The "peaceful bosom" and the "bloody crowns": Nationalistic Metaphors of Mother England and the Body Politic in Shakespeare's "Richard II"
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This thesis will examine the utilization of nationalistic metaphors in Shakespeare’s Richard II, focusing upon the tropes of geo-corporeality, the motherland, and the body politic. Beginning with a close reading of Gaunt’s famous "sceptred isle" speech, I will show how characters frequently use the island’s aquatic isolation and geographic contiguity to establish a material basis for political unification and to efface a history of internal cultural division. Continuing with the concept of a land-based and bodily state, I will then explore the nationalistic benefits of the motherland trope, such as instilling a sense of filial and fraternal pride, as well as its accompanying defects, particularly those related to early modern male anxieties over the consuming, concealing, and transformative powers of the female body. Responding to modern critical theories of divine right, political realism, and the origins of nationalism, I will contend that Shakespeare undermines absolutism, shows the dissolution of feudalism and the chivalric hierarchy, and portrays politics as inherently performative and dependent upon public spectatorship. Focusing primarily upon Richard II, but addressing parallels in the other history plays, I argue that Shakespeare performs a recursive construction of national identity, situating England as eternal and contemporary, organic and artificial, cohesive and conflicted. Keywords: Shakespeare, metaphor, gender, anatomy, nation, body politic, motherland