3 Henry VI

Act 1

Dusty:

3H6 picks up immediately after the end of 2H6, without a break or passage of time. It’s as if the two plays are really one ten-act play, with the same cast of characters. Clifford and the Queen play more prominent roles, and York is disposed of in the first act.

Somerset is disposed of even earlier, when his head is brought in. How many severed heads have we seen? (Is there perhaps as much violent death and beheading in the three H6 plays as in “Titus Andronicus”?). By now has the audience become hardened and de-sensitized to decapitation?

In 1.1 York’s ally, Warwick, declares Henry is bashful and cowardly, but Henry himself soon enters, acting more forceful and determined than we have previously seen. Is Henry just play-acting? Or is he acting judiciously, deciding to use “frowns, words, and threats” rather than arms? Maybe “frowns” hints that Henry is still timid.

Should a director have the actor signal weakness?

The play then concisely presents the political problem that has troubled the kingdom since the reign of Richard II: does the House of Lancaster’s claim derive from “conquest” (as Henry first says) or Richard’s “resignation” (as he next says). Or was it “rebellion,” as York insists. (This was in effect discussed in 2H4). In any case, Henry himself concedes in an aside that “my title’s weak.” And he quickly offers a deal: let me be king during my lifetime, and York can succeed me. York quickly takes the deal and swears an oath to recognize Henry as king during his lifetime.

Then another sudden reversal, as Henry’s northern allies (Westmoreland, Northumberland, and Clifford) turn against him, taking up the Yorkist claim that Henry is “faint-hearted” and “fearful.” Furthermore, he has disinherited his own son. The Yorkists are satisfied, and declare, prematurely, that York and Lancaster are reconciled.  But the Queen is in high dudgeon, angry that her son has been disinherited. Henry now feebly claims, without justification, that he was “enforced” to yield to York.

In 1.2 York’s sons press him to take the crown now. Richard claims that his father’s oath of allegiance is not binding, because of legal technicalities. York resists,  but soon complies, and agrees to prepare for war, even though the Queen has 20,000 men and he only has 5000.

The Queen has in effect taken over the King’s role. She rebukes his weakness and now commands an army. (Back in 1.1 she had called a “parliament” — with what authority?)

1.3 and 1.4 are battle scenes. In 1.3 Clifford squares off with young Rutland, York’s youngest son, and despite Rutland’s pleas kills him — because York had killed Clifford’s father.

Much of the first act has to do with fathers and sons. York has killed the fathers of both Clifford and Northumberland, and the sons want revenge. Henry disinherits his own son — a metaphorical “killing.”

In 1.4 York’s sons fight bravely but the Yorkists are overcome by numbers. York is captured.  Clifford wants to kill him right away,  but the Queen wants first to mock him with a paper crown. She sneers at his sons, including “that crook-back prodigy,/ Dicky your boy.”  (Maybe “Dicky” is less contemptuously familiar to an English ear than an American ear — think “Dicky Mountbatten”). York is given a long speech in response, passionate enough to bring tears to Northumberland’s eyes.  In 2H6 York was a proud ambitious villain, so I found it surprising that he gets so much air time and sympathy here. But to no avail, as Clifford and the Queen kill him. (Yet another on-stage killing.) Shakespeare seems to be encouraging us to think ill of both Yorkists and Lancastrians. At this point the Queen seems to be the most villainous.

 

Michael:

Yes, we had just seen the Yorkists pursing Henry and his troops; now we learn the Lancastrians have escaped. So the plays are contiguous in their action. The Yorkists begin by showing their bloody swords and mounting the royal throne. When Henry and his followers come in, they can dispute that throne. As you note, there are various words that describe how Henry’s grandfather took the throne from Richard, conquest, rebellion, resignation, and even this Henry now realizes makes his position is precarious. Henry then makes what seems an extraordinary proposition, that York allow him to reign until his death, then he will confirm the throne to York. What Henry doesn’t mention is that he is disinheriting his own son.

This does appear to follow up on Henry’s earlier declaration that he had rather be a subject than a king. And it disgusts Clifford and Westmorland. But York can hail the agreement, and the play might appear to be over. But Henry hasn’t reckoned with Margaret, who is predictably outraged at the disinheriting of her son.

The killing of Rutland proves to be a significant cause of the continuing conflict. Clifford’s killing of him completes the revenge against York for killing his father. The youth of Rutland becomes a major casus belli.

Margaret proves the fiercest of the warriors, even coming to York with napkin of Rutland’s blood for him to see; she taunts him with that and with the snatching of the crown from his head. York’s calling her the she-wolf of France seems to libel the French wolves. York speaks that line that Robt. Greene parodied, “O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide,” for Sh. It must have been famous for Greene’s appropriation. In fact, this scene of York’s death must have been a famous one, ending in another memorable line, “So York may overlook the town of York.”

