KING HENRY VI
King Henry is not the
leading figure in any of the Henry VI plays. In Part 1 he is a
child, and even the story of the nobles who presume upon his weakness is
overshadowed by the account of the military loss of France and the bravery
of Talbot. In Part 2 Henry is merely a witness to the political
developments that occupy the play: the fall of Gloucester and the rise of
York. In Part 3 he is more articulate but no less helpless. Pious and
plaintive, he is crushed between the contending forces that his weakness
has allowed to rise. He is finally killed, and his corpse appears early in
Henry is a virtuous
man; he is gentle, thoughtful, and governed by a sense of moral values.
However, fate has placed him on a throne and he lacks the ruthless vigor
required of a medieval ruler. In fact, he is a paragon of weakness—a
vacuum into which disorder rushes—and the History Plays are about order
In 1 Henry VI
the king is an infant at the outset and only a young man at the end. He is
distressed by the rivalries he sees around him but is unable to resolve
them, being entirely incompetent in worldly matters. In his most important
scene in the play (4.1.134-173), Henry makes a grave error in his haste to
defuse the hostility between York and Somerset, dividing the English
military command between the two disputants. At the close of the play, he
succumbs to the unscrupulous arguments of the Earl of Suffolk and agrees
to marry Margaret, a decision that the subsequent plays demonstrate to
have been disastrous for England and for Henry himself.
In 2 Henry VI
the king, although an adult, is no more in control of his kingdom than he
was in his youth. His chief interest is religion, and, in the face of
dangerous dissensions, his only response is to preach the virtues of unity
and peace. He is thoroughly manipulated by others, first by Suffolk and
then, after that lord's death, by Queen Margaret. He permits the rum of
Gloucester, although knows it to be unjust. Even when faced with the
bloody rebellion led by Jack Cade, the king cannot take decisive action,
but again thinks first of his religion. When York rebels, opening the
Wars of the Roses, Henry is again quite helpless. He realises his own
unsuitability for command and regrets his position in life.
In 3 Henry VI
the king attempts to bring about an end to the growing civil war, but the
leaders of the two factions, York and his son Richard on one side and
Margaret on the other, will not be appeased. Henry protests the
barbarities that ensue. He is the only important character in the play who
does not espouse the principle of revenge, but he cannot influence the
action. His position as king is well exemplified during the dispute among
the nobles in 2.2, where he twice demands to speak (at 117 and 119-120)
and has no chance to say another word in the scene. In 2.5, a scene
central to the play, Henry withdraws from a raging battle to meditate
lyrically on the virtues of a pastoral existence that is as far removed
from his reality as it imaginably could be. In stark contrast, he
immediately witnesses the grief of the Son That Hath Killed His Father and
the Father That Hath Killed His Son. He is completely dispirited after
these incidents; this gentle man is finally crushed by his world. Only as
he is killed does Henry again come alive on the stage, prophesying the
future crimes of his murderer, in anticipation of the next play in the
cycle, Richard III.
The character and
career of the historical Henry VI are less clearly delineated. While he
was certainly not the strong, activist monarch that his father, Henry V,
had been, it is uncertain how much his courtiers manipulated him. He
possessed the powers of a medieval king and could not be defied if he were
to insist on something. Even in Shakespeare, when he decrees the
banishment of Suffolk, the earl leaves. However, it is uncertain when and
on what points he stood firm, so we cannot know how much he is to blame
for the wartime policies of the 1440s (in Part 1), for the unrest of the
following decade (in Part 2), or for the policies of the civil war period.
It is known that, in the early 1450s, Henry was literally incompetent for
a time, being beset with a mental illness that rendered him speechless and
almost immobile. The playwright chose to ignore this episode (during which
York ruled and the country remained stable and at peace)—perhaps because
it would have aggrandized York, perhaps because he wished to avoid
offending the dignity of a ruler. . .
In any case,
Shakespeare was more concerned with drama than with history, and, as
Henry's character develops through the plays, we can observe the young
playwright learning how to devise a suitable tragic figure whose very
virtues are his undoing. The germ of some of Shakespeare's great
characters is here: a man who is good finds himself in a situation where
his limitations generate an evil that crushes him. In Richard II,
and later in Hamlet and King Lear, the drama can rest upon
this predicament. However, in the Henry VI plays the playwright had
not yet honed his skills so finely and Henry VI can merely speak of his
woeful ineffectuality while the world sweeps him away.
