Discuss the role of Margaret, who is the only character who appears in all three Henry VI plays. Why do so many accuse her of being "unnatural"? If you have read the other Henry plays, how does she change throughout? Do you think she is stepping in to fill Henry's weakness and to care for her son's succession, or does she have plans of her own?
Margaret is called unnatural because she leads Henry's troops and makes all the decisions. Henry becomes weaker and weaker, and Margaret takes over more of his position. Whether he became weaker and she stepped in or she made him weaker is unclear. But she is not the only "unnatural" woman in the Henry VI plays; in 1 Henry VI, we met Joan of Arc, who, like Margaret, led troops in support of a king. The unfortunate demise of her countrywoman did not deter Margaret, whose enthusiasm seems significantly rooted in her desire to see her son on the throne. In fact, it is Henry's agreement with York to hand over the crown after his death that really sets her off; previously she had been irritated at Henry but she had never had to take control of the army. In order to assure her son's succession, she would fight, be an ambassador to France, and fight some more, even bear being accused of being "unnatural." Clearly, defending the succession of her son was "natural" enough for her.
Consider Edward's marriage to Lady Gray. Why is this an unwise marriage?
Like Henry's marriage to Margaret, Lady Gray is a woman without international connections and without cash to offer. Henry's marriage was considered unwise because it opened him up to the influence of those who had influence on Margaret, thus, weakening the crown. Edward's marriage, too, seems dangerous, since he made a decision without consulting his brothers, out of passion rather than rational choice. He nearly loses the kingdom because his choice alienated his ambassador Warwick and the king of France, who gives reinforcements to Margaret, as well as his own brother George, who turned against him and joined Margaret's army with other nobles.
Consider Richard, one of Shakespeare's most interesting characters, and his language. How do we get to know him in this play? How does he speak differently than the other characters? How does he plan to achieve his ends, and how might speech help him?
Richard is the only character who speaks in soliloquies, which provide the audience with major insights into his mind and his plans, especially those plans that involve him pretending to be a loyal brother while he plots the demise of Edward and George. Thus, he allows the audience to see both sides of his behavior. His control of language is impressive, and he elaborately explains his point of view, his frustrations, and his plans. His ability to manipulate language will carry him far in deceiving the members of the court and playing the nobles against each other.
Consider Richard and his deformity. Could you make a case that proves Richard's behavior originates with his deformity or his deformity is a sign of his inner nature? Or is he a symbol of the deformity of the nation? Are there other deformities of unnatural things in this play to compare Richard with?
Discuss the nature of family in this play or throughout the Henry VI series. Consider succession, family loyalties, family disputes as national battles, etc.
How do the "mirror scenes," where a scene separate from the main plot reflects a theme of the whole, work? Consider the scenes where Henry watches the battle and how that mirrors family disintegration throughout the play.
Many battles and transfers of power take place during this play, with Henry in and out of prison and Edward on and off the throne. Do you think this confusion of battles, plus various characters changing sides, would encourage an audience to more viscerally experience the nation spiraling into chaos? How?
This play has been variously named The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York and the Good King Henry VI and simply 3 Henry VI. What do you think would be the best title? Could it be 1 Richard III? Does it seem like more or less of a tragedy depending on which name is chosen?
Henry seems finally to just dwindle away, not speaking, not protesting, and no longer wanting to be in the public eye. Chart his decline, considering how this leader came to be an observer and finally a minor pawn while his nobles fought it out. Especially consider the importance of his speech in this play.
I finished the King Henry VI trilogy and blogged on Part Three. If you're interested, here's my take:
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