In this essay the role of man in marriage will be examined in relation to Shakespeare’s Richard the 2nd and Anthony and Cleopatra. Marriage in Jacobean society was a highly codified and intricate subject that would have governed the lives of almost all of the audience (Ranald 68). Within Richard the 2nd and Anthony and Cleopatra men face a multitude of marital pressures and expectations. Within this complex web of marriage, the roles of the participants would have been tightly established, and straying from the norm would have been deemed as exciting, risky, and dangerous. Consequently, deviations from conventional marriage would have challenged the audience’s standard beliefs. In this essay I shall show how in Richard the 2nd, and Anthony and Cleopatra male characters deviate dangerously from their roles, causing the marriages to end. Shakespeare demonstrates this through drawing a clear parallel between the failure of marriage and the failure of the character; as shown through Richard’s poor reign, and Anthony’s rejection of Rome. Both these failures to succeed in their roles lead to the destruction of their marriages. Whilst a failure in ones role directly poses a problem to marriage, the failure in ones role also indirectly poses a problem to marriage due to the marriages conventionality causing a tension between the male characters unconventionality.
Both Anthony and Richard are presented as rulers and statesmen. Accompanying the positions are several duties and expectations which contain both the need for success and conquest, and the religious and moral dimensions of control. The expectations and duties that characters are held to, enshrine character’s role within society, and are linked to their marital success.
A key role of the military positions, of general or king is that of conquest and victory. For both characters their expectations are explored through historical context. For Richard this expectation is derived from his father, whilst for Anthony, it is derived from his own successful past. In the context of the age, with England the subject of foreign attack (in the form of the Spanish Armada), a Jacobean audience would readily appreciate the importance of military success.
In Richard 2nd, the historical precedent of Richard’s father (the prior monarch and renowned for his military success in the Hundred Years War) is brought home with the use of the phrase “teeming womb of royal kings, feared by their breed and famous” (2.1.51-2) implying not just a history of successful kingship; but an abundance of such history in previous generations. This description of England, which generates Richard’s role as king, is emphasised by historical tradition in the description. When Gaunt describes the “sceptered isle,” (2.1.40) he uses phrases parallel to Plutarch and Virgil (Friedman 282). By employing the established historical commentators, Shakespeare is able to present the military role of a king, through Gaunt, as embedded in its...