Shakespeare’s Parallels between Hamlet and Claudius, and Hamlet and Laertes

What I have found interesting thus far in Hamlet is the dynamic between Laertes and Claudius as well as Laertes and Hamlet. In act 4 scene 5, King Claudius is warned by a messenger to, “Save yourself, my lord,” because Laertes has returned from England and is on a rampaging path toward the throne (4.5.94). Claudius asks Laertes why he is acting so rebellious and the only think Laertes can muster up to say is “Where is my father?,” to which Claudius responds “Dead,” and continues to accuse Claudius of killing his father, Polonius, until he finds out that indeed Hamlet was the one who actually killed Polonius (4.5. Laertes 122-123). .

The parallels Shakespeare creates with Laerte’s accusations against Claudius really gives the play a dynamic that I was able to see upon reading the play this time around. Not only is Claudius accused by Hamlet for killing King Hamlet, which we eventually find out is not just an accusation but the truth, but now Laertes is accusing Claudius for the death of his father, Polonius, as well. Unlike King Hamlet, who actually was killed by Claudius, Polonius is killed by Hamlet, and I wonder if through this parallel Shakespeare intended to reveal more of Hamlet’s characters. If Hamlet was able to commit the same deed as Claudius–killing someone’s father–then what makes Hamlet and Claudius that different? Claudius, assumedly, killed King Hamlet in order to selfishly gain the throne, while Hamlet killed Polonius, not knowing it was actually him hiding behind the curtain, due to Polonius “standing” in Hamlet’s way of avenging his father’s death. Maybe through the strange comparison Shakespeare draws between Hamlet and Claudius–that they both killed someone’s father–Shakespeare’s intention was to reveal humanity’s realistic capability of evil, no matter what they have experienced in the past.

Not only does Shakespeare draw a comparison between Claudius and Hamlet, but also draws a parallel between Hamlet and Laertes, who both lost their fathers. While Hamlet was told by his father’s ghost to avenge his death so he can get out of purgatory, Laertes takes it upon himself to avenge his father’s death. Claudius tells Laertes to, “Requite him for your father,” to which Laertes responds, “I will do’t,/ And for that purpose I’ll anoint my sword” (111-113). Although both their fathers were murdered by someone who needed to clear their own path, Hamlet needed to be told by his father’s ghost to avenge his death, while Laertes took it upon himself to, instead of avenge, seek revenge for Polonius’ death.

Hamlet revolves mostly around Hamlet’s deep thoughts and performed madness, which helps us understand his psychological processes, but by paralleling him with both Claudius and Laertes, Shakespeare is revealing to us much more about Hamlet than just through Hamlet’s own personal thoughts and actions. Hamlet is in the same situation these two other men are, a father murderer as well as someone whose father was murdered, and through Claudius and Laertes actions and reactions, we can evaluate Hamlet more thoroughly as a character.

Hamlet’s change from passivity to action

During Tuesday’s class discussion, I realized one of the biggest changes of Hamlet’s character (as far as I can perceive in acts one through four) occurs after his encounter with the Norwegian captain in 4.4. I found this one of the more interesting speeches of Hamlet’s in the play in terms of the philosophy discussed and how this may serve as the soliloquy to end all soliloquies for him.

It seems to me that most of Hamlet’s pensive speeches are a therapeutic way of sorting through the depths of his emotions each time he takes time to dive deep into his thoughts. This is especially obvious in the famous “To be or not to be” speech of 3.1, where he ponders the great pains of living and the afterlife. If anything, perhaps he is motivated to explore these philosophical inquiries in order to arrive at a conclusion which may bring him to a particular point of action? But up until the murder of Polonius (which seemed to me to be a crime of passion more than an execution of a plan), Hamlet has been very delicate and fickle in his interactions with the world around him. He beats around the bush by acting mad, he pushes buttons by presenting the play to his uncle, and the only people he truly stirs up are his mother and Horatio, which isn’t too risky because a mother generally will be quick to forgive their child and a true friend is always a friend.

