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Henry VI Part 3

William Shakespeare

Act V, Scenes v-vii

Act V, Scenes i-iv

Analysis

Summary

Edward enters the palace with Richard and George, followed by Margaret, Oxford, and Somerset under guard. Edward sends Oxford to prison and Somerset to his death. Prince Edward is brought in. The prince, though a prisoner, demands that Edward stand down from the throne. Richard insults the prince, who declares that he is better than all three traitorous and usurping brothers. Edward, Richard, and George, in turn, stab the prince to death. Margaret faints, and Richard slips off to the Tower.

Margaret recovers and mourns for her son, calling Edward and his brothers butchers for having slain a child. Margaret asks George to kill her, but he won't. She calls for Richard to kill her, but he is gone. She is escorted away.

Richard arrives at Henry's prison room in the Tower. Henry suspects Richard has come to kill him, having heard of his son's death. He compares himself to Daedalus and his son to Icarus, who both fled from Crete with wax wings, but Icarus died when he flew too close to the son and his wings melted. Henry likens Edward to the sun that melted Prince Edward's wax wings, and Richard to the sea that he drowned in.

Henry predicts that thousands will weep for their dead sons, husbands, or parents because of Richard's future deeds. All these people: "Shall rue the hour that ever thou wast born. / The owl shrieked at thy birth--an evil sign... / Teeth hadst thou in thy head when thou wast born, / To signify thou cam'st to bite the world" (V.v.43-4,53-4). Richard interrupts his speech and stabs Henry to death.

Richard ruminates over Henry's body, thinking of reports he heard his mother give about his unusual birth, that he was born feet first, with teeth already. He says: "Then, since the heavens have shaped my body so, Let hell make crooked my mind to answer it. I have no father, I am like no father; I have no brother, I am like no brother; And this word 'love', which greybeards call divine, Be resident in men like one another And not in me--I am myself alone." (V.v.78-84)

Henry and his son are dead; Richard next shall spread rumors about George and cause his downfall. He departs with Henry's body.

Edward enters the throne room with his queen, Lady Gray, and George, Richard, Hastings, and his infant son, Prince Edward. Edward sits on the throne again, speaking of the many nobles who died in the process of attaining it. Edward asks his brothers to kiss his child, which George willingly does, and Richard compares himself under his breath to Judas, who killed his master and, thus, pointed him out to his executioners.

Edward gladly relaxes in his throne. George asks what he wants to do with Margaret, as the French sent ransom for her. He tells George to send her back to France and suggests his new reign be blessed with festivals and shows for the pleasure of the court.

Commentary

When Richard comes to kill Henry, the former king makes prophecies about Richard based on the bad signs observed when Richard was born. All of nature was in revolt when Richard was born, which forebode terrible things for the child. Henry accuses Richard of having been a child born with teeth, a particularly bad sign for Elizabethans.

Yet these are no new insults for Richard; he has already heard stories of his birth, and he decides to embrace his unnaturalness. If he has, thus, been cursed with such an unnatural body, then he will enthusiastically follow a monstrous path. He renounces his familial ties, denying any connection to father or brothers and discarding love. From here on, Richard is "myself alone."

In a society that defined people in terms of their place within familial structures and social hierarchies, Richard makes a unique gesture to separate himself from the bonds that allegedly hold society together. He will be an individual in a world where no one stands alone, without family or supporters or allies. Richard is far from the only character in this play whose ambition blurs the loyalties of blood and allegiance. However, his declared break with the social codes of his world most fully illustrates the monstrousness associated with the deforming influence of ambition and with those personalities who fell outside social structures.

Richard exclaims that he will break with the natural world because his physical body is so unnatural. He defines his actions as a necessary result of his unfair treatment by fate; he will strike back at mankind because he received such a bad set of physical characteristics from the heavens. But does he use his physical impediments as an excuse for his evil nature? Or is his unnatural body actually an outward manifestation of his inner rottenness? These are questions that Richard's behaviors bring up throughout his career, which continues in the bloody and stunning Richard III.

Meanwhile, the Yorks have finally regained the throne, and there is no one left to fight them for it. The War of the Roses has always been a national version of a family conflict, since the Lancasters and Yorks were closely related. But now the struggle for the throne will get even more claustrophobic, as Richard sets against his own brothers in his quest for power.

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A weak King and a rising, despicable Gloster

by ReadingShakespeareby450th, June 01, 2013

I finished the King Henry VI trilogy and blogged on Part Three. If you're interested, here's my take:

http://ow.ly/lC5vr

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