2 Henry VI

Act 1

Michael:

The first act of 2 Henry VI is heavily populated, mostly with quarreling aristocrats, but backed by various commoners. It seems to grow more complicated as it advances. The opening is the return of Suffolk with Margaret to be Henry’s queen. It all seems happy enough, until the bride price is announced in the document that Gloucester, the regent, tries to read, that Anjou and Maine are to be given to Margaret’s father. Gloucester drops the paper when he comes to this, and Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester in the last play, must read it. Henry advances Suffolk to his new position as duke. York is discharged from his position as regent of France, and Henry, Margaret, and Suffolk leave Gloucester and the others to complain to one another about the loss of the two provinces. York too is angered, especially against Suffolk. Beaufort, Winchester as was, is still quarreling with Gloucester. Salisbury supports Gloucester. The scene closes with York in soliloquy expressing his ambition to eventually take the crown from “proud Lancaster,” his name for Henry, whom he sees as too religious.

1.2 begins with Eleanor, the duchess of Gloucester, encouraging her husband to similar ambition with her recounting of a dream. Gloucester reproves her for this and expresses loyalty to the king, and their quarrel is quickly mended. When G. goes out, a certain John Hume comes in with more temptation for the duchess. She give him gold for his promise of conjuring spirits. But he is dangerous to the duchess in her ambition.

Things get murkier in 1.3 with a group of petitioners who mistakes Suffolk for Gloucester and present a petition against Suffolk and against his master who has said that the duke of York should be king. The petitioners are kicked out, and Margaret tears the more serious petition. She expresses surprise at the way things go in England, and reprehends Henry’s religiosity and his still being under a protector. She’s opposed to the cardinal, Somerset, Buckingham, Gloucester and the duchess, probably York too, and they all seem to gang up on Gloucester. The queen and duchess exchange blows. So various battle lines are laid out, including between Suffolk and York.

Only Gloucester expresses unqualified loyalty to Henry. Horner and Peter, the petitioner in the earlier scene accuse York of disloyalty. Henry appoints Suffolk to be regent of France on Gloucester’s advice.

Even murkier is the conjuring scene in 1.4, where we have Hume again and Southwell (is he a libel on the Jesuit Robert Southwell, who was arrested in 1592?), with the duchess looking on from above. The spirits deliver entirely ambiguous prophecies. But York enters and arrests the conjurors; the duchess is also discovered there. Buckingham seizes the “papers,” — conjuring things? — that seem to involve the duchess as well. Buckingham then has the papers, which he is presumably to take to the king.

We have a lot of plotting and quarrels in the act, which in the abundance of characters require a good deal of close attention. How clear it would be on stage is hard to say.

 

Dusty:

1.1 seems to suggest that the York vs. Lancaster breach has been healed, and that the new conflict is between those favoring the French marriage (chiefly Suffolk) and those opposed (chiefly Gloucester and York), the latter because too much of what Henry V won is now being given back. But there is still conflict between two branches of Lancaster, focused on Gloucester and Winchester. But the scene ends, as did several scenes in 1 Henry VI, with a soliloquy, in which York reveals that he is only biding his time before he makes his move.

The problem of converting historical chronicle into drama perhaps requires Shakespeare and his collaborators to rely heavily on the device of soliloquy, in order to uncover the true motives of various hypocrites in the play. The next one is Sir John Hume, at the end of 1.2, to reveal in soliloquy that he is working for Suffolk and Winchester, in order to discredit the Duchess of Gloucester. The same problem presses Shakespeare to juggle chronology, in order to compress the action but also to suggest causality and consequence.

I suppose priests could be knighted — e.g., Sir John — in the 15th century.

The Duchess of Gloucester and Queen Margaret are the two ambitious women in the play, jealous of each other. The Queen is already discontented with her husband — he’s too pious and too weak — and with her own place. Suffolk promises that she will emerge the real ruler. The Queen  may well be right about Henry VI: he doesn’t seem to care who is named Regent in France, and leaves it to his quarreling nobles to decide. Looks like negligence.

In 1.4 are we supposed to  believe that the witch really does raise spirits? The prophecies are indeed ambiguous (like those in Macbeth later). The “papers” that York seizes appear to be the transcription of what the spirits said, useful as evidence.