Much like his observation of the actor in act III, who is able to shed tears for someone personally unknown, Hamlet comments on his passive nature during his soliloquy in act IV when he says, “How all occasions do inform against me and spur my dull revenge!” He states that so many circumstances he has witnessed testify that he has been “dull” in providing retribution for his deceased father.

He goes on by saying that thoughts are often one part wisdom and three parts cowardice, and I believe the key of his personal revelation lies within the lines “Rightly to be great is not to stir without great argument, but greatly to find quarrel in a straw when honour’s at the stake.” Hamlet determines that to act diligently upon a wrong, no matter how small that wrong may be (as small as a straw), is to be great. When he finally sees that twenty thousand men are sent to capture a trivial plot for land, he compares his own circumstance and how much more he is personally wronged than this army that is willing to die over something so small.

Hamlet concludes the speech by saying “O, from this time forth, my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!” What I believe he is saying is that his thoughts must cause bloodshed at this point or that all of his thoughts are worthless. And if I understand the rest of the play (I haven’t read act V yet), Hamlet defies his uncle by returning to Denmark, showing the first steps of someone who is deliberately defying his circumstances more than merely acting strange to see people’s reactions.

What is remarkable to me, as we discussed in class, is that this scene was only present in the second quarto of the play. For me, it seems that this is such a crucial moment in Hamlet’s own self realizations and helps to explain why he becomes more deliberate in his actions for the last act of the play. He has been mostly talk and reactionary in his actions before this point, and I think his transition from being reactive to active happens at particularly this point. Is it possible that, indeed, early versions of this play’s performances didn’t contain this scene and this was written in to explain the change of Hamlet’s character in the latter parts of the play?

Gertrude and the Feminine Ideal

So far the scene that stood out the most to me in Hamlet was Act III, scene IV, when Hamlet confronts his mother. Especially after watching the film adaptation of the scene on Friday, I was struck by the way that Hamlet treats his mother in such a sexual and violent way. It’s through this scene that we learn that Hamlet doesn’t really consider Gertrude his mother anymore because he just can’t move past the fact that she married his father’s brother so quickly after his father’s death. At line twenty-seven, Hamlet actually refers to her as “good-mother,” or, “step-mother”… Hamlet doesn’t even see her as his mother necessarily, and more just as the woman who married his uncle. This detachment is quite bizarre but further shows how Hamlet has twisted ideas about what womanhood and motherhood is as he continuously pushes an extreme feminine ideal on the women in the play, including his own mother. The fact that Gertrude doesn’t match his insane concepts on femininity is why he lashes out at her in this scene; she didn’t properly mourn her husband and she’s not mourning her son who’s turned into a different person right in front of her.

The central struggle that Hamlet faces during the play is his relationship and his relation to his father. He feels an immense burden to avenge him but is constantly questioning his ability to do so, as well as whether or not he should even be considered his father’s legitimate son. He also feels an unbreakable anger towards his mother for betraying his father so soon after his death and marrying Claudius, his brother. Act III scene IV is a convergence of all of these familial problems and solidifies Hamlet’s madness for the rest of the play. More than that, it’s a convergence of Hamlet’s true thoughts on women and how they should act in marriage and in life. Hamlet humiliates his mother in this scene, chiding her for sleeping with Claudius- “Nay, but to live/In the rank sweat of an enseamèd bed/Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love/Over the nasty sty—“ (3.4.82-84). This language is crude and somewhat disgusting in a way, the fact that Hamlet calls his mother’s bed rank, sweaty, and greasy because she shares it with Claudius. For all that Hamlet’s father asked of him in way of vengeance the one stipulation that he made quite clear was to leave Gertrude out of it. For me, and this idea was brought up in class as well, this signaled that perhaps Gertrude married Claudius out of necessity rather than actual feeling. As we saw in Richard III, there is no more vulnerable position in this society than that of a widow. Lady Anne even considers marrying Richard because she knows that if she remains on her own, her future will be essentially nonexistent without property or status. Queen Margaret is the ultimate widow, forced to roam the castle inhabited by the family that killed her husband and sons. She has next to nothing without her husband. Although it’s not explored in depth in relation to Gertrude, it makes sense that she would be desperate after her husband’s death. Claudius was an interesting choice of course, but perhaps it was her only choice. For Hamlet to feel so personally victimized by his mother in this act is therefore simply a reflection of his feminine ideal. If he had his way his mother would have remained a widow and suffered the societal consequences; because she chooses the opposite path, he degrades her.

