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Henry VI Part 2

William Shakespeare

Act I, Scene i

Characters

Act I, Scenes ii-iv

Summary

King Henry enters the court, with the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Somerset, the Duke of Buckingham, and Cardinal Beaufort. From another door enters the Duke of York, Suffolk, the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, and Margaret. Suffolk bows before the king, relating how he captured Margaret during the French wars and negotiated for her to become Henry's wife. He presents Margaret to the king. Henry welcomes her. Margaret greets him, saying her only desire is for him to love her. Henry rejoices in her and orders the lords to welcome her.

Suffolk presents the king with the article of a peace treaty transacted with the French. Gloucester reads it aloud, growing faint at the passages about the lands of Anjou and Maine being returned to the French in exchange for Margaret's hand. Henry is pleased and so promotes Suffolk to the rank of duke. Henry thanks all his lords and departs with Suffolk and Margaret to prepare her coronation.

Gloucester speaks, marveling that Henry's father, King Henry V, and then all the lords present in court, had fought so hard in the French wars to win the very lands that Henry so willingly allows the French to regain. Gloucester thinks the marriage between Margaret and Henry is a fatal pairing, undoing the achievements of English-held France and erasing the names of all those who fought to hold those lands from memory. Beaufort says Gloucester speaks too soon, for the English still hold the rest of France. Yet Salisbury and Warwick agree that Anjou and Maine are the keys to Normandy, and their loss to the French forebodes the fall of remaining English lands there. York bemoans the marriage, too, saying that English kings always received a large dowry through their weddings, but in this case Henry gives away lands and receives nothing.

Beaufort tells Gloucester that he is too hasty in his criticism, and Gloucester explodes, saying Beaufort dislikes him, not his words. As he leaves, he tells the lords to remember that he prophesized the imminent fall of France. After he leaves, Beaufort speaks against Gloucester, reminding the lords that Gloucester is the Protector of the throne until Henry is old enough to rule, and, therefore, he is the heir apparent to the throne should Henry die. He urges the lords not to be bewitched by Gloucester, even though the common people like him, for he is a dangerous force in the kingdom and surely wants to become king. Buckingham agrees that Gloucester's job is done and Henry is now old enough to rule; he suggests that he, Beaufort, and Suffolk join together to remove him from office. Beaufort departs, and Somerset advises Buckingham against helping Beaufort to topple Gloucester, for Beaufort surely wants to become Protector in Gloucester's place. Buckingham suggests he or Somerset would be the next Protector, and both depart.

Salisbury comments on the pride and ambition of the departed lords. He had always known Gloucester to be an honorable man, yet he has seen Beaufort behaving in a manner unbefitting his station. Speaking to York and Warwick, Salisbury suggests that they band together for the public good, to try to suppress the pride of Suffolk and Beaufort and the ambition of Somerset and Buckingham, and save Gloucester. They agree, and York is left along on the stage.

York speaks of his own claims to the throne. He is angered that the king has given away Anjou and Maine, when they were not his own lands to give. York can do nothing as yet but to fret about his lost lands, which seems a pity to him since he had high hopes for France. Someday he will claim his birthright, he declares, and until then, he will ally himself with Salisbury and Warwick until the right moment arrives. He tries to stay calm while others mess up his kingdom, for soon the house of York will topple the reign of the Lancasters.

Commentary

The battle lines are drawn in this first scene, taken up right from the conclusion of 1 Henry IV. At the end of the prior play, Suffolk woos Margaret for the king because he could not have her (being already married), and he delights at the powerful influence he will have over Margaret and, thus, over the king. 1 Henry IV laid the groundwork for disagreements between Gloucester and Beaufort (then called the Duke of Winchester), who argued because Gloucester was the protector of the kingdom and Beaufort the head of the church. Struggles boil between Somerset and York, who respectively selected the red and white roses as symbols of the side they and their men take against each other. The excuse for Somerset and York's argument came first from a disagreement about a point of law and later from Somerset's slowness to provide York with reinforcements in the French wars, causing the death of England's greatest warrior.

The struggle between Somerset and York will become the War of the Roses, fought between Lancasters and Yorks with the professed intent of returning the house of York to the throne. York believes that King Richard II was illegally removed from the throne by Henry IV, the present king's grandfather. York believes he should hold the throne, as the eldest link to the eldest of Richard II's brothers still living after Richard's fall. His ambition to one day gain the throne motivates his every action.

Yet first the disagreement between Gloucester and Beaufort must be dealt with. Beaufort has always wanted to oust Gloucester; to accuse him of plotting to gain the throne is the latest in a string of schemes against Gloucester. Yet Gloucester is popular with the people; in a world where all the nobles are rotten, their support defines Gloucester as authentically honorable.

Henry's inattention about the articles of the peace treaty is an early sign of his weakness as a king. All his lords agree that lands so hard won in France should be kept, but Henry doesn't care. Yet none of his lords are prepared to advise him, including the Protector, Gloucester. It is as if they have already given up on Henry and can only see misfortune in the future--as Gloucester predicts when he departs the scene. Now all that remains for the lords is to jockey for the best possible position during the apparently inevitable fall of a weak king.

Margaret is also not so meek as she first appears. She fully intends to take advantage of her position and the weakness of Henry, both to control the realm and to have an affair with Suffolk.

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Murder Among the Nobility

by ReadingShakespeareby450th, June 01, 2013

I'm reading all Shakespeare by his 450th. I've finished Henry VI, Second Part. If you're interested, you can see my blog about it:

http://ow.ly/l70gS

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