Richard II

"Hadst thou groaned for him": Maternity, Power, and History in Richard II

Richard II, like most of Shakespeare's history plays (though, notably, unlike his comedies and tragedies), establishes a theatrical world dominated by men and masculinity. Female characters are few, and those that appear on the stage tend to say little and have less agency. But, as critic Graham Holderness notes, "women may not be much in evidence in the play, but femininity is" (173). Holderness' article "A Woman's War: A Feminist Reading of Richard II" attempts to reinsert femininity into history and historicity into feminist criticism, but his insightful argument does not examine fully enough the most powerful way in which femininity is in evidence in Richard II: in the imagery, metaphors, and explicit comments about motherhood, maternity, and childbirth that appear at various important moments throughout the play. Maternity not only reinserts femininity into the history play but indeed constructs femininity as the site of an uncanny, incomprehensible experience (of emotion, of power, of pain) that haunts both male and female characters and makes women far from a silent presence in Richard II. From John of Gaunt's searing elegy to his threatened motherland to Queen Isabella's prophetic...

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