We have seen many twisted views on women in every play we’ve read but the familial lens that it takes place through in Hamlet is particularly disturbing. Hamlet has impossible ideals for his mother, wishing she would mourn like the women from mythology who went mad after their children died, or emulated the extreme picture of fertility and femininity that Hamlet seems to dwell on. This image of womanhood is dangerous for the women of the play, Gertrude and Ophelia, because as Hamlet sinks more into his madness the more vulnerable they are to his masculinity and his power. As we saw in class today, Ophelia succumbs to Hamlet’s treachery and dies a scorned woman, a cut flower.

Ophelia’s Madness

Ophelia in the fourth act of Hamlet is demonstrably insane, but the direct cause of her slipped sanity is something that remains debatable. While it is evident that Ophelia is grieving over the death of her father, Polonius, as Horatio says of her “She speaks much of her father, says she hears / There’s tricks in the world, and hems, and beats her heart” (4.5.4-5), a secondary cause of Ophelia’s madness may be in fact about her failed relationship with Hamlet as well.

The evidence suggesting that she is simply mourning her father is obvious, as lines from one of her many “songs” points towards grieving over an aged relative “His beard as white as snow / All flaxen was his poll” with flaxen here indicating a white or grayed head of hair (4.5.190-191). This line directly references an older man and because of this detail, Polonius’s death has obviously taken its toll on Ophelia’s psyche, causing her to spout such wild and woeful songs. Further explicit references to Ophelia’s father, such as “I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say a made a good end.” give more credence to Ophelia’s shattered mental state, as she is constantly fixating on the death of Polonius, so much so that every single thing reminds her of his passing (4.5.180-181). Ophelia’s madness is perhaps overtaking her so much so that she does not even recognize whom she is talking to in this instance–her brother Laertes. Because Polonius was such a vital figure in her life, she is likely bereaved beyond help and thus does not recognize her brother.

However, the explicit sexual references in Ophelia’s songs perhaps account for her obsession with the now absent Hamlet, as in “promising his love” to her earlier in the play and then being scorned, she is doubly heartbroken alongside the death of her father. With lines like “Young men will do’t if they come to’t / By Cock, they are to blame” signifies a strange and perhaps oblique reference to a promiscuous or simply flighty man who promises love (or sex here with the word “cock”) but backs out after a brief time (4.5.59-60). This is compounded on by a following line, “You promised me to wed, / So would I ‘a’ done, by yonder sun, / An thou hadst not come to my bed.” and it is this part of Ophelia’s song that likely damns Hamlet as a cause of her mental fracturing (4.5.62-64). Though the man in the song has promised the speaker that they will soon wed, he has left her for no apparent reason and like Hamlet’s alleged claims of love and marriage to Ophelia, so too has Hamlet broken those vows for reasons unbeknownst. It is likely that Ophelia has fixated upon Hamlet’s “detestable” oath breaking so much so that in not requiting her love, Hamlet has broken both her heart and her poor mind.

Ophelia exists as a tragic character in Hamlet and one that is entirely pitiable because of unfortunate circumstances that she has been put through.

Portia’s Death

It’s hard to forget about the women in this play because for the most part in Julius Caesar, they don’t exist. This absence is to be expected in a way seeing as it’s a play about politics and how having one singular ruler affects society, but after reading Act IV and discussing it in class this week, the part about this play that bothers me the most is the treatment of Portia, particularly the treatment of Portia’s death. Before class on Tuesday I was sure that the news of her death being shared twice was simply an error on Shakespeare’s part, or a discrepancy between editions perhaps published by two different printers. But after reading in our exercise that scholars have debated this issue and that some think that the two announcements were not accidental had me thinking about the implications of having her death mentioned twice, and what Shakespeare is saying about Brutus as a character and how Portia suffers because of his lack of attention.

