Good sometimes Queen
Richard II, Mary Stuart and the poetics of queenship
in Shakespeare’s histories and counter-histories
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In William Shakespeare's Richard II, the tragic protagonist is noted for his addiction to narrative. Any oblique representation of Mary Stuart in Richard II is, however, far from the clear celebratory picture offered by the Jesuit martyr. Perhaps as a result of Shakespeare's own turbulent relationship with forms of Catholicism, it is deeply ambivalent. Shakespeare's play uses the feminine Isabella to represent the French dimension of Mary Stuart's identity, but it is Richard who figures her role as tragic protagonist in Scotland and England. Through a cross-gendered representation, Shakespeare's play explores the nineteen-year struggle between two queens who both had to cope with the political challenge of identifying themselves as princes rather than women. In the absence of automatic male authority to command, Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I cultivated a specialised poetics of queenship, interweaving emblems, images, verbal and non-verbal languages, as Jennifer Summit has noted.


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