Who seems to be the greatest threat to the nation, the nobles or the commoners? Discuss each.
The commoners seem very dangerous, when led by someone like Jack Cade. Yet the commoners can be easily swayed one way or the other, as the nobles demonstrate when they convince the people to abandon Cade and lay down their arms. Despite the violence of the common people, the real threat probably lies mostly with the nobles, including York, who urged on Cade's uprising and who later sweeps into London with an army, claiming his right to the throne.
What are some reasons that Henry may have turned out to not be a good king?
He became king when he was very young, and he is barely of age; hence, he has no experience. All his nobles want to manipulate him to do things benefiting them instead of the kingdom, so Henry has rarely gotten any good advice and has no one he can trust. When Gloucester dies, he is without his protector and at the mercy of the snake pit of scheming lords and his conniving wife. He is unable to assert his authority and seems to wish for a private, pious life rather than a public and political one. Henry also probably suffers in the shadow of the legend of his great father's rule. Henry V won France (in the series of events portrayed in Shakespeare's Henry V ), but Henry VI has lost it. Even the commoners, when lured away from Jack Cade, respond more enthusiastically to the name of Henry V than to any other name.
Is there a link between the death of Gloucester and the rise of Jack Cade?
On one hand, there appears to be no link at all. Gloucester dies, and later Cade arrives on the scene. However, a connection does lie in their equivalent preoccupation with the rights of the commoners. Gloucester may have been the last noble in the court who cared about the common people. When he is gone, there is no one to defend the masses until Cade comes along. However, Cade has been hired by York to raise trouble in England and to test out public response to a new claimant to the throne. Is Cade genuinely in support of the people, or does he just enjoy creating chaos? He claims he wants to create both an egalitarian society and he wants to be king. These conflicting claims, plus his extreme violence, may show Cade to be merely a vicious killer and a man who likes stirring up trouble, not a savior of the people.
Consider royal justice in this play, particularly the Duchess and the petitioners who come to Gloucester.
Discuss the violence enacted on bodies throughout this play. Why do you think this play is so violent?
Consider Jack Cade and his revolt, alongside his claims about what he will do as king. What kinds of frustrations of the commoners does he seem to be playing out?
There are two scenes in this play where lying commoners, Simpcox and Peter, are "punished." Why do you think these scenes are included in the play? What does it show about the interaction between the nobles and the commoners?
What is the desired end of all the plots of the nobles? Consider the variety of grouping of scheming nobles.
Is Gloucester the last honorable man? Why or why not?
This play has been called both 1 Henry VI and The First Part of the Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster. These different titles suggest very different emphases to the play. If you were to name the play after the most important character or event, what would you call it?