The first we see of Portia is in Act II telling Brutus that he’s been acting strangely and that she wishes he would tell her what is ailing him. Portia speaks eloquently and intelligently yet Brutus gives her very short answers as to why he’s been in poor health-“I am not well in health, and that is all” (2.1.255).  Portia’s following speech beginning at 290 is fairly short, but one of the most interesting speeches of the play. She pleads with him that she is more than just a traditional woman, that she is strong and can handle whatever Brutus has to tell her. She comments on the idea of inherent feminine weakness and expresses frustration over it-“I grant I am woman, but withal/A woman well reputed. Cato’s daughter” (2.1.294). She wants Brutus to understand her strength despite the fact that she’s a woman and perceived simply as a wife, but we never really see Portia get her due in the play; she gets nothing from Brutus or anyone else. Like Queen Margaret in Richard III, Portia is a character that speaks to larger issues in society about women and how they’re treated in marriage, and even how they’re treated after they’ve been widowed. Portia in some ways probably feels as though she’s lost her husband and her behavior thus makes more sense. She’s desperately trying to connect with someone who isn’t there.

The fact that she commits suicide didn’t come as a surprise to me mostly because she seemed like a deeply sad character who struggled with her intelligence in a male-dominated world. What did surprise me was Brutus’s lackluster reaction to hearing that his wife had died…not once, but twice. The first time Brutus announces that Portia is dead and then says, “speak no more of her” about ten lines later. The second time Messala tells him that she is dead “by strange manner” and again Brutus doesn’t spend much time over it. If the two announcements were done purposefully, for me it seems that perhaps Shakespeare is showing how little her death affects the course of the play. Even if Brutus is told twice, it’s not going to hold him back from continuing his work; he’s not going to spend any time on it. He can’t think about anything beyond himself or beyond anything have to do with politics. Women in other plays have been left by the wayside, or have gotten violent ends, but Portia’s death is the most disheartening when thinking about women during this time and she becomes a causality, rather than a character.

Brutus and Repetition

In his play, The Tragedy of Julius Casear, Shakespeare uses the rhetorical technique of repetition to create a subtext critiquing humanity’s affinity toward government, whether it is a hierarchy or a republic. The most obvious moment of Shakespeare’s rhetorical strategy is when Mark Antony gives his oration in 3.2 following Brutus’, in which Antony uses the words, “ambitious,” “honorable,” and, “will” about 7-8 times. But before Mark Antony and Brutus’ repetition-filled orations in response to Casear’s assassination occur in the play, Shakespeare less obviously deploys the rhetorical technique of repetition to foreshadow Brutus’ betrayal to Caesar. Toward the beginning of act two scene one, Brutus, awake in the middle of the night, has his bondsman bring him the letter Cassius delivered to his estate, in which Cassius writes, “‘Brutus, though sleep’st. Awake, and see thyself./ Shall Rome, et cetera? Speak, strike, redress.’–/ ‘Brutus thou sleep’st. Awake.’/ Such insinuations have been often dropped/ Where I have tool them up” (2.1.46-50). Brutus continues on to interpret the next two lines of Cassius’s letter by restating the line then narrating what Cassius means by that line. Brutus’ repetition, especially of him “waking” himself up, is important in understanding Brutus as a betrayer and a sad product of humanity’s dedication to politics; even though Brutus believes his actions are justified by his dedication to the republic and its guarantee of equality, he is more concerned with power and position within his ideal republic than even Julius is, and Brutus allows that over his personal relationships to dictate his actions.

 

After Brutus reads Cassius’ letter and decides he will join their plan, Cassius and his cronies, all in disguise, come to Brutus’ house to plot their assassination of Caesar. After Cassius and his conspirators leave, Portia, Brutus’ wife, comes out of their bedroom and asks why he hasn’t slept through the night for the past few days. In response to him shooing her back to bed, Portia exclaims, “Is Brutus sick? And is it physical/ To walk unbraced and suck up the humours,/ Of the dank morning? What, is Brutus sick?” (2.1.260-262). Portia’s repetition of her question, I believe, suggests the suspiciousness with which Shakespeare would like his audience to regard the affects of politics. By asking Brutus twice if he is sick, Portia’s question can be interpreted as a combination of many different types of “sick” that can emerge from one’s engagement with politics, such as, emotional sickness, or mental sickness, which are indeed the causes driving Brutus toward complete betrayal of a friend over politics. These two moments of repetition, the first including just Brutus alone, and the second, including his wife, allow Shakespeare to include a subtext of critique of government by allowing Brutus’ motives to remain uncertain.