As the act ends, we have at least four parties plotting on their own behalf: Suffolk and the Queen, the Duchess of Gloucester, those plotting against the Duchess, and York.

Act 2

Dusty:

Act Two varies the cast of characters still further by introducing commoners. 2.1 begins with Henry hawking at St. Albans, apparently clueless while Gloucester and Winchester quietly arrange a duel. They are interrupted by Simcox, the blind and lame man who claims he now can see. Why now? Is the episode meant to make Henry VI’s religiosity look foolish? Is this a low-life parody/parallel to the false claims made by the nobles? In any case, Gloucester exposes Simcox, who proves to be not only not ever blind but not lame. Is this a moment of comedy?

Immediately follow charges against Eleanor and the witches. Gloucester seems unsurprised (perhaps because he knew of her activities), or else a little hasty to accept the report (which is part of a plot to discredit her). He’s very skeptical about Simcox, but not skeptical here.

2.2 is another genealogical lesson about the seven sons of Edward III, presented by York, a descendant of the third son, claiming that he has a higher claim than the Lancastrians, who descend from the fourth son. What’s interesting here is that York seems to reserve respect for the senior Lancastrian, the Duke of Gloucester, “the virtuous prince,” and says he will continue to show loyalty to the King, though he reaffirms what he said in 1.1, that it is pretended compliance.

In 2.3 the Duchess Eleanor is quickly judged and sentenced. This is followed by another episode with commoners, and the Armorer (Horner) and his apprentice Peter, whose dispute was introduced in Act 1, now meet in the lists to decide who is lying. (Were disputes between commoners — or nobles — still being settled this way in the late 15th century?). In a kind of reprise of Simcox’s fakery, the Armorer (after being bopped on the head and knocked down) instantly “confesses treason.” That seems odd: since he had “lost,” why did he need to confess that he meant ill to the Duke of York? In any case, York’s own intent to commit treason remains unknown, even though York himself is standing by.

2.4 seems to me the most interesting and emotionally powerful scene so far, as Gloucester watches while Eleanor passes by, a barefoot penitent, on her way to the Isle of Man. Both are strong personalities: she is both shamed and proud, angry at her public exposure and presumably resentful of her husband, who declines to rescue her, which would mean breaking the law. But she overcomes her resentment because she knows that if Gloucester intervened he would put himself in danger. For his part the Duke displays calm, patience and a determination to uphold the law. But he seems emotionally withholding. (Or would an actor make clear that he too is overcoming strong feeling?) Is he here meant to exemplify selfless devotion to law and king, and a readiness to ignore his private interest, that nobody else in the play displays? The Duchess warns him about the enemies awaiting him, as if to say she knows he’s next to fall. With plotters everywhere, is Gloucester’s loyalty naive, or obsolete?

 

Michael:

I think “sir” was a common way of referring to a priest rather than meaning a knighthood, the “sir” just being a term of respect. This Sir John is something of a scoundrel of course.

The two women, duchess and queen, don’t come off very well, one a plotter and other an adulteress. And Eleanor of course consorts with witches and spirits.

Gloucester and the Cardinal seem destined for enmity forever, ever since the 1H6 when the Cardinal was Winchester.

Apparently we are meant to believe in the witch and her raising of spirits since Asnath appears. He correctly, though ambiguously, predicts the manner of the death of Suffolk; it’s a bit like the juggling of meaning in Macbeth’s witches, not H20 but Walter pronounced water.

The Simcox episode is curious. It mainly seems to show Gloucester’s cleverness in exposing him, and may be a moment of comedy. Perhaps it is a double of the aristocratic juggling, but it does seem unnecessary.

In 2.2 York recites the genealogy of the Lancaster and York lines. It seems pretty clear until we get to York’s own claim; his lineage goes through the female line from the third son of Edward III. He then says his mother was heir to the throne, but at that point it seems to get somewhat murky and to depend on female heredity. Warwick backs York up by saying that York’s claim comes from the third son of Edward, while Henry/Bolingbroke’s was from the fourth son. Warwick and Salisbury then salute York as king, and York promises Warwick to make him greatest after himself. How was this to strike the audience? It would put York in a position of treason vis à vis King Henry of course.