Act 2

Michael:

2.1 begins with uncertainty about York’s death and the apparition of the three suns joining into one becoming an emblem of the Yorkist cause. I assume the thee suns are the three sons of York, Edward, George, and Richard. Edward and George now lead the Yorkist cause, in spite of their numerical disadvantage. The longish speeches of Warwick seem plot-lined rather than rhetorical, as they plot their way toward the crown.

2.2 becomes a scene of insults. The contrast between Margaret, exulting in the death of York, and Henry lamenting his death, draws Clifford’s rebuke of Henry’s mildness. That’s expressed in Henry’s wish that his father had never left him more than his virtuous deeds and that he could leave his son only that. His knighting of his son is scarcely recompense for disinheriting him from the crown, but Henry wishes only that his son might draw his sword “in right. The insults continue as the Yorkist party enter and Edward, Margaret, George, Clifford, Richard, and Warwick mix it up.

2.3 gathers Warwick, Edward, George, and Richard for a mutual bonding of their cause. Warwick turns the theatrical on to the historical at ll. 25-28. Clifford and Richard battle in 2.4 until Warwick rescues Richard; is his physical debility, his hunchback, a factor in his fighting?

Henry’s disengagement from the battle in his long soliloquy is prologue to the rather schematized scene of a son who has killed his father and the father who has killed his son. Henry, who has wished he were not a king, imagines himself a shepherd. The scene seems at the center of the way we judge Henry. By setting his wish for disengagement in the context of fathers and sons killing each other, the play perhaps raises Henry to an almost tragic level. He is, of course, a terrible king and lamentable military figure. But we’re reminded that he was thrust into kingship as an unwitting child and later married to a woman who is unfailingly violent. He seems at times willing to assume his role. But it always ends in reluctance and seeming failure.

Clifford’s dying speech in 2.6 judges Henry as king; he has failed altogether to rule as his father and grandfather did and in doing so has allowed the strife and corruption. The York party enter and find Clifford’s body, perhaps their greatest foe. They would curse him thoroughly for the deaths he caused with York and Rutland and deliver damning taunts. Richard would even wish him more life so he could more thoroughly curse him. The ending of the scene seems to reach toward Richard III. Edward assumes kingly authority, and Richard winces at being named Gloucester, thinking it’s an evil omen. And we may think of what will come to the Duke of Clarence. And now Clifford’s head replaces York’s.

 

Dusty:

In 2.1 I think we get a foretaste of the conflict between Edward and Richard in ”Richard III.” Edward says that Richard just gets his father’s name but he himself gets his father’s dukedom and chair.

In 2.2 the exchange of insults suggests stichomythia but is not rhymed.

2.5 is in effect an emblem of civil war, father killing son and son killing father. Henry, pining for the life of a shepherd, explicitly draws the moral. These two killings seem symbolic and unrealistic, contrasting with the other single combats in the play, including Clifford vs. Richard in the previous scene, in which the combatants know and “single” each other.

In 2.6 the Yorkists taunt the dead Clifford with a kind of reprise of the insults in 2.2.

What is “ominous” about the dukedom of Gloucester? Is it because the previous duke was killed?

Act 3

Dusty:

In Act 3 Shakespeare apparently felt the need to work some awkward historical events into dramatic form. As the act opens, Edward Duke of York has deposed Henry VI and proclaimed himself king. By the end of the Act Queen Margaret has managed to secure French aid, only because Warwick’s embassy to seek a French wife for Edward fails, and the Lancastrians seem to have gained the upper hand. As a result, the  act seems the least dramatically plausible of any in the three Henry VI plays.

What’s most interesting and dramatically engaging are the three soliloquies — Henry VI in 3.1, Gloucester (the future Richard III) at the end of 3.2, and Warwick at the end of 3.3. In the first, a deposed king finds content. In the second, an ambitious duke resolves to become a king, and in the third a kingmaker decides that bringing one king down is more important than setting up another.

Henry’s soliloquy somewhat awkwardly serves as exposition, letting the audience know who’s now doing what. But it also works well to show that Henry is at last a “king,” because he has found “content.” Until, that is, he is seized by deer keepers now loyal to the new king.

