"I will not peace": Language, power, and the Duchess of York in Richard II

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Veronica Lowe

Abstract

 The action of Shakespeare's Richard II centres on the overthrow of a
king and the installation of a usurper in his place. Male characters
dominate the play in terms of numbers and stage time. It is an indication,
paradoxically, of both the subordination of women in this political and
military world as well as their refusal to be completely passive that all
three major female characters are seen in roles of supplication before
men.
This paper considers the relation of power and language when one
of these women, the Duchess of York, tries to persuade men to do her
bidding. It examines the linguistic strategies she employs to gain
ascendancy over them as well as those they use to assert their
superiority. In addition to looking at how power is exerted through
language, it also considers how power is reflected in language.
The relevant parts of Act 5 Scene 2 and Act 5 Scene 3 of Richard II
are analysed using adaptations of concepts from conversation analysis,
Brown & Levinson's (1987) theory of politeness, and Culpeper's (1996)
model of impoliteness.

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