The end of the scene puts Gloucester and Eleanor at their lowest point, she judged for the witchcraft and he giving up his staff as protector. What follows with the commoners and their trial by combat seems to produce some odd sympathy for the combatants. It seems somehow arranged, as Peter seems to kill Horner almost randomly, and the latter confesses treason as he dies. Is it supposed to vindicate trial by combat?

Yes, the following scene of Eleanor’s departure and Gloucester’s inability to prevent it is the most moving scene in the play. I guess we’re to assume that Gloucester is powerless to prevent her banishment and must acquiesce in it. We’re meant, I think, to see the poignancy of their situation, each pitying the other; it’s clearly a powerful scene and seems meant finally to convey sympathy for the righteous Gloucester — as well as for the suffering duchess. We may think forward (and backward in historical time) to the parting of Richard II and his queen.

Act 3

3.1 gathers all Gloucester’s enemies, especially Margaret, and her long speech and what follows from the Cardinal and York contrast with the broken state we’ve just seen him in. The defense of Gloucester by Henry appears to vindicate him. But he becomes a tragic figure as Suffolk arrests him for high treason, against which he makes what’s understood as a genuine defense. And the king still defends him. He defends himself against Margaret, the Cardinal, and Suffolk until he is taken off by the Cardinal’s men. Henry continues his loyalty and defense of Gloucester. Margaret, York, Suffolk, and the Cardinal plot Gloucester’s death. This leads to York’s soliloquy, in which he speaks of Cade’s rebellion in his favor and of Gloucester’s immanent death. He’s clearly on his way to rule. Gloucester’s death is discovered, leaving the discovery to Suffolk, the king, and Margaret. Henry separates himself from the hypocritical plotters. Margaret’s long speech of self-justification recounts her life in coming to England. Henry knows Gloucester’s death was assassination by his nobles, but can do nothing about it. Only Warwick seems loyal to him.

In the latter part of 3.2 the guilt of Suffolk becomes evident, but he is still supported by Margaret. The commons demand the banishment of Suffolk, though he is still defended by Margaret. The departure of Suffolk and the separation of Margaret and Suffolk may be a dark version of the separation of Gloucester and Eleanor. They part at the end of 3.2.

The final scene of the act has the Cardinal raging as he dies, imagining his old foe Gloucester. Henry prays for him, but it seems to do no good, and the Cardinal dies without repentance. So we are left with a major distinction in the death of the two old foes. The Cardinal, instrumental in the death of Gloucester, dies in sin, and Gloucester, murdered, had died in apparent grace.

 

Dusty:

The speeches in Act 3 and the next seem unusually long. I found myself thinking that the characters could make the same points with fewer words. Maybe the Elizabethan audiences enjoyed the rhetoric. But there is less dramatic intensity than in the later plays.

You say the king “can” do nothing to save Gloucester. I would say that in 3.1 the king declines to act like a king, neglects his royal responsibilities and leaves it to his senior advisors to decide what to do.

How do you play York’s long soliloquy at the end of 3.1? Is he talking to himself, reviewing his scheme? Is he confiding in the audience?

Act 4

Dusty:

There is lots of action in the ten scenes of Act 4. Most of them center on Jack Cade, who in claiming his right to the throne as a “Mortimer”is a kind of parody of York. Shakespeare makes sure to undercut his wild claims by having Cade’s own followers exchange asides about him. And as revolutionary leader Cade comes off as a murderous maniac. He condemns Lord Say, who in 4.7 appeals in vain for Cade to back down. But Clifford is able to appeal directly to the mob, which inclines first one way and then another, finally yielding to patriotic sentiment and agreeing to turn their passion against the French.

In 4.9 we see more division among the factions, as York returns from Ireland and denounces Somerset as a traitor (reprising the earlier attacks on Gloucester as traitor).

The act ends with a strange episode in which Cade, reduced to eating salad greens stolen from a garden, is killed by the owner of the garden. An ignominious end, based on historical reports.