In 3.2 Shakespeare introduces a surprising idea, that the new king is so lusty that he seems to forget that Warwick has gone to France to get him a political wife, and now wants to bed an attractive widow who comes to court as a supplicant. This seems dramatically improbable,  and is presented as slightly comic, as the king’s brothers comment to each other that Edward is “the bluntest wooer in Christendom.” (This seems to set up the wooing scene in “Richard III.”) Then follows what may be the richest speech in the play, or even in all three plays, as Gloucester confesses aloud that he aims at the crown, but finds four bodies in his way. This suggests that he will find a way to remove all four bodies, but for the moment he imagines the difficulties and proposes Plan B, to seek “pleasure” from “sweet ladies.” This seems a new motive for him too, but maybe he has been stirred up by watching Edward’s blunt wooing.) But  he then concludes that he is unfit by nature to be a lover, and returns to the idea of becoming king.

3.3 is also marked by improbabilities. Margaret makes a deal with the French king to gain support for the deposed Henry, but Warwick shows up at the French court to offer a royal husband for the French king’s sister. She compliantly agrees. News arrives that Edward has now married the widow, which turns everything upside down. Warwick feels so shamed that he instantly switches sides and, abandoning the Yorkists, throws his support to Margaret. The French king, interested only in the main chance, also switches sides. Margaret seals the deal with Warwick by offering to marry her son, currently an heir to the throne, to Warwick’s daughter. (The prince is compliant too.) And the scene and act end with Warwick’s brief soliloquy expressing resentment and seeking revenge against King Edward, not for treachery or treason but for embarrassing him.

 

Michael:

These two acts, 3 and 4, encompass lots of back and forth between the two factions — and kings — and indicate the desire to portray the history of the rather tumultuous course of the war. The play doesn’t appear to take sides. It goes back and forth almost scene by scene, as in the opening of 3, where Henry is taken by the gamekeepers. It’s interesting that Henry, though weak and overly pious, is always dignified, even though he’s frequently without power.

The wooing of Lady Gray in 3.2 does seem comic. I learn in a note in my text, later in the play, that she was the first commoner to become queen; her standing out for an honorable marriage, rather than concubinage, suggests a certain dignity on her part. The scene becomes the backdrop for Warwick’s embassy to the French king in the next scene to win Lady Bona for Edward — and the immediate undoing of that with the messenger’s delivery of the news of the marriage to Lady Gray. Warwick seems to take over much of the rest of the play; he says his switch of sides isn’t a matter of conviction; he doesn’t pity Henry, but just wants revenge on Edward’s undermining of his embassy. The alliance between him and Margaret appears fragile.

Richard’s long soliloquy in 3.2 looks like the prophetic germ of Richard III. His vow to “set the murderous Machiavel to school” says it all. Yes, it’s the richest speech in the play, or all the Henry VI plays. Interesting that we don’t get more of this from Richard in the play, except for a few asides. It makes him a sinister figure, but I guess we’re assumed to know where this is leading and to leave it at that.

Act 4

Michael:

Richard and Clarence speak ironically of Edward’s marriage at the beginning of 4.1, even to Edward’s face. Montague speaks a truth in saying that a French marriage would have done more for England’s safety. And the extra marriage alliances that come of the Lady Gray marriage also cause difficulty. But the main crisis seems to come in the conflict of the three royal brothers.

The rest of the act veers back and forth between the fortunes of Edward and Henry. Edward is captured and taken to Burgundy. And Warwick seems to dominate the action, first in freeing Henry. 4.7 brings Henry back to kingship, but a much diminished version, as Warwick and Clarence will be his protectors. Warwick’s change of sides appears decisive, at least for now. If Richard’s soliloquy forecast Richard III, Henry’s encounter with the young Henry, Earl of Richmond, forecasts the ending of that play and the establishment of the Tudors. It might be a relief that we don’t here get any genealogy to back up Henry’s prophecy. It seems improbable that Henry would know Richmond’s fate, but it may come of his rather mystical character.

The final two scenes may almost give up on the back and forth of the dueling sides. The Yorkists use a bit of trickery to get possession of the city of York, then Edward comes back from Burgundy. The triumph of Edward and the Yorkists happens offstage with contrasting shouts between the sides, then Edward entering triumphant with Henry captive.

Is the play showing signs of the strain of rendering complex history?

 

Dusty:

In Acts 4 and 5 Shakespeare seems to be compressing history a bit. Edward’s marriage in fact took place in 1469, and the battles of Barnet and Tewksbury and Henry’s death in 1471.

In 4.1 Not only do King Edward’s brothers think the king’s marriage unwise, but the king himself seems willful in dismissing their concerns: he’s not going to be a good king. Gloucester’s asides keep the audience aware of his long-term plan to be king himself.

In 4.3 why was the king so thinly guarded? (I guess because that’s what in fact happened, and Shakespeare felt obliged in this case to stick with historical facts.) Likewise, in 4.5 why was the king again so thinly guarded? If Shakespeare had not been trying to incorporate history, he would presumably would not have included such improbable events.