 

The last notable moment of repetition Shakespeare uses to further develop Brutus as a symbol for the resultative effects of government and politics is in act four, scene two, when Brutus first tells Cassius about Portia’s suicide, seemingly without emotion, and then a few lines later on, when Messala tells Brutus that she is in fact dead, to which Brutus responds with emotion. Brutus tells Cassius that Portia died due to, “Impatience of my absence,/ And grief that young Octavius with Mark Antony/ Have made themselves so strong–” (4.2.204-206). Brutus shows no emotion at all over the death of his wife, maybe because her death had to do with politics and Brutus has been able to detach the personal from the political, as we know from his ability to murder his friend, Caesar. When Messala tells Brutus that Portia is indeed dead, Brutus responds with more emotion, stating, “Why, farewell, Portia. We must die Messala./ With meditating that she must die once,/ I have the patience to endure it now” (4.2.242-244). Now that Brutus is talking to Messala instead of Cassius, his co-conspirator, he is able to show emotion and with the second repetition in emotional contrast to the first, Shakespeare implies that politics does deplete all emotional regard one may have for another person.

A Synchronicity of Spectral Spectacles in Shakespeare

In theme with the recent Halloween festivities, I think it’s interesting to note that we have a sequence of three plays which feature ghosts as characters with stage appearances. We had the number of ghosts appear to Richard and Richmond in the fifth act of Richard III, we had the ghost of Caesar appear to Brutus at the end of the fourth act of Julius Caesar, and in our next play we have the ghost of Hamlet’s father appear to the titular character and a few others. Although I have not read the play of Hamlet, I am familiar with the play’s story having read a prose version found in Tales from Shakespeare. The only other play I am familiar with which features a ghost is Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth, which I read in the last class I took with professor Mulready. For this post I want to explore, compare, and contrast some running themes found in the details of all of the ghost’s appearances.

What is the most prevalent trait shared by all of these ghosts? They are all victims of murder. the train of people that were steamrolled to ensure Richard’s possession of the crown, Julius Caesar, whom was the object of political controversy to the conspirators, Hamlet’s father, who stood in the way of Hamlet’s uncle’s desire for the crown and the king’s wife, and Banquo, whom Macbeth assassinated to prevent Banquo from ever wearing the crown. Are they all ghosts because their lives were cut short before their “appointed times”? Was Shakespeare playing off of the idea that ghosts are the souls of people who still had matters to attend to after the time of their deaths?

Also note that most of the ghosts only appear to a select number of people. In Macbeth, the titular character is the only person at the dinner table who is able to see Banquo’s ghost, much to the confusion of his dinner guests. In Julius Caesar, all of the other characters have fallen asleep and Brutus is the only one who has seen Caesar’s ghost. In Richard III, both Richard and Richmond perceive them in their sleep. Hamlet is an odd exception, because he hears of his father’s ghost first from the night watch, but later when the ghost appears again, the mother does not perceive it. But for each of these appearances, save the night watch from Hamlet and Richmond, the characters who perceive the ghost end up dying.

There are a few more details of the effects of ghosts which exist in the plays. When they appear in Richard III, King Richard speaks of the candles’ flames turning blue. And in a similar moment, Brutus notices that the flames have changed with no specificity of them turning blue. (As a fun aside, shortly after reading the scene in Richard III where the candles turn blue, I was playing a videogame which took place in a spooky world. In it I saw a ghostly character which held a blue candle, so kudos Shakespeare for still making a cultural impact.)

So with exploring all of these ideas about ghosts, what can we infer when a ghost appears in his plays? We can say that the ghost is of someone who left the earth tragically early (e.g. murdered), and that whom they appear to is in trouble! I wonder how many fictional works which have ghosts still stick to this general pattern of guaranteed death? Beware!