 

Michael:

I think the Elizabethan audiences did enjoy, or were meant to enjoy, rhetoric more that we do. What we’ve found, I think, as we’ve gone through the plays, is that speeches become shorter and less rhetorical — and with fewer classical references than we see in these early plays. In this play the classical references seem frequently ornamental and not terribly apt.

Henry’s weakness keeps him from seeing what’s going to happen to Gloucester, and once Gloucester is killed, from knowing enough or having the power to avenge it. His inability to act is what makes him the weak king that he is.

York’s soliloquy would require much of the actor. I take that he’s talking to himself, giving the audience a sense of what’s going through his mind, but not addressing the audience directly, Iago-like, but forecasting his plans when he returns from Ireland for the audience. Margaret’s long self-justification seems similarly designed; here it’s memory being used as her reason for being and doing what she’s doing.

In 4.1 I was struck by the phrase in the first line, “remorseful day,” which was the title of the final Inspector Morse episode. I wonder if the punning writer took the title from this.

Suffolk’s aristocratic arrogance finds its comeuppance in this scene with the captain and Whitmore. Once again we see the troupe’s fake head getting an outing.

The battle with Cade seems another of those “anthology pieces” that these early plays contain; it takes up, and is confined to Act 4. The head makes another appearance in 4.4; I wonder if it could be altered on the occasion to resemble the character it was representing. Here, of course, it’s still Suffolk.

Saye’s plea is a significant moment in the Cade story. Then we have his head and Sir James Cromer’s on stage.

Maybe the central moment in Henry VI’s career is at 4.8, where he says, “Was never subject longed to be a king as I do long and wish to be a subject.” At the end of the scene he speaks of learning “to govern better, for yet may England curse my wretched reign.” My text glosses “for yet” as “up until now.” Henry’s unwishing of his kingship stands in sharp contrast to York.

The battle between Alexander Iden and Cade seems uneven, and Cade seems to force it against Iden’s initial pity. In the final act we have another head, this time Cade’s. Did they have a whole shelf of heads, or were they made so bloody that the same one could work for multiple identities?

York’s arrogance fills the final act. Iden’s humility in his knighting contrasts. And the quarrel between Clifford and Salisbury occupies the action, one supporting and one abandoning Henry. And another ironic fulfillment of the witches’ prophecy occurs in Somerset’s death, outside of an alehouse called The Castle. (I wonder if there’s still, or again, an alehouse in St. Alban’s called The Castle. Seems inevitable.) Young Clifford vows vengeance against York, and against everything Yorkist.

The plays ends rather inconclusively with Henry fleeing to London and York speaking of pursuing him there. The sequel is already envisioned.

Act 5

Dusty:

I am struck again with Shakespeare’s frequent use of soliloquy and aside, especially for his villains. It seems unrealistic and undramatic for someone to say “I must dissemble.”   Perhaps it’s a short cut. It would take longer for Shakespeare to show the  dissembling than to have the character announce it. I began to think that in later plays Shakespeare is more likely to show than tell, but then I remembered Iago and Edmund.

York’s open challenge to the King seems a shocking moment.

The several exits at the end of 5.1 seem oddly unmotivated.

Is there strong evidence in this act or elsewhere in the play that Henry is mentally unbalanced? I have been assuming that he is weak and conflict-averse, but I understand that in some modern productions he is played as slightly deranged.

Yes, the ending of the play seems oddly inconclusive. It’s as if Shakespeare says “To be continued.” We have already been introduced to Richard Crookback, as if Shakespeare senses that he will want to come back to him in “Richard III.” (Presumably we will see him in 3H6 too.)

Acts 4 and 5 give further examples of the problem Shakespeare faced in turning chronicle history into drama. He collapses the time between historical events (e.g., Cade’s Rebellion, York’s return from Ireland, and the Battle of St. Alban’s, which in history took place over a four year period.

 

Michael:

I don’t see a strong indication of mental inadequacy in Henry, just mildness and disinclination to martial prowess, and probably a disabling piety that make him less that adequate for the times and family around him. And especially for Margaret, who becomes even more dangerous in 3H6. But a modern production could easily suggest mental deficiency to explain Henry’s weakness. But I find it more poignant to think of a man who never chose to be king surrounded by ambitious — and murderous — relatives who wish to displace him.