In 4.6 why does Henry prophesy that young Henry, Earl of Richmond (b. in 1457), will wear a crown? This seems to ignore his own heir, Prince Edward (b. 1453). As things  turn out, young Prince Edward will soon be killed and Richmond is the next Lancanstrian in line, but we don’t know that yet. It seems odd that we don’t get some minimal genealogy, at least to explain that Richmond is kin to Somerset, and is a Lancastrian.

In 4.7 it seems surprising that Edward, already shown to be willful, now thinks it makes sense to present himself in York as merely Duke of York, and has to be persuaded by his brothers and his allies to proclaim himself king.

I think you are right that up until this point the play doesn’t seem to take sides about who should be king. Both claimants, Henry VI and Edward, have their defects. It’s interesting that Henry says nothing here about his weak claim to the throne, and that he focuses on his mild and merciful rule to explain his popular support.

Act 5

Dusty:

In 5.1, set at Coventry, Warwick’s allies are delayed, which allows for a parley between Warwick and Edward, who at first appeal to each other and then defy each other. Warwick’s allies then arrive, at which point Clarence deserts Warwick to rejoin his Yorkist brothers. I don’t think it is explained why he deserts now.

In 5.2 Warwick is wounded and captured, and utters a noble dying speech. Does the play hint that he is the noblest of the combatants in the War of the Roses? In 5.3 Edward wins at Barnet and heads for Tewksbury. In 5.4 Margaret and her friends are at Tewksbury, where she gets a long and rousing speech, urging her troops to have courage. Like Warwick, she has never seemed more impressive. Even her son, young Prince Edward, gets some good lines. But both of them are captured by King Edward.

In 5.5 Edward is again triumphant. He and his brothers kill young Prince Edward. At age 18 I guess he is old enough to be killed on stage without horrifying the audience, but the net effect is to make the Yorkists look like heartless villains, so maybe the play finally does take sides. Gloucester/Richard exits, heading for the Tower, apparently on his own. King Edward does not seem to have sent him, and Clarence doesn’t seem to know anything. Shakespeare here seems to have decided that Richard was not acting — as some have suggested he was — on instructions from King Edward: he is serving his own ends.

In 5.6 Gloucester and Henry VI are in the Tower, where Henry, who knows Gloucester has come to kill him, gets a strong brave speech of prophecy. He has never given such a strong speech in all three plays. Again, Shakespeare seems to be choosing sides in the War between York and Lancaster. Gloucester kills Henry for his own purposes: he has now removed two of the bodies between him and the throne. All that remain are King Edward himself and their brother Clarence, and Clarence is “next” to die. Gloucester/Richard gets a soliloquy — “I am myself alone” — which sets him up as a classic Shakespearean villain (akin to Edmund and Iago) and the centerpiece of the next play in the sequence, Richard III. It’s a stirring speech, so Richard exits the play on a high note. The final scene presents King Edward and  his queen with their child, the heir to the throne, and another of the bodies that Richard must now eliminate. His aside keeps the audience’s attention on him.

 

Michael:

Yes, Henry’s prophecy of the Earl of Richmond is odd in neglecting to remember his own son, whom he has already disinherited in his bargain with Edward, and puzzling in its origin. Maybe we’re to assume that Henry’s sanctity affords him the gift of prophecy.

Lots of back and forth in the parley between Warwick and Edward; an oddity is Clarence’s return to the Yorkist side.

Warwick is the first to clear the way in Act 5, and his speech of renunciation seems to cast a shadow over the rest of the act and the other deaths. In 5.3 we have the Yorkist brothers back together. The battle at Barnet takes place in what’s now the end of the Northern Line. Things edge closer to London.

Margaret’s rousing speech in 1.4 makes her sound as if she’s spent her life on a rolling deck; she could take the helm herself or blow the bosun’s whistle. Prince Edward gets off insults of the York brothers, “lascivious Edward” “perjured George,” and “misshapen Dick,” before they all three stab him. When Margaret volunteers for death as well, Richard is only too happy to offer the deed before Edward stops him. Margaret’s pieta-like lamentation may bring sympathies back momentarily to the Lancastrian side, especially that we hear from Clarence that Richard has gone to a “bloody supper” at the Tower.

In the following scene Henry characterizes Richard’s evil in his prophetic speech just before Richard kills him, seemingly on his own initiative, and follows with an agreement with the prophecy. This projects us into the final play.

And in the final scene, Richard’s asides and his “loving kiss” to the infant prince also forecast the next play. The seeming contentment and Edward’s hope for “lasting joy” become ironic.