Brutus’s Damn Conscience

The character of Marcus Brutus from Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is strangely enough one of the most morally balanced and focused characters present within the playwright’s works. Brutus, tasked with killing Julius Caesar whom is to be crowned as the emperor of Rome after nearly five hundred years of a republican state, is both reluctant to undertake the deed and only seems willing to do so if the group he is with is capable of placating the populace at large of their misdeeds.

Beginning with the initial discussion of the upcoming assassination, Brutus refuses to kill one of Caesar’s most trusted generals, Marc Antony, by suggestion of his comrade Cassius through moral reason. “Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius, / To cut the head off and then hack the limbs, / Like wrath in death and envy afterwards–/ For Antony is but a limb of Caesar. / Let’s be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.” (2.1.162-166). In this instance, Brutus suggests that by killing Caesar, who is the inherent root or “head” of the issues with the upper castes of Roman society, most of the issues surrounding Caesar’s court will dissipate. Furthermore, killing more people than necessary, Antony in this quote, will be needless as all it will do is create an even larger mess. Brutus’s use of the word “butcher” compounds upon this fact as well, as “like wrath in death and envy afterward”, going into a blood frenzy will likely exacerbate the problem and probably will not ingratiate people towards their group as Rome’s new leaders. While Brutus’s conscience in this instance proves him to be a morally positive figure, it is quite ironic that in letting Antony live, he essentially commits suicide, as the general specifically seeks him out later in the play.

Another important instance of Brutus’s positive moral compass is his possible reluctance to actually kill Caesar personally, as the stage directions for the death of Caesar are quite telling. “They stab Caesar [Casca first, Brutus last]” (3.177). In this instance, the actual morality is subtle but being one of Caesar’s most trusted advisers and perhaps confidants, Brutus seems reluctant to actually kill the man in question and Brutus being last to actually stab Caesar creates the notion that Brutus perhaps stayed his hand because he had an unwillingness to go forward with the plan.

Next, Brutus’s address to the Plebians regarding his actions again indicates his moralistic nature as he confesses his guilt and even tells the commoners that they can imprison or kill him if they see fit. “If any, speak, for him I have offended. I pause for a reply… With this I depart: that I slew my best lover for the good of Rome, I have the same dagger for myself when it shall please my country to need my death” (3.2.30-31, 41-43). Finally, Brutus’s conscience seemingly gets the better of him, as he cannot rationally defend his actions and would accept punishment as penance for what he has done. However, the importance of his confession is that Brutus appears to be the only morally upstanding character in this work, as each character that surrounds him seemingly acts with nefarious intents in mind–Cassius appears blood thirsty, Antony seems to be power drunk, and even Caesar was crazed with the implications of the crown.

In this line of thinking, Brutus is perhaps the only conscientious character in the play.

“Queen” Margaret

In Richard III there are so many characters and intersecting family houses that it’s nearly impossible to keep them all straight without going back and checking at the back of the book after you read an act. When I was thinking about what I wanted to write about this week, I realized that the only character that stood out to me was Queen Margaret. She is a relatively small character in the grand scheme of things and there are other characters that play more important roles throughout but she remains endlessly fascinating as one of the only female characters in the play. What sets her apart from the other female characters is that she has already lost everything and is resigned to a life of complete helplessness as a widow. Lady Anne, while also a widow and a victim of the lost war, at least has the possibility of re-marrying (even if it is to the evil Richard) and therefore able to escape a life of solitude. Queen Margaret has lost her husband and her sons and now has to live with the family who committed these murders. It’s easy to see her as simply an angry and bitter woman with nothing better to do than insult Richard and threaten his family, but after the reference to primogeniture in our last class, Queen Margaret represents so much more than just a lonely widow and becomes more of a symbol for fallen women at this time.

The law of primogeniture was simple in that only men were to receive any of the inheritance, starting with the first-born son. Women were excluded from basically all rights, including the right to own property. As we’ve discussed with previous plays, being a woman at this time was extremely difficult and there were societal restrictions impeding almost every aspect of their lives. Women like Helena and Hermia in Midsummer’s who try and stray from the patriarchal rule are ultimately silenced and the women in Othello are faced with Iago’s generalized misogynistic opinions throughout the play. When you break Margaret down as a woman at this time, she is another example of a female causality of the patriarchy. Her husband was murdered and without him she has no rights to property and no legal status. She is at the mercy of the York family; unable to go out in the world on her own has a single woman.