Henry VI: Part 2

Michael:

The first act of 2 Henry VI is heavily populated, mostly with quarreling aristocrats, but backed by various commoners. It seems to grow more complicated as it advances. The opening is the return of Suffolk with Margaret to be Henry’s queen. It all seems happy enough, until the bride price is announced in the document that Gloucester, the regent, tries to read, that Anjou and Maine are to be given to Margaret’s father. Gloucester drops the paper when he comes to this, and Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester in the last play, must read it. Henry advances Suffolk to his new position as duke. York is discharged from his position as regent of France, and Henry, Margaret, and Suffolk leave Gloucester and the others to complain to one another about the loss of the two provinces. York too is angered, especially against Suffolk. Beaufort, Winchester as was, is still quarreling with Gloucester. Salisbury supports Gloucester. The scene closes with York in soliloquy expressing his ambition to eventually take the crown from “proud Lancaster,” his name for Henry, whom he sees as too religious.

1.2 begins with Eleanor, the duchess of Gloucester, encouraging her husband to similar ambition with her recounting of a dream. Gloucester reproves her for this and expresses loyalty to the king, and their quarrel is quickly mended. When G. goes out, a certain John Hume comes in with more temptation for the duchess. She give him gold for his promise of conjuring spirits. But he is dangerous to the duchess in her ambition.

Things get murkier in 1.3 with a group of petitioners who mistakes Suffolk for Gloucester and present a petition against Suffolk and against his master who has said that the duke of York should be king. The petitioners are kicked out, and Margaret tears the more serious petition. She expresses surprise at the way things go in England, and reprehends Henry’s religiosity and his still being under a protector. She’s opposed to the cardinal, Somerset, Buckingham, Gloucester and the duchess, probably York too, and they all seem to gang up on Gloucester. The queen and duchess exchange blows. So various battle lines are laid out, including between Suffolk and York.

Only Gloucester expresses unqualified loyalty to Henry. Horner and Peter, the petitioner in the earlier scene accuse York of disloyalty. Henry appoints Suffolk to be regent of France on Gloucester’s advice.

Even murkier is the conjuring scene in 1.4, where we have Hume again and Southwell (is he a libel on the Jesuit Robert Southwell, who was arrested in 1592?), with the duchess looking on from above. The spirits deliver entirely ambiguous prophecies. But York enters and arrests the conjurors; the duchess is also discovered there. Buckingham seizes the “papers,” — conjuring things? — that seem to involve the duchess as well. Buckingham then has the papers, which he is presumably to take to the king.

We have a lot of plotting and quarrels in the act, which in the abundance of characters require a good deal of close attention. How clear it would be on stage is hard to say.

 

Dusty:

1.1 seems to suggest that the York vs. Lancaster breach has been healed, and that the new conflict is between those favoring the French marriage (chiefly Suffolk) and those opposed (chiefly Gloucester and York), the latter because too much of what Henry V won is now being given back. But there is still conflict between two branches of Lancaster, focused on Gloucester and Winchester. But the scene ends, as did several scenes in 1 Henry VI, with a soliloquy, in which York reveals that he is only biding his time before he makes his move.

The problem of converting historical chronicle into drama perhaps requires Shakespeare and his collaborators to rely heavily on the device of soliloquy, in order to uncover the true motives of various hypocrites in the play. The next one is Sir John Hume, at the end of 1.2, to reveal in soliloquy that he is working for Suffolk and Winchester, in order to discredit the Duchess of Gloucester. The same problem presses Shakespeare to juggle chronology, in order to compress the action but also to suggest causality and consequence.

I suppose priests could be knighted — e.g., Sir John — in the 15th century.

The Duchess of Gloucester and Queen Margaret are the two ambitious women in the play, jealous of each other. The Queen is already discontented with her husband — he’s too pious and too weak — and with her own place. Suffolk promises that she will emerge the real ruler. The Queen  may well be right about Henry VI: he doesn’t seem to care who is named Regent in France, and leaves it to his quarreling nobles to decide. Looks like negligence.

In 1.4 are we supposed to  believe that the witch really does raise spirits? The prophecies are indeed ambiguous (like those in Macbeth later). The “papers” that York seizes appear to be the transcription of what the spirits said, useful as evidence.