3 Henry VI

Dusty:

3H6 picks up immediately after the end of 2H6, without a break or passage of time. It’s as if the two plays are really one ten-act play, with the same cast of characters. Clifford and the Queen play more prominent roles, and York is disposed of in the first act.

Somerset is disposed of even earlier, when his head is brought in. How many severed heads have we seen? (Is there perhaps as much violent death and beheading in the three H6 plays as in “Titus Andronicus”?). By now has the audience become hardened and de-sensitized to decapitation?

In 1.1 York’s ally, Warwick, declares Henry is bashful and cowardly, but Henry himself soon enters, acting more forceful and determined than we have previously seen. Is Henry just play-acting? Or is he acting judiciously, deciding to use “frowns, words, and threats” rather than arms? Maybe “frowns” hints that Henry is still timid.

Should a director have the actor signal weakness?

The play then concisely presents the political problem that has troubled the kingdom since the reign of Richard II: does the House of Lancaster’s claim derive from “conquest” (as Henry first says) or Richard’s “resignation” (as he next says). Or was it “rebellion,” as York insists. (This was in effect discussed in 2H4). In any case, Henry himself concedes in an aside that “my title’s weak.” And he quickly offers a deal: let me be king during my lifetime, and York can succeed me. York quickly takes the deal and swears an oath to recognize Henry as king during his lifetime.

Then another sudden reversal, as Henry’s northern allies (Westmoreland, Northumberland, and Clifford) turn against him, taking up the Yorkist claim that Henry is “faint-hearted” and “fearful.” Furthermore, he has disinherited his own son. The Yorkists are satisfied, and declare, prematurely, that York and Lancaster are reconciled.  But the Queen is in high dudgeon, angry that her son has been disinherited. Henry now feebly claims, without justification, that he was “enforced” to yield to York.

In 1.2 York’s sons press him to take the crown now. Richard claims that his father’s oath of allegiance is not binding, because of legal technicalities. York resists,  but soon complies, and agrees to prepare for war, even though the Queen has 20,000 men and he only has 5000.

The Queen has in effect taken over the King’s role. She rebukes his weakness and now commands an army. (Back in 1.1 she had called a “parliament” — with what authority?)

1.3 and 1.4 are battle scenes. In 1.3 Clifford squares off with young Rutland, York’s youngest son, and despite Rutland’s pleas kills him — because York had killed Clifford’s father.

Much of the first act has to do with fathers and sons. York has killed the fathers of both Clifford and Northumberland, and the sons want revenge. Henry disinherits his own son — a metaphorical “killing.”

In 1.4 York’s sons fight bravely but the Yorkists are overcome by numbers. York is captured.  Clifford wants to kill him right away,  but the Queen wants first to mock him with a paper crown. She sneers at his sons, including “that crook-back prodigy,/ Dicky your boy.”  (Maybe “Dicky” is less contemptuously familiar to an English ear than an American ear — think “Dicky Mountbatten”). York is given a long speech in response, passionate enough to bring tears to Northumberland’s eyes.  In 2H6 York was a proud ambitious villain, so I found it surprising that he gets so much air time and sympathy here. But to no avail, as Clifford and the Queen kill him. (Yet another on-stage killing.) Shakespeare seems to be encouraging us to think ill of both Yorkists and Lancastrians. At this point the Queen seems to be the most villainous.

 

Michael:

Yes, we had just seen the Yorkists pursing Henry and his troops; now we learn the Lancastrians have escaped. So the plays are contiguous in their action. The Yorkists begin by showing their bloody swords and mounting the royal throne. When Henry and his followers come in, they can dispute that throne. As you note, there are various words that describe how Henry’s grandfather took the throne from Richard, conquest, rebellion, resignation, and even this Henry now realizes makes his position is precarious. Henry then makes what seems an extraordinary proposition, that York allow him to reign until his death, then he will confirm the throne to York. What Henry doesn’t mention is that he is disinheriting his own son.

This does appear to follow up on Henry’s earlier declaration that he had rather be a subject than a king. And it disgusts Clifford and Westmorland. But York can hail the agreement, and the play might appear to be over. But Henry hasn’t reckoned with Margaret, who is predictably outraged at the disinheriting of her son.

The killing of Rutland proves to be a significant cause of the continuing conflict. Clifford’s killing of him completes the revenge against York for killing his father. The youth of Rutland becomes a major casus belli.

Margaret proves the fiercest of the warriors, even coming to York with napkin of Rutland’s blood for him to see; she taunts him with that and with the snatching of the crown from his head. York’s calling her the she-wolf of France seems to libel the French wolves. York speaks that line that Robt. Greene parodied, “O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide,” for Sh. It must have been famous for Greene’s appropriation. In fact, this scene of York’s death must have been a famous one, ending in another memorable line, “So York may overlook the town of York.”

