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Henry VI Part 2

William Shakespeare

Act IV, Scenes vii-ix

Act IV, Scenes i-vi

Act V, Scene i

Summary

Jack Cade fights with reinforcements from the Tower, killing the leaders. The Butcher and Weaver ask Cade to make new laws for England, though his laws will be simply oral, not printed. Cade declares all written records should be burned, and his words will constitute the new Parliament. A messenger announces Saye has been captured, and one of the Rebels brings him in. Cade makes a long speech to Saye, affecting courtly speech but speaking in prose. He accuses Saye of giving up Normandy to the French and says he must sweep the court clean of such filth. He charges Saye with corrupting the youth through grammar schools, causing the use of printing presses and a paper mill. Cade says Saye has people around him who talk so much about the usage of nouns and verbs that none can bear it. Finally, Cade accuses Saye of putting men who cannot read in prison.

Saye replies, speaking of the good traditions of people from Kent, the home of Cade's army. He says he had nothing to do with the loss of Normandy, and he has done nothing but try to maintain the king, the realm, and the people. And he defends knowledge, saying ignorance is the curse of God and knowledge the wing to heaven. Cade orders him beheaded. Saye insists he has done no wrong and begs to be allowed to live. Saye orders his death.

A sergeant enters and accuses the Butcher of having raped his wife. Cade declares that all women in his realm shall be available to all men, and he orders the Butcher to cut out the Sergeant's tongue and kill him. Some of Cade's men enter with the heads of Saye and his son-in-law on pikes, and Cade orders them to be paraded around all the street corners.

Buckingham and Clifford enter as ambassadors from the king, offering pardons to the common people who put down their weapons and go home. Clifford makes a speech in favor of the king, invoking King Henry V. The commoners all side with the king. Then, Cade makes a speech to the commoners, reminding them that he has won their freedom, but now they want to be slaves to the nobility again. They all change their mind and shout that they will follow Cade. Clifford speaks again, saying that this civil brawl will weaken the state, and soon the French will attack England--better Cade die than any Englishman stoop to a Frenchmen. Again the rabble turns back to the king.

Cade thinks to himself that the multitude is as easily led one way or the other as a feather in the wind. Evoking the name of Henry V changes their allegiance, and they easily abandon him. He curses his former army aloud and runs away. Buckingham sends soldiers after Cade.

Henry waits in a castle with Margaret and Somerset. Henry ponders his continual discontent, when Buckingham and Clifford enter. They announce that Cade has fled, and the multitude who were his army are below, wanting to be forgiven. Henry speaks to the masses, thanking them for returning to their king, and promises he will never be unkind. He dismisses them. Then, a messenger enters with the news that York is on his way from Ireland, marching toward them with a powerful army. York claims his only desire is to fight with Somerset, who he deems a traitor. Henry reels, noting that his kingdom is buffeted like a ship in a storm between assaults from Cade and then York. He sends Buckingham to talk to York and sends Somerset to the Tower until he can sort things out with York. Somerset willingly goes to prison in order to help out the king.

Meanwhile, Cade hides in Alexander Iden's garden in Kent. He hasn't eaten in five days and is very weak. He jumps the fence to Iden's vegetable patch and starts eating his herbs. Iden enters with his men, speaking of his little garden, left to him by his father, where he enjoys spending his time far away from the turmoil of the court. Iden sees Cade, who threatens Iden. Iden doesn't understand why Cade is so rude. Cade threatens to kill him, but Iden has no desire to fight with a weakened, hungry man. Yet Cade draws his sword on him, they fight, and Iden stabs Cade to death. Cade reveals his name in a dying sentence. Iden is amazed to have killed Cade; Cade replies that he was vanquished by hunger, not by valor. Iden tells his men to leave the body in a dunghill, and he will take Cade's head to the king.

Commentary

Cade's rule is characterized by extreme brutality, from the hanging of the clerk to the death of Saye, and Cade's orders to kill the Sergeant who has complained about the behavior of one of Cade's men. The violence of Cade's army seems to confirm contemporary suspicions about the dangers of popular rule. His main violence is aimed at those who can read or write; his reasons for killing Saye seem to have more to do with his support of schools and presses than for losing any French land. And Cade's reign of terror erases any rights of women, making them fair game for rape. Cade's troops, however, seem to enjoy the pleasures of mob rule more than any ideology of freedom, and they can be easily swayed by rhetoric. When Henry's men come to urge them to abandon Cade, they must evoke Henry V rather than the present king, since Henry VI is too weak to be a convincing influence over the commoners.

Alexander Iden is a curious figure; a landowning gentleman who has built a wall around his garden and prefers it to courtly life, Iden seems charitable and doesn't want to fight with Cade. He evokes the virtues of rural life in contrast to the values of the corrupt court or the rampaging commoners. His appearance anticipates the emerging bourgeois property holder, soon to become the backbone of the nation. And his loyalties are clear; when he finds he has killed Cade, he rushes to take the head to the king. Iden's garden may, thus, represent a version of an English Eden.

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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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