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Henry VI Part 3

William Shakespeare

Act II, Scenes i-ii

Act I, Scenes ii-iv

Act II, Scenes iii-vi

Summary

Edward and Richard meet on the field of battle and wonder about the whereabouts of their father. Richard says that he saw York fighting fiercely, and he is proud to be his son. The brothers notice light on the horizon, and they see three suns rise. Richard comments as the suns seem to join and embrace, as if they had made some unbreakable agreement together. Edward thinks it is a sign that the three York brothers, already blazing on their own merits, should join together to shine over the world like the united sun. Richard is a little more skeptical about the meaning of the sign.

A messenger enters and announces the death of York. The messenger tells how York was captured with great difficulty and killed by Clifford and Margaret after Margaret mocked him with the handkerchief covered with Rutland's blood. Edward mourns his father, wishing he were dead so he didn't have to endure the grief: "Now my soul's palace is become a prison / Ah, would she break from hence that this my body / Might in the ground be close up in rest. / For never henceforth shall I joy again" (2.1.74-6). But Richard cannot cry; instead, he is consumed with rage and swears he will revenge his father's death. Edward says that he now inherits his father's dukedom, but Richard insists he inherits the throne and kingdom, as well.

Warwick and Montague enter, and Richard reports the news. Warwick, too, has news; having already heard of the fall of York, he mustered his troops and marched to intercept the queen, who was on her way to London to undo Henry's agreement with York. When the two armies met, Warwick's soldiers fought bravely but lost the battle. Warwick also reports that George, the other brother of Richard and Edward, has returned from France. Richard says the battle must have been harsh, for he has never heard of Warwick retreating. Warwick says they must march to London to defend the agreement York made with Henry about the succession. Edward agrees, acknowledging he is now the Duke of York. As they prepare, a messenger announces the arrival of the Queen's army.

Henry, Margaret, Clifford, Northumberland, and Prince Edward arrive at the town of York. Margaret points out York's head on the city walls, but Henry warns her to restrain her desire for revenge. Clifford speaks, elaborating on the nature of family in the natural world, where animals are kind to their offspring and vicious to enemies who threaten their children. He urges Henry to reverse his stance of being kind to York, his enemy, and cruel to his son, now disinherited. He tells the king that he should learn from the natural world; he should seize his own kingdom, make sure the birthright passes on to his son, and undo his unnatural agreements.

But Henry says that sons aren't always happy with that which they receive from their father. His son will be left his father's virtuous deeds, as he wished his father had left him, instead of a kingdom. Margaret interrupts him to remind Henry that he promised to knight his son; he does so.

A messenger enters with news of Warwick's army's imminent arrival. Clifford urges Henry to leave the scene of the battle, since the queen does better without him present. Edward enters with Warwick, Richard, George, Norfolk, and Montague. George says to Margaret that she has heard that she caused Parliament to undo the agreement made between his father York and Henry. Richard and Clifford shout at each other, and Warwick interrupts to ask Henry to yield the crown. The lords all argue and threaten each other. Henry tries to speak; Margaret tells him to interrupt more forcefully or to be silent. He says he is the king and privileged to speak.

Clifford and Richard continue to shout at each other, Edward and Warwick demand the crown from Henry, and Prince Edward urges his father to resist. Edward insults Margaret, saying that Henry married below his station when he was wedded to her. He declares that the cause of the present struggle is Margaret's pride; the Yorks would have pitied a gentle king if Margaret had not been so power hungry, but instead they felt the need to make their claim. Edward says he no longer wishes to try to confer with her, since she denies the king the right to speak, and he suggests that the dispute be resolved on the battlefield. Margaret tries to stop Edward, but he replies that her words will cause many deaths on the fields of war.

Commentary

York's sons see three suns in the sky; Edward interprets it as a sign that the three remaining brothers (though they do not yet know Rutland is dead, and they do not seem that sad when they do hear) should be inseparable. Richard, however, does not seem to buy this meaning but does not suggest an alternate one. Richard's later behavior shows his ease working alone, without any genuine allies; perhaps he is not anxious to bond with his brothers because someday he plans to sever from them, in reaching for the throne. In his mind, three sons will become one, when he eliminates his brothers and becomes the single son, the king.

Clifford's speech to Henry about the natural world continues to emphasize the theme of natural versus unnatural familial relations. Clifford thinks fathers should pass on their successes to their sons, for to do otherwise is unnatural. But Henry is not sure he likes what he has gained from his father, such as a kingdom and responsibilities to appear strong and maintain conquered lands. Hence, he is not convinced that he should automatically pass what he has on to his son.

When Edward and his men enter to confer with Henry, an elaborate shouting match occurs. Richard and Clifford are instantly at each other's throat, shouting at each other over the other's discussions. Warwick and Margaret insult each other about successes in past battles. Edward and George accuse Margaret of being a low-born monstrosity. But when the king tries to speak, even Margaret hushes him.

Edward makes two unusual claims in this scene. First, he blames Margaret's pride for the fact that his family's claim to the throne came to light. He says that his family would have been happy to let a weak king like Henry rule, if only Margaret had not be so prideful--but she was a bad influence, therefore, the Yorks decided to try to get their throne back. Next, he says that their disagreement will have to be fought on the battlefield, since Margaret will not even let Henry talk.

Both claims are puzzling. York spent much of 2 Henry VI raging about the weakness of Henry and his unsuitability for the throne, which did not have much to do with Margaret. And while it is good that someone notices that Henry is unable to speak, it seems unlikely that Edward would attribute his attack on Margaret's forces to her silencing the king. Edward wants to be the king, yet he speaks as if he is Henry's champion, defending him from Margaret. Apparently he wants to justify his efforts to seize the crown by blaming the faults of the kingdom on Margaret, instead of on Henry's weak leadership. It would all have been fine, he claims, if not for the arrival of the unnaturally poor and monstrously efficient Margaret.

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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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