Richard II - Character Profiles - The Queen



As we look forward to David Tennant's performance as Richard II in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of the play, we will be taking a look at the play and its characters in a series of articles.
We continue with a look at Richard's loyal and loving wife...

In William Shakespeare's time female roles, such as the role of The Queen in Richard II would have been played by a boy. This didn't restrict Shakespeare in his conception of female characters though - characters like Rosalind in As You Like It, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and Cleopatra in Antony And Cleopatra remain amongst the most challenging and rewarding parts for any actress in her dramatic repertoire.
There is, however, a recurring theme in the female characters in many of Shakespeare's plays, which may owe something to the fact that only boys were available to take on the parts. This is the figure of a beautiful young woman of innocence and simplicity. In the tragedies, this character, caught up in a situation she is powerless to influence, becomes a passive figure of pathos: such are Ophelia in Hamlet and Desdemona in Othello.
The Queen in Richard II belongs in this company. She has a gentleness which contrasts with Richard's heartless attitude to Gaunt and a simplicity which can hope that that the cruel world of power politics might yet allow her to stay with Richard after his fall.
As Richard says: "That were some love, but little policy". Hers is a world of love: the world of Henry and Northumberland a world of expedient policy.
To that latter world the Queen is a marginal figure, able only to catch  occasional glimpses of rivalries and plots and never fully able to grasp it's machinations. She is a helpless character. In Act II Scene 2 she fears something dreadful is going to happen in the future which she can not understand because she is excluded from the men's world. In Act II Scene 4 she overhears that Richard is in Henry's power. In Act V Scene 1, at the end of it all, she comes to see again the husband whose fortunes she has had no part in. She is a choric figure in these scenes, by exploring her emotions Shakespeare deepens our understanding of Richard and helps us, through her, to see the pathos and tragedy of Richard's situation.
He creates a loving and tender relationship between the King and Queen. In her, what happens to Richard is registered by one who loves him as the man, more dearly and intimately than anyone who loves him as merely the King. That she cries out the haunting and evocative lines, at the change in him, deepens the audience awareness of what he has suffered, just as her earlier experience of "a nameless woe" increased the audience's apprehension of the traumas to come.

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