Michael:

2.1 begins with uncertainty about York’s death and the apparition of the three suns joining into one becoming an emblem of the Yorkist cause. I assume the thee suns are the three sons of York, Edward, George, and Richard. Edward and George now lead the Yorkist cause, in spite of their numerical disadvantage. The longish speeches of Warwick seem plot-lined rather than rhetorical, as they plot their way toward the crown.

2.2 becomes a scene of insults. The contrast between Margaret, exulting in the death of York, and Henry lamenting his death, draws Clifford’s rebuke of Henry’s mildness. That’s expressed in Henry’s wish that his father had never left him more than his virtuous deeds and that he could leave his son only that. His knighting of his son is scarcely recompense for disinheriting him from the crown, but Henry wishes only that his son might draw his sword “in right. The insults continue as the Yorkist party enter and Edward, Margaret, George, Clifford, Richard, and Warwick mix it up.

2.3 gathers Warwick, Edward, George, and Richard for a mutual bonding of their cause. Warwick turns the theatrical on to the historical at ll. 25-28. Clifford and Richard battle in 2.4 until Warwick rescues Richard; is his physical debility, his hunchback, a factor in his fighting?

Henry’s disengagement from the battle in his long soliloquy is prologue to the rather schematized scene of a son who has killed his father and the father who has killed his son. Henry, who has wished he were not a king, imagines himself a shepherd. The scene seems at the center of the way we judge Henry. By setting his wish for disengagement in the context of fathers and sons killing each other, the play perhaps raises Henry to an almost tragic level. He is, of course, a terrible king and lamentable military figure. But we’re reminded that he was thrust into kingship as an unwitting child and later married to a woman who is unfailingly violent. He seems at times willing to assume his role. But it always ends in reluctance and seeming failure.

Clifford’s dying speech in 2.6 judges Henry as king; he has failed altogether to rule as his father and grandfather did and in doing so has allowed the strife and corruption. The York party enter and find Clifford’s body, perhaps their greatest foe. They would curse him thoroughly for the deaths he caused with York and Rutland and deliver damning taunts. Richard would even wish him more life so he could more thoroughly curse him. The ending of the scene seems to reach toward Richard III. Edward assumes kingly authority, and Richard winces at being named Gloucester, thinking it’s an evil omen. And we may think of what will come to the Duke of Clarence. And now Clifford’s head replaces York’s.

 

Dusty:

In 2.1 I think we get a foretaste of the conflict between Edward and Richard in ”Richard III.” Edward says that Richard just gets his father’s name but he himself gets his father’s dukedom and chair.

In 2.2 the exchange of insults suggests stichomythia but is not rhymed.

2.5 is in effect an emblem of civil war, father killing son and son killing father. Henry, pining for the life of a shepherd, explicitly draws the moral. These two killings seem symbolic and unrealistic, contrasting with the other single combats in the play, including Clifford vs. Richard in the previous scene, in which the combatants know and “single” each other.

In 2.6 the Yorkists taunt the dead Clifford with a kind of reprise of the insults in 2.2.

What is “ominous” about the dukedom of Gloucester? Is it because the previous duke was killed?

Dusty:

In Act 3 Shakespeare apparently felt the need to work some awkward historical events into dramatic form. As the act opens, Edward Duke of York has deposed Henry VI and proclaimed himself king. By the end of the Act Queen Margaret has managed to secure French aid, only because Warwick’s embassy to seek a French wife for Edward fails, and the Lancastrians seem to have gained the upper hand. As a result, the  act seems the least dramatically plausible of any in the three Henry VI plays.

What’s most interesting and dramatically engaging are the three soliloquies — Henry VI in 3.1, Gloucester (the future Richard III) at the end of 3.2, and Warwick at the end of 3.3. In the first, a deposed king finds content. In the second, an ambitious duke resolves to become a king, and in the third a kingmaker decides that bringing one king down is more important than setting up another.

Henry’s soliloquy somewhat awkwardly serves as exposition, letting the audience know who’s now doing what. But it also works well to show that Henry is at last a “king,” because he has found “content.” Until, that is, he is seized by deer keepers now loyal to the new king.

