatre? Why or why not?


This is the fifth production of Richard II by the Stratford Festival. This production will be set in the 1980s, making it the first time Stratford will have set the play in the 21st century: all prior productions of Richard II have been set in Medieval times or the Renaissance. In the 1999 production, set in Medieval times, Queen Isabel was played by a teenager to better reflect the true age of Queen Isabel who, in history, was married to the 29-year-old Richard when she was only 6 years old. What do you think of this choice? Should we strive for historical accuracy or contemporary relevance when producing Shakespeare's history plays? What is the relationship between the two? Explain your position.


Maggie Blake as Queen Isabel in Richard II, 1999

Maggie Blake as Queen Isabel in Richard II, 1999. Directed by Martha Henry. Set design by Astrid Janson. Costume design by Allan Wilbee. Lighting design by Louise Guinand. Sound design by Todd Charlton. Photograph by V. Tony Hauser.
Stratford Festival Archives, GPO.1999.007.0001


The Stratford Festival's Archives maintains, conserves and protects records about the Festival and makes those materials available to people around the world. Their collection contains material ranging from 1952 right up to the present and includes administrative documents, production records, photographs, design artwork, scores, audio-visual recordings, promotional materials, costumes, props, set decorations and much more. These materials are collected and preserved with the aim of documenting the history of the Festival, preserving the page-to-stage process, and capturing the creative processes involved in numerous other activities that contribute to the Festival each season.



TrailerRichard II
House Program - Richard II
Study Guide PDF - Richard II

Study Guides

View past Study Guides and Study Guides for all 2023 plays, available free of charge on our website .


How to write a theatre review (Karen Fricker, Youth Theatre Ireland)

Richard II History (Britannica)

Summary and Synopsis (

Stratford Public Library Suggested Reading List for Richard II

Booking Information: Tickets, Workshops, Chats and Tours

Student Matinées

You may book any available date, but selected student matinée performances for this show are at 2:00 p.m. on the following dates:

2:00 p.m.

  • Tuesday, May 23rd
  • Thursday, May 25th
  • Tuesday, June 13th
  • Thursday, June 22nd
  • Friday, September 1st
  • Wednesday, September 6th
  • Tuesday, September 12th
  • Wednesday, September 20th
  • Wednesday, September 27th 

Workshop & Chats

Pre or Post-Show Workshops and Post-Show Chats (virtual, onsite or at your school/centre) can be booked by calling the Box Office at 1.800.567.1600.








Tools for Teachers include Prologues, Study Guides and Stratford Shorts.       


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