What roles do the Duchess of York, Duchess of Gloucester, and Queen Isabel play in King Richard II?
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The Duchess of Gloucester adds the richness of human emotion to the play. She becomes a widow when her husband dies, but their love is one based on love rather than necessity or politics, and she is devastated by his loss. In Richard II, the Duchess of Gloucester's character imbues the play with the recognition of what war and death do to a family. In her situation, she loses a husband—her dearest love. Shakespeare shares the sense of loss for a spouse, which is very different from losing a parent, child or friend. As the reader, we will gain a clearer understanding of what love is by comparing and contrasting her sense of loss with that of other characters in the play. Lastly, the Duchess of Gloucester is the character that sets the mood of the play. As she speaks later of her loss, this will serve to continue the ongoing sense of loss in the plot development.
The Duchess of York exemplifies the love for a child. In supporting her son, she must make a clear choice between flesh and King. This would have been an enormous undertaking for a parent, especially a mother, in Elizabethan times when devotion to one's monarch overshadowed all else. Her love is unconditional: even though her son has aligned himself with men who have attempted to kill Henry Bolingbroke. The complication to this love is that her son is complicit in the plot to kill Bolingbroke who is cousin to Richard II (and will one day be England's King Henry IV). This is outright treason; and in defending her son, she defies her husband who is, above all, loyal to King and country. However, the Duchess of York she cares nothing for politics where her son is concerned. It creates a chasm between husband and wife as the Duke cannot afford to place his child above his politics: and in honor, would never think to do so.
Queen Isabel is the wife of Richard II. The Duchess of Gloucester undoubtedly loved her husband; this kind of devotion is also seen with Queen Isabel. And the Queen stands in stark contrast to the Duchess of York: for the Queen supports her husband in all things, even when his cause begins to falter. Another way she is similar to the Duchess of Gloucester is her dramatic purpose in conveying the dark mood set at the beginning of the play. It is equally important that it is through the Queen that Shakespeare provides the audience with foreshadowing that some horrible event awaits—specifically Richard's murder.
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