In 3.2 Shakespeare introduces a surprising idea, that the new king is so lusty that he seems to forget that Warwick has gone to France to get him a political wife, and now wants to bed an attractive widow who comes to court as a supplicant. This seems dramatically improbable,  and is presented as slightly comic, as the king’s brothers comment to each other that Edward is “the bluntest wooer in Christendom.” (This seems to set up the wooing scene in “Richard III.”) Then follows what may be the richest speech in the play, or even in all three plays, as Gloucester confesses aloud that he aims at the crown, but finds four bodies in his way. This suggests that he will find a way to remove all four bodies, but for the moment he imagines the difficulties and proposes Plan B, to seek “pleasure” from “sweet ladies.” This seems a new motive for him too, but maybe he has been stirred up by watching Edward’s blunt wooing.) But  he then concludes that he is unfit by nature to be a lover, and returns to the idea of becoming king.

3.3 is also marked by improbabilities. Margaret makes a deal with the French king to gain support for the deposed Henry, but Warwick shows up at the French court to offer a royal husband for the French king’s sister. She compliantly agrees. News arrives that Edward has now married the widow, which turns everything upside down. Warwick feels so shamed that he instantly switches sides and, abandoning the Yorkists, throws his support to Margaret. The French king, interested only in the main chance, also switches sides. Margaret seals the deal with Warwick by offering to marry her son, currently an heir to the throne, to Warwick’s daughter. (The prince is compliant too.) And the scene and act end with Warwick’s brief soliloquy expressing resentment and seeking revenge against King Edward, not for treachery or treason but for embarrassing him.

 

Michael:

These two acts, 3 and 4, encompass lots of back and forth between the two factions — and kings — and indicate the desire to portray the history of the rather tumultuous course of the war. The play doesn’t appear to take sides. It goes back and forth almost scene by scene, as in the opening of 3, where Henry is taken by the gamekeepers. It’s interesting that Henry, though weak and overly pious, is always dignified, even though he’s frequently without power.

The wooing of Lady Gray in 3.2 does seem comic. I learn in a note in my text, later in the play, that she was the first commoner to become queen; her standing out for an honorable marriage, rather than concubinage, suggests a certain dignity on her part. The scene becomes the backdrop for Warwick’s embassy to the French king in the next scene to win Lady Bona for Edward — and the immediate undoing of that with the messenger’s delivery of the news of the marriage to Lady Gray. Warwick seems to take over much of the rest of the play; he says his switch of sides isn’t a matter of conviction; he doesn’t pity Henry, but just wants revenge on Edward’s undermining of his embassy. The alliance between him and Margaret appears fragile.

Richard’s long soliloquy in 3.2 looks like the prophetic germ of Richard III. His vow to “set the murderous Machiavel to school” says it all. Yes, it’s the richest speech in the play, or all the Henry VI plays. Interesting that we don’t get more of this from Richard in the play, except for a few asides. It makes him a sinister figure, but I guess we’re assumed to know where this is leading and to leave it at that.

Michael:

Richard and Clarence speak ironically of Edward’s marriage at the beginning of 4.1, even to Edward’s face. Montague speaks a truth in saying that a French marriage would have done more for England’s safety. And the extra marriage alliances that come of the Lady Gray marriage also cause difficulty. But the main crisis seems to come in the conflict of the three royal brothers.

The rest of the act veers back and forth between the fortunes of Edward and Henry. Edward is captured and taken to Burgundy. And Warwick seems to dominate the action, first in freeing Henry. 4.7 brings Henry back to kingship, but a much diminished version, as Warwick and Clarence will be his protectors. Warwick’s change of sides appears decisive, at least for now. If Richard’s soliloquy forecast Richard III, Henry’s encounter with the young Henry, Earl of Richmond, forecasts the ending of that play and the establishment of the Tudors. It might be a relief that we don’t here get any genealogy to back up Henry’s prophecy. It seems improbable that Henry would know Richmond’s fate, but it may come of his rather mystical character.

The final two scenes may almost give up on the back and forth of the dueling sides. The Yorkists use a bit of trickery to get possession of the city of York, then Edward comes back from Burgundy. The triumph of Edward and the Yorkists happens offstage with contrasting shouts between the sides, then Edward entering triumphant with Henry captive.

Is the play showing signs of the strain of rendering complex history?

 

Dusty:

In Acts 4 and 5 Shakespeare seems to be compressing history a bit. Edward’s marriage in fact took place in 1469, and the battles of Barnet and Tewksbury and Henry’s death in 1471.

In 4.1 Not only do King Edward’s brothers think the king’s marriage unwise, but the king himself seems willful in dismissing their concerns: he’s not going to be a good king. Gloucester’s asides keep the audience aware of his long-term plan to be king himself.

In 4.3 why was the king so thinly guarded? (I guess because that’s what in fact happened, and Shakespeare felt obliged in this case to stick with historical facts.) Likewise, in 4.5 why was the king again so thinly guarded? If Shakespeare had not been trying to incorporate history, he would presumably would not have included such improbable events.

