Shakespeare’s history women

When it comes to the history plays it seems that women play a very specific role.  In Richard II the main women in the play were the Queen, the Duchess of Gloucester, and the Duchess of York.  The Queen is depressed, the Duchess of Gloucester is looking for revenge, and the Duchess of York can only think about saving her son.  These women do not have very many redeeming qualities.  In Henry IV the main female characters are Lady Percy and Lady Mortimer.  Immediately we are not given a strong opinion of Lady Mortimer, for because she only speaks Welsh she cannot speak for herself.  We do see, however, that Mortimer appears to be in love with her.  What is this based on though? Is it only a physical relationship because women were trophies?  Lady Percy, to me, is the strongest woman in the history plays we’ve read so far, but her strength comes from opposition, which during the time of the play was not a redeemable quality. 


Why does Shakespeare give the women in the history plays unattractive personalities? Of all the women in these two plays the only one that I can relate with is Lady Percy.  It seems pretty obvious that Hotspur is not in love with her and her interactions with him show that she is aware of this as well.  In our interaction with Lady Percy I can’t help but draw connections to Taming of the Shrew and Katherine’s behavior.  The first obvious connection is the name Kate given to both outspoken women.  Lady Percy is instructed by her husband to sing like Lady Mortimer to which she responds, “I will not sing” (3.2.254).  The strength in character that she shows in this one line is amazing. She does not say “I don’t want to sing” or “I’d rather not sing” but “I will not sing” which sounds like something I feel like we would have heard Katherine say in Taming.


Why are Shakespeare’s women so unattractive in personality? Since these are history plays I can’t help but wonder is this how these women really were or is Shakespeare embellishing to provide good opposites for the male characters.


5 thoughts on “Shakespeare’s history women

  1. ShaynaGreenspan

    This post really intrigued me because I have questioned and written about Shakespeare’s display of women in previous posts about other plays we have read. I most definitely agree with you that women are displayed as not having any qualities that are respectable or commendable. I also have to agree with you that Lady Percy does seem like a parallel to Katherine in Taming of the Shrew. Lady Percy’s quick and witty responses to her husband reminded me a lot of Katherine as well. I find it quite interesting that there are so many parallels between Shakespeare’s plays. Even though Shakespeare seems to be partly representing the era in which he writes about, I still am dumbfounded at what his attitudes are toward women. I have presented questions in earlier posts questioning Shakespeare’s view toward women; if he too thought of them as just a commodity, or if he was just showing how society was at his time. I am still analyzing and questioning these questions and am unsure of his true intentions, even after reading a few of his texts.

  2. maggylynn

    Shakespeare really doesn’t have much creativity when it comes to his female characters, does he? As you pointed out (which I didn’t pick up on initially), he uses the name Kate to describe two very similar characters. This could be due to the meaning behind the name. He also doesn’t give Lady Mortimer a personality. She is like a blank page mumbling sounds. I agree that there couldn’t be true love there – they only know each other by their actions, and so much can be learned through people’s words/thoughts. Perhaps Shakespeare expands on the character of Hotspur, especially in regards to his reaction to Kate’s refusal to sing. He isn’t mean or insulting, or even mad that she defies him. I think their relationship is one of the healthiest ones Shakespeare writes of.

  3. michaeldrago

    The lack of compelling female characters in Shakespeare’s history plays most likely has to do in part with the historical background of the events he’s basing them on. The women did not play a significant public role in these events, so they’re prevented from taking part in many of the significant moments of the plays right off the bat. And while it’s possible that they had a significant impact behind the scenes, this would not have been information that Shakespeare would have been privy to; as a result, he would have had no assistance in the imagining of these women and their relationships to the men around them or the events that were going on. Of course, that doesn’t entirely excuse Shakespeare; since he had a greater amount of creative license with these characters, he could have very easily chosen to explore them a bit deeper than he did. They still would have likely been second fiddle to the male characters, but he certainly missed the opportunity to provide a more balanced perspective of the events. But it seems as though he had little interest in doing that, instead choosing to focus primarily on the events themselves and the individuals directly involved with them. It would have been interesting to see him take a slightly different approach, but he did have his reasons for the approach that he did take.

  4. burnettd1

    I agree that the women throughout Shakespeare’s plays existed to play specific roles. In Henry IV, Lady Percy and Lady Mortimer were important supporting characters because it truly showed the rebels lack of devotion to their plan to overthrow King Henry IV. The male characters in this play were easily distracted by the women. Mortimer and Hotspur’s motivation for their plan was discredited because both of the men had time to lay on their wives laps and listen to the song instead of make their plan more solid. When the men laid their heads on the women’s laps, it was symbolic of the men giving themselves away to the women. Therefore, they put themselves on a lower level and devalued their plan. Mortimer and Hotspur made themselves appear more foolish in this scene instead of giving themselves more credibility which was necessary in order to overthrow Henry IV.

  5. mariadeang

    Women have definitely been marginalized in most of Shakespeare’s plays but I think it mainly had to do with the point in history he was writing about. However, I do think the scene with the rebels was an extremely interesting point in the play. Like we discussed in class, it completely discredited the rebels and their plan. And it does so, mainly because they were distracted BY women (because, gosh how could they succumb to the sounds of those terrible beasts). Emasculating the men by laying in (foreign) wives’ laps was what completely discredits the men – not the fact that Mortimer thinks he could summon spirits of the ocean and other mystical nonsense. If being sent to a foreign country where you wouldn’t know the language was such a terrible issue for Englishmen, how come Mortimer’s magical mumbo jumbo isn’t worse than their short break with their wives?


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