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Henry VI Part 3

William Shakespeare

Act II, Scenes iii-vi

Act II, Scenes i-ii

Act III, Scenes i-ii

Summary

Warwick is joined on the field of battle by Edward, then George and Richard. They are losing the battle; Richard tells Warwick about his half brother's death. Warwick is enraged and swears he will have revenge. He vows he will not pause in his fight until their side wins. Edward joins him in the vow, and the brothers and Warwick head back into the battle, fighting on with the soldiers that remain.

Richard chases after Clifford, wanting revenge for the death of his father and brother. The two fight; Warwick comes to help Richard, so Clifford flees. Richard asks Warwick to stay away, and he sets after Clifford himself.

Henry watches the battle, observing that the opposing sides sway like the ocean, from one side of the field to the other and back. He sits on a small hill to watch the fight and to consider how his life has been filled only with grief and woe. He would have been happier, he thinks, if he had been a shepherd. He imagines how his life world run in such a life--so many hours spent with his flock, resting, thinking, or enjoying himself. He imagines a lovely life and how much better a shepherd's lowly meal would be than a king's sumptuous dinner.

A soldier enters, carrying another dead soldier. Henry watches from the side as the soldier strips the armor from the man he has killed, looking for money or loot. As he takes off the helmet, the soldier realizes that he has killed his own father. The soldier was enlisted to the king's army from London, while his father was one of Warwick's servants. As the soldier weeps, Henry comments on the terrible times, where the common people suffer as their leaders struggle for primacy.

Then, another soldier enters with another body and looks, like the first soldier, for cash on the body. Removing the helmet, the soldier discovers he has killed his own son. What an unnatural, miserable age, says the soldier, what terrible acts take place because of this unfortunate struggle among the nobles. Henry mourns, wishing his death might stop these horrific events. While the first soldier wonders how he shall tell his mother what he has done and the second imagines how his wife will handle the news, Henry thinks how angry the nation will be at its king. Yet he grieves so much for the suffering of the common people. The soldiers exit, leaving Henry alone and overcome with woe.

Prince Edward enters and tells his father to flee, for Warwick's army is winning. Margaret and Exeter enter and urge the same.

Clifford enters, with an arrow in his neck. He knows it is the end for him, and he regrets his fall, thinking that Henry will be weaker without his help. He wishes Henry had ruled as a strong king should, like his father and grandfather, for then the house of York could not have advanced so far. Then, he and so many other thousands would not have died in the struggle. He faints.

Edward enters, with Richard and George, followed by Warwick and Montague. Edward speaks of their good fortune in battle and mentions that some troops follow Margaret; he wonders if Clifford is with them. Clifford groans as he dies, and Richard finds the body. Warwick commands York's head be removed from the town wall, and Clifford's put up instead. As they drag the body out, the lords interrogate Clifford, mocking him to see if he is yet alive--but he is not.

Warwick hastens the brothers to London to claim the crown and plans to go immediately to France to ask for the hand of Lady Bona for Edward. If Edward can ally with France, then they will be able to resist the queen's armies, should they again reunite. Edward makes Richard the Duke of Gloucester and George the Duke of Clarence. Richard asks to switch with George, not wanting to be connected to a title so unlucky, since the previous three Gloucesters died violently. But Edward insists, and they head off for London.

Commentary

These battle scenes place Henry off to the side of the action, watching the battle from a nearby hillside. First, he yearns for a more private, simpler life, but he is instantly brought back to his public role when he witnesses more examples of the disaster wrought by the disruption of normal family ties. One soldier has accidentally killed his son, and another his father, because the battle lines of the nobility have caused the different generations to go to war against each other. The results are deadly and unnatural; no father should kill his own son, or vice versa. Henry identifies his role as head of the nation with that of the father or son who must now bear the brunt of his horrible deed. Henry, too, must bear the guilt of the events that the state must endure, including the death of thousands of people over this dispute among nobles.

Meanwhile, Richard does not have the pleasure of killing Clifford himself, as he had so enthusiastically sought throughout the battle. As he dies, Clifford, too, attributes the problems of the nation to the fact that Henry was not a strong enough king to rule effectively and to restrain the Yorks.

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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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