The women characters in Shakespeare's historic plays exhibit the roles of women while keeping an allure of identity, independence and strength. Richard II, III, Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI all have women characters that portray the role of women on a wide scale.
In Richard II, Queen Isabel portrayed a subservient, obedient, and devoted wife to King Richard. In reality, Queen Isabel was very young when she got married to King Richard but Shakespeare writes her as a grown woman for the sake of her role. She first enters the play by the side of her husband and only says one line, "How fares our noble uncle Lancaster" (II.i.71) (Bevington 755). Queen Isabel asked about the well being of Lancaster and not the affairs of country and state. Women at that time were to concern themselves only with domestic responsibilities and family. The workings of the country were not of a woman's business and it was not her place to be involved. For this matter, Queen Isabel did not get involved letting her husband handle those affairs like an obedient wife should. As angry words were spoken between John of Gaunt and Richard she stood by quietly and let the men have their dispute until she was guided away from the unpleasant encounter. In Act 2 Scene 2, Busky (an advisor of Richard) is reminding the Queen that she promised her husband not to be sad about his departure to Ireland. The Queen replies,
To please the King I did; to please myself
I cannot do it. Yet I know no cause
Why I should welcome such a guest as grief,
Save bidding farewell so sweet a guest
As my sweet Richard. Yet again methinks
Some unborn sorrow ripe in fortune's womb
Is coming towards me, and my inward, soul
With nothing trembles. At something it grieves
More then with parting of my lord the King. (II.iii.5-13)(Bevington 758).
These lines foreshadow King Richard's fate but also suggest a deeper understanding of the role of women during Shakespeare's time. These lines show Queen Isabel's obedience to and reliance on her husband. She will tell him that she will not be sad to please him yet she is sad that he is leaving and she will be alone. The metaphor used also suggests that if she were to have had children then she would not feel so sad. This is because while her husband was away on his trip she would at least have the children to care for which is another role of women during that time. However, she does not have children to take and she will not have him there to serve him as an obedient wife and therefore will have "nothing" while he is away. As with most of Shakespeare's plays, the women tend to have a moment of strong, outspoken independence to their identity. It is portrayed more in some of Shakespeare's characters more than others. Queen Isabel is a typical women of the time and sticks with the traditional role of a women, however, she does speak up to her humiliation as to being the last to know about her husband execution. Queen Isabel then rushes off to see King Richard and falls back into her role as the obedient and subservient wife. The Queen shows devotion to her husband and tries to get him to fight for his life, which he refuses. The Queen then begs Northumberland to banish her and her husband both so the can be together, but he