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Henry VI, Part 3 by William Shakespeare

Henry VI, Part 3

by William Shakespeare

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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M100 General Works
  TLH7718 | Dec 15, 2017 |

I’ll be coming back to these words. First, some background.

The Play
<In what follows, some events in the play are revealed>

Is England’s Henry VI the most clueless king ever? I don’t know, but in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part III he tries to be.

After his enemy, the Duke of York, takes possession of Henry’s throne, Henry begs that he be allowed to retain his kingship for life even though armed hostility continues still. York agrees, requiring only that Henry confirm the crown will go to York and his heirs after Henry dies. Not surprisingly, the men who in battle had defended Henry’s crown at risk of life are enraged. Westmoreland sums it up:
Farewell, faint-hearted and degenerate king,
In whose cold blood no spark of honour bides.

Henry asks also that York take an oath to cease the civil war, honor Henry as his sovereign, and commit no treason. York so swears.

Come on, Henry. Has negotiation from a position of defeated weakness ever been so easy, so successful? What are you thinking? None of this ensures no violent effort to put down your figurehead crown. The conditions mean only that York himself, if honorable, won’t do it. And that your own son cannot be heir. And that even if you remain enthroned you’ll have no power to cause the civil war to cease. What “honour” shall you then have as king and sovereign?

One can’t help but wonder what a kingship is in Henry’s mind. Why does he want it?

In contrast, Henry’s spirited Queen Margaret is her usual savage self. Here she delights in taunting York about Clifford’s killing of York’s youthful son:
Look, York: I stain’d this napkin with the blood
That valiant Clifford with his rapier’s point
Made issue from the bosom of the boy;
And if thine eyes can water for his death,
I give thee this to dry thy cheeks withal.
. . . .
I prithee grieve, to make me merry, York.

Brutal. I mean, there are drug lords with more pity.

Queen Margaret and Lord Clifford then join in stabbing the life out of York. He dies and the Queen instructs:
Off with his head, and set it on York gates;
So York may overlook the town of York.

A vision, I wager, that does indeed make her merry.

But the play is not just beheadings and replays of Henry’s warrior deficits, though there’s plenty of that. It raises the question of what must the qualities of a leader be in a dangerous world. Henry is better fit for the role of a caring man in a kinder community. Warwick states it well:
Were he as famous, and as bold in war
As he is fam’d for mildness, peace, and prayer.

Those words: Mildness. Peace. Prayer.

In the devilish conflicts of late medieval England these qualities, at least as displayed by Henry, are such as can arouse impatient scorn among his nobles and his queen. Is that fair? Is that proper?

Consider: The violent defense of rights here claimed by the contending parties led to the Battle of Towton, during which 28,000 men were killed in ten hours. Ten hours. Not much less than one man killed each second. And that in 1461, an era without modern weaponry, the hand grenades and bombs and machine guns and all. Yet men died one after another pretty nearly every single second, for ten long hours. Think about that.

It was damn near atomic, this medieval combat.

Shakespeare makes clear no one is thrilled with King Henry. York’s partisans claim Richard II’s overthrow by Henry IV was illegitimate and their grievance is one they’re determined to keep. Henry’s adherents wish for a warrior king so that their opponents would fear to contest the throne. And Henry, for all his begging of York for the crown, is really not much inclined to be a king.

Could not one argue that if Henry had been more like his war-glorying (war-gory-ing) Queen, this would have offered the better path to having maintained peace and avoided Towtons? The offices of power which Henry held were poorly and not peaceably sustained by anything resembling fidelity to ideals of mildness, peace, and prayer. So, is the disappointment here to be with the power of these ideals? Or, is it Henry’s lack of greatness that disappoints the ideals? How and when can such ideals ever prevail in struggles for power?

Peace having been sacrificed, the play then becomes, a bit dully, one battle after another until finally (finally!) someone wins. The contests are enlivened some by bad behavior, fluctuating loyalties, and Richard’s shadowing ambitions (you kind of look forward to meeting this sociopath again in Richard III). If you are uncertain which side to cheer, King Edward, York’s eldest son, does what he can to forfeit the reader’s support. It is Act III, scene ii, and this Edward has decided Lady Grey is very much to his taste.

What verdict, then, for Henry? Much as he is moved by grief for others, it seems his principal grief is his own situation. He sentimentalizes how much better another life must be and he seems without an understanding that any kind of a life can pose stern and ugly demands. He does not possess a heroic “mildness, peace, and prayer” that could make that other life better than an escape.

Henry had not the stuff to stay a king. Had he the stuff to be fully someone else? The play seems to answer “No.”

Coda, on Sentimentalism
Late in Act II, we see King Henry posted to another battlefield as no more than bystander and witness, alone, sensitive to suffering, and driven to wishes for another destiny, or death. (II.v.):
This battle fares like to the morning’s war,
When dying clouds contend with growing light,
What time the shepherd, blowing of his nails,
Can neither call it perfect day nor night.
Now sways it this way, like a mighty sea
Forc’d by the tide to combat with the wind;
Now sways it that way, like the self-same sea
Forc’d to retire by fury of the wind;
Sometime the flood prevails, and then the wind;
Now one the better, then another best;
Both tugging to be victors, breast to breast,
Yet neither conqueror nor conquered:
So is the equal poise of this fell war.
Here on this molehill will I sit me down.
To whom God will, there be the victory!
For Margaret my queen, and Clifford too,
Have chid me from the battle; swearing both
They prosper best of all when I am thence.
Would I were dead!