The first time readers read lines from Queen Margaret, Shakespeare introduces her through the stage direction “unseen behind them.” She is figuratively invisible through her lack of status as a woman and Shakespeare makes it even more scathing by having her be literally invisible to the other characters for the first part of this scene; only at line 157 does she come become visible. Every line she speaks on page 560 is noted as being “aside” so that the other characters are ignorant to what she’s saying, with only the audience meant to hear her. (I liked in our last class how we described her as almost a ghost, haunting the people in the castle who hurt her.) She uses extremely sharp and combatant language and holds a particular contempt for Richard calling him “dog” and prophesizing that he will be mistaken in who is allies are. A particularly interesting part of her speech against him is when she says, “thou slander of thy heavy mother’s womb” (1.3.228). This line stuck out to me because in the next act we learn that the Duchess of York, Richard’s mother, recognizes that her son is a monster (“He is my son, ay, and therein my shame; Yet from my dugs he drew not this deceit” (2.2.30)). The language about pregnancy and motherhood are very starkly contrasted with the militant language of the previous scene, and further complicates the interpretation of the women of this place, who are already difficult to comprehend and place amongst all of Richard’s violent deceit.

 

“Grannam” York

With her hair about her ears, as the stage directions put it, Queen Elizabeth comes into the room in which The Duchess of York and Clarence’s son and daughter are debating Clarence’s death. Elizabeth tells them that King Edward just died, presumably from heartbreak over accidentally murdering Clarence, to which The Duchess of York responds with, “Ah, so much interest I have in your sorrow/ As I had title in thy noble husband./ I have be wept a worthy husband’s death,/ And lived with looking on his images./ But now two mirrors of his princely semblance/ Are cracked in pieces by malignant death, And I for comfort have but one false glass,/ That grieve me when I see my shame in him” (2.2.47-54). The Duchess’ heartfelt response sparks a not-so-family conversation about the deaths of Edward and Clarence, but the way the conversation pans out is, in my opinion, extremely un-family like. There is a lack of empathy between one another even though each person in the room lost a family member, and nonetheless, they were Royal brothers. Instead of condoling their grandmother,  Clarence’s two children turn to Elizabeth and tell her how they will not grieve with her because she hadn’t grieved with them when they found out their father died. The children’s lack of response to their grandmother greatly contrasts the way the Duchess responds to Elizabeth, “Ah, so much interest I have in your sorrow” (2.2.47).

As I continue to read this part of the play over again, (it might be one of my favorite pieces of literature I’ve read thus far) I wonder if this is an accurate depiction of the unemotional way the Royal family engaged with one another, or if Shakespeare, for the sake of drama, elaborates the animosity between the York family members. As Elizabeth and Clarence’s children continue to exclaim their individual woes about their lost loved ones without the care of the other brother’s mourners, The Duchess of York interrupts the three family members and in an eloquent, riddle like manner, expresses to them how she has lost not one loved ones, but two: “She for an Edward weep, and so do I;/ I for a Clarence weep, so doth not she./ These babes for Clarence weep, and so do I;/ I for Edward weep, so do not they./ Alas, you three on me, threefold distressed,/ Pour all your tears. I am your sorrow’s nurse,/ And I will pamper with lamentation” (2.2.79-88). Instead of trying to compete with Elizabeth and the children in who is the most upset, The Duchess urges bitter kin to confide in her, which serves as evidence of the strength that lies within her. The Duchess doesn’t reprimand or criticize Elizabeth and the children in the same manner they were speaking to each other, instead she soothes the high tension by acting as the only family-like family member of all the York family. With this in mind, maybe Shakespeare intended for a very specific familial subtext in this particular scene; Shakespeare seems to be emphasizing the importance of not necessarily familial relationships, but filial relationships. I am not too sure of the significance of filial relationships within the play, but I do know that The Duchess of York is the only York family member who actually seems to be a real, emotional person.