As the act ends, we have at least four parties plotting on their own behalf: Suffolk and the Queen, the Duchess of Gloucester, those plotting against the Duchess, and York.

Dusty:

Act Two varies the cast of characters still further by introducing commoners. 2.1 begins with Henry hawking at St. Albans, apparently clueless while Gloucester and Winchester quietly arrange a duel. They are interrupted by Simcox, the blind and lame man who claims he now can see. Why now? Is the episode meant to make Henry VI’s religiosity look foolish? Is this a low-life parody/parallel to the false claims made by the nobles? In any case, Gloucester exposes Simcox, who proves to be not only not ever blind but not lame. Is this a moment of comedy?

Immediately follow charges against Eleanor and the witches. Gloucester seems unsurprised (perhaps because he knew of her activities), or else a little hasty to accept the report (which is part of a plot to discredit her). He’s very skeptical about Simcox, but not skeptical here.

2.2 is another genealogical lesson about the seven sons of Edward III, presented by York, a descendant of the third son, claiming that he has a higher claim than the Lancastrians, who descend from the fourth son. What’s interesting here is that York seems to reserve respect for the senior Lancastrian, the Duke of Gloucester, “the virtuous prince,” and says he will continue to show loyalty to the King, though he reaffirms what he said in 1.1, that it is pretended compliance.

In 2.3 the Duchess Eleanor is quickly judged and sentenced. This is followed by another episode with commoners, and the Armorer (Horner) and his apprentice Peter, whose dispute was introduced in Act 1, now meet in the lists to decide who is lying. (Were disputes between commoners — or nobles — still being settled this way in the late 15th century?). In a kind of reprise of Simcox’s fakery, the Armorer (after being bopped on the head and knocked down) instantly “confesses treason.” That seems odd: since he had “lost,” why did he need to confess that he meant ill to the Duke of York? In any case, York’s own intent to commit treason remains unknown, even though York himself is standing by.

2.4 seems to me the most interesting and emotionally powerful scene so far, as Gloucester watches while Eleanor passes by, a barefoot penitent, on her way to the Isle of Man. Both are strong personalities: she is both shamed and proud, angry at her public exposure and presumably resentful of her husband, who declines to rescue her, which would mean breaking the law. But she overcomes her resentment because she knows that if Gloucester intervened he would put himself in danger. For his part the Duke displays calm, patience and a determination to uphold the law. But he seems emotionally withholding. (Or would an actor make clear that he too is overcoming strong feeling?) Is he here meant to exemplify selfless devotion to law and king, and a readiness to ignore his private interest, that nobody else in the play displays? The Duchess warns him about the enemies awaiting him, as if to say she knows he’s next to fall. With plotters everywhere, is Gloucester’s loyalty naive, or obsolete?

 

Michael:

I think “sir” was a common way of referring to a priest rather than meaning a knighthood, the “sir” just being a term of respect. This Sir John is something of a scoundrel of course.

The two women, duchess and queen, don’t come off very well, one a plotter and other an adulteress. And Eleanor of course consorts with witches and spirits.

Gloucester and the Cardinal seem destined for enmity forever, ever since the 1H6 when the Cardinal was Winchester.

Apparently we are meant to believe in the witch and her raising of spirits since Asnath appears. He correctly, though ambiguously, predicts the manner of the death of Suffolk; it’s a bit like the juggling of meaning in Macbeth’s witches, not H20 but Walter pronounced water.

The Simcox episode is curious. It mainly seems to show Gloucester’s cleverness in exposing him, and may be a moment of comedy. Perhaps it is a double of the aristocratic juggling, but it does seem unnecessary.

In 2.2 York recites the genealogy of the Lancaster and York lines. It seems pretty clear until we get to York’s own claim; his lineage goes through the female line from the third son of Edward III. He then says his mother was heir to the throne, but at that point it seems to get somewhat murky and to depend on female heredity. Warwick backs York up by saying that York’s claim comes from the third son of Edward, while Henry/Bolingbroke’s was from the fourth son. Warwick and Salisbury then salute York as king, and York promises Warwick to make him greatest after himself. How was this to strike the audience? It would put York in a position of treason vis à vis King Henry of course.