Henry now sees a son who on the battlefield has unknowingly killed his father, and then Henry witnesses the son’s discovery of this fact. Henry cries out:
O piteous spectacle! O bloody times!
Whiles lions war and battle for their dens,
Poor harmless lambs abide their enmity.
Weep, wretched man, I’ll shed thee tear for tear;
And let our hearts and eyes, like civil war,
Be blind with tears, and break o’ercharg’d with grief.

A father, who has unknowingly killed his son, now appears and also makes his terrible discovery. Another blow to Henry’s emotions:
Woe above woe! grief more than common grief!
O! that my death would stay these ruthful deeds.

Henry has his death, by play’s end.

But by that death no ruthful deed is stayed.
( )
  dypaloh | Nov 13, 2017 |
Shakespeare’s histories have always felt less accessible to me than his other work. But I realized the other day that it’s probably because I’m not that familiar with the people involved. What is the musical “Hamilton” if not our version of Shakespeare's histories? It’s a theatrical show based on our own country’s history. Shakespeare's histories are not as easy for us to understand because we they are covering a time period that we don’t always learn about. But during Shakespeare's time everyone knew who those dukes and kings were, just as we know names like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Anyway, all of that to say that these three plays worked much better for me than some of the other histories of his I've tackled and I think it’s because I finally made that connection. It was also incredibly helpful to me to watch the Hollow Crown series before reading the plays. It covers all three of these plays although it's called Henry VI Part one and two, it's really a combination of parts 1, 2 and 3.They are so well done and watching those first helped me picture a face with a name while reading the place, which helped me keep all the characters straight.

These plays are part of the eight plays that make up the War of the Roses. Henry VI Part 1 includes the original scene where the characters pick a white or red rose to declare their allegiance. From there it’s a constant stream of battle and betrayal as they all fight for the thrown. Poor King Henry VI is thrust into his role as monarch when he’s only a baby. The death of his father meant a life time watching others attempt to steal his throne. Almost everyone in the plays comes to a bloody end by the final curtain.

A few thoughts:
Margaret was such a bad ass. She was conniving, but she was strong where her husband, King Henry VI, was weak. I have to admire her and she certainly has some of the best lines.
We meet the infamous Richard in these plays. I'd read and seen Richard III before, so reading these gave me a better understanding of his character's background. He’s a delicious villain and one that I loved getting to know.

“Why, I can smile and murder whiles I smile,
And cry 'content' to that which grieves my heart,
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face for all occasions”

BOTTOM LINE: I ended up loving them. I was surprised by how hooked I got on the War of the Roses drama, but it’s like a soap opera. It’s amazing to see how power seems to corrupt all the touch it. Even those who are not driven with a desire for power are often the easiest to steal power from, because they aren’t as vicious as others. I would definitely read part 1, 2, and 3 back-to-back because they work better as one continuous story. I also highly recommend watching the Hollow Crown series first, but just dive into the plays and enjoy them!

“Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind.”

“For where thou art, there is the world itself,
With every several pleasure in the world,
And where thou art not, desolation.”

“Unbidden guests are often welcomest when they are gone.” ( )
  bookworm12 | Jan 16, 2017 |
I really enjoyed the development of Richard. I am excited to read Richard III in a few weeks. I also really loved the character of Margaret. There is a great deal of woman-bashing/gender stereotyping that is insulting to the 21st century reader, but I can imagine Shakespeare's contemporaries getting a kick out of it. ( )
  Sareene | Oct 22, 2016 |
Part III picks up right where part II leaves off. This volume of the story focuses on Henry VI’s struggle with Richard Plantagenet and his sons over who is the rightful heir to the crown. Henry acknowledges that his ancestor usurped the throne from Richard’s ancestor; therefore, Richard has a better right to the throne than Henry does. They agree that Henry will keep the crown until his death, and then it will pass to Richard and his heirs. Henry’s wife and son don’t like this, and neither do Richard’s sons, who don’t want to wait that long, and another war begins.

I’ve said it before, but I really like Shakespeare’s history plays. Since these three plays and Richard III are so closely related, I wanted to read them all together, but was concerned that four Shakespeare plays in a row would be too much. I’ve enjoyed them enough that I haven’t burned myself out yet, though.
( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (66 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Shakespeareprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brooke, C. F. TuckerEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cairncross, A. S.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ridley, M. R.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tennant, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I wonder how the king escaped our hands.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140714677, Paperback)

"I feel that I have spent half my career with one or another Pelican Shakespeare in my back pocket. Convenience, however, is the least important aspect of the new Pelican Shakespeare series. Here is an elegant and clear text for either the study or the rehearsal room, notes where you need them and the distinguished scholarship of the general editors, Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller who understand that these are plays for performance as well as great texts for contemplation." (Patrick Stewart)

The distinguished Pelican Shakespeare series, which has sold more than four million copies, is now completely revised and repackaged.

Each volume features:
* Authoritative, reliable texts
* High quality introductions and notes
* New, more readable trade trim size
* An essay on the theatrical world of Shakespeare and essays on Shakespeare's life and the selection of texts

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:39 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Traces the personal and political fortunes of King Henry VI, from the time of his childhood to youth and marriage to the beautiful but ruthless Margaret of Anjou, and through the power struggles of his subjects the Yorkists and Lancastrians, ending with the growing influence of sinister Richard, Duke of Gloucester.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140714677, 0141018437

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