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Richard II Theme of Gender

If you're reading Richard II and you're hoping to bump into a powerful, dominating female figure like Lady Macbeth, you've chosen the wrong play. Talk to any of the three leading women in Richard II and they'll tell you the same thing: regardless of social status or age, female characters have very little power, especially when it comes to politics. (This is a little odd given that Shakespeare wrote the play with Queen Elizabeth I on the throne, don't you think?)

In Richard II, the women tend to be associated with family, and they always, always put kinship bonds first. Yet even though the play's women are left out of politics, they serve an important function, because they allow Shakespeare to raise a big question: Is political loyalty more important than family loyalty?

Questions About Gender

  1. The Duchess of Gloucester (Thomas of Woodstock's widow) shows up in one scene (1.2) before she dies offstage (2.2). What purpose does her brief appearance in the play serve?
  2. Discuss how the Duchess of York's attitude toward her son, Aumerle, is different than that of her husband.
  3. There are lots of fathers in this play, but only one mother. Why is that?
  4. What relationship, if any, do women have to politics in this play?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In the play, Shakespeare uses the female characters to point out that family serves an important function in the world of politics.

The Duchess of Gloucester's death (which occurs offstage after a very brief appearance in the play) reminds us that women have very little power in Richard II.

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