The end of the scene puts Gloucester and Eleanor at their lowest point, she judged for the witchcraft and he giving up his staff as protector. What follows with the commoners and their trial by combat seems to produce some odd sympathy for the combatants. It seems somehow arranged, as Peter seems to kill Horner almost randomly, and the latter confesses treason as he dies. Is it supposed to vindicate trial by combat?

Yes, the following scene of Eleanor’s departure and Gloucester’s inability to prevent it is the most moving scene in the play. I guess we’re to assume that Gloucester is powerless to prevent her banishment and must acquiesce in it. We’re meant, I think, to see the poignancy of their situation, each pitying the other; it’s clearly a powerful scene and seems meant finally to convey sympathy for the righteous Gloucester — as well as for the suffering duchess. We may think forward (and backward in historical time) to the parting of Richard II and his queen.

3.1 gathers all Gloucester’s enemies, especially Margaret, and her long speech and what follows from the Cardinal and York contrast with the broken state we’ve just seen him in. The defense of Gloucester by Henry appears to vindicate him. But he becomes a tragic figure as Suffolk arrests him for high treason, against which he makes what’s understood as a genuine defense. And the king still defends him. He defends himself against Margaret, the Cardinal, and Suffolk until he is taken off by the Cardinal’s men. Henry continues his loyalty and defense of Gloucester. Margaret, York, Suffolk, and the Cardinal plot Gloucester’s death. This leads to York’s soliloquy, in which he speaks of Cade’s rebellion in his favor and of Gloucester’s immanent death. He’s clearly on his way to rule. Gloucester’s death is discovered, leaving the discovery to Suffolk, the king, and Margaret. Henry separates himself from the hypocritical plotters. Margaret’s long speech of self-justification recounts her life in coming to England. Henry knows Gloucester’s death was assassination by his nobles, but can do nothing about it. Only Warwick seems loyal to him.

In the latter part of 3.2 the guilt of Suffolk becomes evident, but he is still supported by Margaret. The commons demand the banishment of Suffolk, though he is still defended by Margaret. The departure of Suffolk and the separation of Margaret and Suffolk may be a dark version of the separation of Gloucester and Eleanor. They part at the end of 3.2.

The final scene of the act has the Cardinal raging as he dies, imagining his old foe Gloucester. Henry prays for him, but it seems to do no good, and the Cardinal dies without repentance. So we are left with a major distinction in the death of the two old foes. The Cardinal, instrumental in the death of Gloucester, dies in sin, and Gloucester, murdered, had died in apparent grace.

 

Dusty:

The speeches in Act 3 and the next seem unusually long. I found myself thinking that the characters could make the same points with fewer words. Maybe the Elizabethan audiences enjoyed the rhetoric. But there is less dramatic intensity than in the later plays.

You say the king “can” do nothing to save Gloucester. I would say that in 3.1 the king declines to act like a king, neglects his royal responsibilities and leaves it to his senior advisors to decide what to do.

How do you play York’s long soliloquy at the end of 3.1? Is he talking to himself, reviewing his scheme? Is he confiding in the audience?

Dusty:

There is lots of action in the ten scenes of Act 4. Most of them center on Jack Cade, who in claiming his right to the throne as a “Mortimer”is a kind of parody of York. Shakespeare makes sure to undercut his wild claims by having Cade’s own followers exchange asides about him. And as revolutionary leader Cade comes off as a murderous maniac. He condemns Lord Say, who in 4.7 appeals in vain for Cade to back down. But Clifford is able to appeal directly to the mob, which inclines first one way and then another, finally yielding to patriotic sentiment and agreeing to turn their passion against the French.

In 4.9 we see more division among the factions, as York returns from Ireland and denounces Somerset as a traitor (reprising the earlier attacks on Gloucester as traitor).

The act ends with a strange episode in which Cade, reduced to eating salad greens stolen from a garden, is killed by the owner of the garden. An ignominious end, based on historical reports.