In 4.6 why does Henry prophesy that young Henry, Earl of Richmond (b. in 1457), will wear a crown? This seems to ignore his own heir, Prince Edward (b. 1453). As things  turn out, young Prince Edward will soon be killed and Richmond is the next Lancanstrian in line, but we don’t know that yet. It seems odd that we don’t get some minimal genealogy, at least to explain that Richmond is kin to Somerset, and is a Lancastrian.

In 4.7 it seems surprising that Edward, already shown to be willful, now thinks it makes sense to present himself in York as merely Duke of York, and has to be persuaded by his brothers and his allies to proclaim himself king.

I think you are right that up until this point the play doesn’t seem to take sides about who should be king. Both claimants, Henry VI and Edward, have their defects. It’s interesting that Henry says nothing here about his weak claim to the throne, and that he focuses on his mild and merciful rule to explain his popular support.

Dusty:

In 5.1, set at Coventry, Warwick’s allies are delayed, which allows for a parley between Warwick and Edward, who at first appeal to each other and then defy each other. Warwick’s allies then arrive, at which point Clarence deserts Warwick to rejoin his Yorkist brothers. I don’t think it is explained why he deserts now.

In 5.2 Warwick is wounded and captured, and utters a noble dying speech. Does the play hint that he is the noblest of the combatants in the War of the Roses? In 5.3 Edward wins at Barnet and heads for Tewksbury. In 5.4 Margaret and her friends are at Tewksbury, where she gets a long and rousing speech, urging her troops to have courage. Like Warwick, she has never seemed more impressive. Even her son, young Prince Edward, gets some good lines. But both of them are captured by King Edward.

In 5.5 Edward is again triumphant. He and his brothers kill young Prince Edward. At age 18 I guess he is old enough to be killed on stage without horrifying the audience, but the net effect is to make the Yorkists look like heartless villains, so maybe the play finally does take sides. Gloucester/Richard exits, heading for the Tower, apparently on his own. King Edward does not seem to have sent him, and Clarence doesn’t seem to know anything. Shakespeare here seems to have decided that Richard was not acting — as some have suggested he was — on instructions from King Edward: he is serving his own ends.

In 5.6 Gloucester and Henry VI are in the Tower, where Henry, who knows Gloucester has come to kill him, gets a strong brave speech of prophecy. He has never given such a strong speech in all three plays. Again, Shakespeare seems to be choosing sides in the War between York and Lancaster. Gloucester kills Henry for his own purposes: he has now removed two of the bodies between him and the throne. All that remain are King Edward himself and their brother Clarence, and Clarence is “next” to die. Gloucester/Richard gets a soliloquy — “I am myself alone” — which sets him up as a classic Shakespearean villain (akin to Edmund and Iago) and the centerpiece of the next play in the sequence, Richard III. It’s a stirring speech, so Richard exits the play on a high note. The final scene presents King Edward and  his queen with their child, the heir to the throne, and another of the bodies that Richard must now eliminate. His aside keeps the audience’s attention on him.

 

Michael:

Yes, Henry’s prophecy of the Earl of Richmond is odd in neglecting to remember his own son, whom he has already disinherited in his bargain with Edward, and puzzling in its origin. Maybe we’re to assume that Henry’s sanctity affords him the gift of prophecy.

Lots of back and forth in the parley between Warwick and Edward; an oddity is Clarence’s return to the Yorkist side.

Warwick is the first to clear the way in Act 5, and his speech of renunciation seems to cast a shadow over the rest of the act and the other deaths. In 5.3 we have the Yorkist brothers back together. The battle at Barnet takes place in what’s now the end of the Northern Line. Things edge closer to London.

Margaret’s rousing speech in 1.4 makes her sound as if she’s spent her life on a rolling deck; she could take the helm herself or blow the bosun’s whistle. Prince Edward gets off insults of the York brothers, “lascivious Edward” “perjured George,” and “misshapen Dick,” before they all three stab him. When Margaret volunteers for death as well, Richard is only too happy to offer the deed before Edward stops him. Margaret’s pieta-like lamentation may bring sympathies back momentarily to the Lancastrian side, especially that we hear from Clarence that Richard has gone to a “bloody supper” at the Tower.

In the following scene Henry characterizes Richard’s evil in his prophetic speech just before Richard kills him, seemingly on his own initiative, and follows with an agreement with the prophecy. This projects us into the final play.

And in the final scene, Richard’s asides and his “loving kiss” to the infant prince also forecast the next play. The seeming contentment and Edward’s hope for “lasting joy” become ironic.