Family Feuds

Bonds are a very important theme in Shakespeare’s plays and one of these bonds that may be overlooked is the bond of family. Although we come across bonds that have to do with business transactions and friendship, family bonds are just as important and integral to Shakespeare’s society as is any other bond. Not only does it shape a characters mind and mission, but it leads them to take extreme actions against humankind.
In Richard II a lot of what the audience is accustomed to in Shakespearean literature is again brought to attention. In the play we are introduced to two characters that have a long feud reigning amongst them and they have come together to deal with this old grudge in the most subtle of ways. Shakespeare has included these types of feuds in many of his plays such as Romeo and Juliet and although the younger generation sees past the grudges, the older folks never seem to stop nursing old feuds. As Mowbray states, “The bitter clamor of two eager tongues, / Can arbitrate this cause betwixt us twain; / The blood is hot that must be cool’d for this.” (pg 806), of how even after so long the blood is still “hot” with fresh anger. The feuds amid the English era were very common among royalty and weren’t just concerned with the people involved but generations and generations afterwards. This reminds me of the tribal system in certain areas of the middle east where these kinds of battles are still common. I believe it is important for us, as readers, to look deeper into the realms of these family feuds and why families are so bound to one another just because of blood. Although in the present day western world we are not so much concerned with the trials and tribulations of previous family grudges (well not so much anyway), there may be a reflection of how we have managed to burst out of the seams of family bonds through the readings of these plays. The two characters in Shakespeares play, Bullingbrook and Mowbray, show resilience to mending ways without a fight. For example, Bullingbrook asserts, “Look what I speak, my life shall prove it true; […] Besides I say, and will in battle prove, / Or here or elsewhere to the furthest verge” (pg 806), which leads him to have a glorified version of revenge and justification which can only take place through battles and sacrificing his own life. Not once does Bullingbrook furnish Mowbray with room for mercy and coming to an agreement; his mission is clear and he will do anything to make sure that his is not denied his rights. Not surprisingly, the bond of Bullingbrook’s family is far dearer to him than even his own life.

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3 thoughts on “Family Feuds

  1. Natalie Giuliano

    You make a great point about family bonds. They were present in the other works we've read, but in The Taming of the Shrew and The Rape of Lucrece, we focused on homosocial and heterosexual bonds. You pointed out that not only do family bonds "shape a character's mind and mission" but they also motivate people to take extreme action. I totally agree; the way a person is raised in a family unit determines a large portion of his/her approach towards the rest of the world. Also, we hate as deep as we love, which is why many family feuds are so destructive –whether within the same family, or against other families (protecting one's own). Blood does carry a special weight in Shakespearean society. Once family honor is in the picture, Bolingbroke and Mowbray refuse to back down. Defending their lineage is more important than their own lives. I agree it's important to note that in today's Western world family members do not feel as obliged by blood alone. People are willing to leave dysfunctional family relationships and start over new with another spouse. Also, children do not feel as confined by the authority of parents. This is important to keep in mind while reading of a different time.

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  2. Celina Strater

    While “the bond of Bollingbrook’s family is far dearer to him than even his own life” in the beginning of the play, we see Bolingbroke contradicted between familial bond and justice as Richard exercises more corruption in the proceeding acts. This is a great analysis of the first two acts in Richard II, where the Bolingbroke is still views himself subject to the King. But as Richard sends Bolingbroke to exile and takes his fathers inheritance to pursue a fraudulent war in Ireland, he divorces his “blood” (and all it represents) from Richard. Instead he works against legacy for his own right as well as the betterment of the common people.

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  3. Cyrus Mulready

    This post raises some interesting ideas about the use of "bonds" in this and other plays we have read this semester. I think it is notable that we don't see as much emphasis on family bonds, particularly as the play goes on. One of the issues (and here I'm following Celina's point) in the play seems to be the question of where family loyalties should end and broader political or national allegiances should begin. There is a conflict throughout the play on this point, and one that we'll see carry through into the other plays in this "tetralogy."

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