 

Michael:

I think the Elizabethan audiences did enjoy, or were meant to enjoy, rhetoric more that we do. What we’ve found, I think, as we’ve gone through the plays, is that speeches become shorter and less rhetorical — and with fewer classical references than we see in these early plays. In this play the classical references seem frequently ornamental and not terribly apt.

Henry’s weakness keeps him from seeing what’s going to happen to Gloucester, and once Gloucester is killed, from knowing enough or having the power to avenge it. His inability to act is what makes him the weak king that he is.

York’s soliloquy would require much of the actor. I take that he’s talking to himself, giving the audience a sense of what’s going through his mind, but not addressing the audience directly, Iago-like, but forecasting his plans when he returns from Ireland for the audience. Margaret’s long self-justification seems similarly designed; here it’s memory being used as her reason for being and doing what she’s doing.

In 4.1 I was struck by the phrase in the first line, “remorseful day,” which was the title of the final Inspector Morse episode. I wonder if the punning writer took the title from this.

Suffolk’s aristocratic arrogance finds its comeuppance in this scene with the captain and Whitmore. Once again we see the troupe’s fake head getting an outing.

The battle with Cade seems another of those “anthology pieces” that these early plays contain; it takes up, and is confined to Act 4. The head makes another appearance in 4.4; I wonder if it could be altered on the occasion to resemble the character it was representing. Here, of course, it’s still Suffolk.

Saye’s plea is a significant moment in the Cade story. Then we have his head and Sir James Cromer’s on stage.

Maybe the central moment in Henry VI’s career is at 4.8, where he says, “Was never subject longed to be a king as I do long and wish to be a subject.” At the end of the scene he speaks of learning “to govern better, for yet may England curse my wretched reign.” My text glosses “for yet” as “up until now.” Henry’s unwishing of his kingship stands in sharp contrast to York.

The battle between Alexander Iden and Cade seems uneven, and Cade seems to force it against Iden’s initial pity. In the final act we have another head, this time Cade’s. Did they have a whole shelf of heads, or were they made so bloody that the same one could work for multiple identities?

York’s arrogance fills the final act. Iden’s humility in his knighting contrasts. And the quarrel between Clifford and Salisbury occupies the action, one supporting and one abandoning Henry. And another ironic fulfillment of the witches’ prophecy occurs in Somerset’s death, outside of an alehouse called The Castle. (I wonder if there’s still, or again, an alehouse in St. Alban’s called The Castle. Seems inevitable.) Young Clifford vows vengeance against York, and against everything Yorkist.

The plays ends rather inconclusively with Henry fleeing to London and York speaking of pursuing him there. The sequel is already envisioned.

Dusty:

I am struck again with Shakespeare’s frequent use of soliloquy and aside, especially for his villains. It seems unrealistic and undramatic for someone to say “I must dissemble.”   Perhaps it’s a short cut. It would take longer for Shakespeare to show the  dissembling than to have the character announce it. I began to think that in later plays Shakespeare is more likely to show than tell, but then I remembered Iago and Edmund.

York’s open challenge to the King seems a shocking moment.

The several exits at the end of 5.1 seem oddly unmotivated.

Is there strong evidence in this act or elsewhere in the play that Henry is mentally unbalanced? I have been assuming that he is weak and conflict-averse, but I understand that in some modern productions he is played as slightly deranged.

Yes, the ending of the play seems oddly inconclusive. It’s as if Shakespeare says “To be continued.” We have already been introduced to Richard Crookback, as if Shakespeare senses that he will want to come back to him in “Richard III.” (Presumably we will see him in 3H6 too.)

Acts 4 and 5 give further examples of the problem Shakespeare faced in turning chronicle history into drama. He collapses the time between historical events (e.g., Cade’s Rebellion, York’s return from Ireland, and the Battle of St. Alban’s, which in history took place over a four year period.

 

Michael:

I don’t see a strong indication of mental inadequacy in Henry, just mildness and disinclination to martial prowess, and probably a disabling piety that make him less that adequate for the times and family around him. And especially for Margaret, who becomes even more dangerous in 3H6. But a modern production could easily suggest mental deficiency to explain Henry’s weakness. But I find it more poignant to think of a man who never chose to be king surrounded by ambitious — and murderous — relatives who wish to displace him.