Yesterday, we talked a little about the “empty womb” imagery in Richard the Second. Today, let’s take it a little further to discuss the mother of all mothers (and fathers) in the play: England itself.
In Act One, Scene Three, Bolingbroke calls England “(his) mother, and (his) nurse” (I.iii.307).
Later, in Act Two, Scene One, his father John of Gaunt calls “this England, // This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings” (II.i.50-51).
Richard never refers to the land in such maternal terms; as King, he own sees it as something he owns: it is “my Earth” (III.ii.10), “our England” (I.iv.35). Interesting, then, that John of Gaunt sees Richard now as mere “Landlord of England… not king” (II.i.113).
If England is not the maternal metaphor of choice for Richard, what is?
As befitting the “poet king,” it is his own mind, of course. In his final soliloquy (the only one for any character in the play… until this last moment, Richard is a cypher, really), Richard describes his thoughts:
My brain I'll prove the female to my soul,
My soul the father; and these two beget
A generation of still-breeding thoughts,
And these same thoughts people this little world
HIS brain is the womb which will birth thoughts, the metaphorical people for the world. HE has become the mother.
of course, this MAY work on a purely metaphorical level: King IS Country, therefore, his mind can birth the population… but still not very masculine…
Mother England is left with an effeminate monarch… less manly to be sure than Bolingbroke, probably even less so than Elizabeth, the reigning Queen.