HUMPHREY Duke of
Humphrey, Duke of
Gloucester (1390-1447 is the youngest son of King Henry IV and the brother
of King Henry V and the dukes of Clarence and Lancaster. He is an
important figure in the aristocratic disputes of the Henry VI
plays, presented as the chief cause of the English loss to France in the
Hundred Years War. In the later works, where he is a younger man,
he is a minor character.
In the Henry VI
plays Gloucester engages in a running dispute with his uncle the Bishop of
Winchester. He is depicted as a valorous defender of England's honor,
whereas Winchester is an opportunistic politician. Their feud rages
through 3.1 of Part 1, after which it is replaced in importance by that
between York and Somerset. In Part 2 Gloucester's wife, the Duchess of
Gloucester, is convicted on charges of witchcraft and banished. Then, in
3.1, Gloucester himself is arrested at Burst St. Edmunds, falsely charged
with treason, and killed. Hired murderers flee the scene of the crime at
the beginning of 3.2; the Second Murderer regrets the deed because the
duke's death had been marked by religious penitence.
death the country slides into civil war, and we are meant to see him as
having been the guardian against such an event. In order to magnify the
duke's virtues, two otherwise irrelevant anecdotes are inserted into the
story. In 2.1 Gloucester demonstrates his perceptiveness by exposing the
imposter Simpcox, and in 3.1 he wisely postpones a potentially explosive
issue, York's appointment as regent in France, until a marginally related
dispute can be resolved. These incidents demonstrate the qualities of
prudence and judgment that are shortly to be denied the country by the
Gloucester was very different from the 'good Duke Humphrey' (2 Henry VI,
3.2.322) of these plays. Shakespeare, following his sources and the
established opinion of his own time, was opposed to the political position
of Gloucester's enemies and he thus depicted Humphrey as a patriot.
Winchester headed a 'peace party' that advocated a withdrawal from a war
virtually lost. Gloucester and the 'hawks' of the day, however, insisted
that the war go on. In the History Plays Shakespeare presents the view
that the French were able to drive the English from France only because of
English disunity, and Gloucester's insistence on continuing the war was
taken to demonstrate a patriotic faith in English arms that the 'peace
Gloucester was in
fact selfishly ambitious, quite willing to pursue his own interests at the
expense of the country's, once the restraining influence of Henry V was
gone. After Henry's death Gloucester's power was restricted by a council
of nobles who recognized his headstrong selfishness. He rebelled; the
dispute with Winchester at the Tower of London (1 Henry VI, 1.3)
reflects Gloucester's actual coup attempt of 1425. A year later, he eloped
with the wife of a close friend of the Duke of Burgandy, England's most
important ally, and then recruited an army to support his new wife's
claims. A duel with Burgundy was avoided only by the annulment of the
marriage. This affair was among the grievances that Burgundy cited when he
eventually defected from the English alliance against France. Later
Gloucester scandalously married his mistress, Eleanor Cobham, who, as
Duchess of Gloucester, was found guilty of treason and witchcraft.
No evidence has ever
been offered to support the belief that Gloucester was murdered. Although
he died while in Suffolk's custody, historians generally believe that his
death was natural. No question of murder arose at the time, and Suffolk's
banishment only occurred some years later, for different reasons.
In 2 Henry IV
and Henry V, set years earlier, Gloucester's role is minor. He is
present at his father's deathbed in 4.4 and 4.5 of the first play, and in
5.2 he commiserates with the Chief Justice on the treatment the jurist
expects to receive from the new king, whom he believes is an enemy. In
Henry V Gloucester is an almost anonymous member of the king's
Beaufort, (1374-1447) Historical figure and character in 2 Henry VI,
a leader of the plot against the Duke of Gloucester that dominates the
first half of the play. The Cardinal, the illegitimate son of John of
Gaunt, is a great-uncle of the King and a powerful secular lord in his own
right. (The same historical person appeared in 1 Henry VI as the Bishop of
Winchester, where his rivalry with Gloucester is developed; he is
sometimes referred to in 2 Henry VI as Winchester—as in 1.1.56.) In 1.1
the Cardinal smoothly recruits other noblemen to his cause, accusing
Gloucester, the heir apparent to the throne, of self-interest, turning
against him what should be to his credit—his patriotic anger at the King's
foolish cession of lands in his marriage contract. The Cardinal and
Gloucester agree to fight a duel in 2.1, but they are interrupted. At the
end of that scene, word is brought that Gloucester's wife has been
arrested for witchcraft, and the Cardinal gloats that his rival, abruptly
humiliated, will not have the heart to fight.
himself is arrested for treason, in 3.1, the Cardinal and his confederates
agree that the Duke should be murdered, and the Cardinal volunteers to
hire the murderer, although Suffolk actually performs that deed. After
Gloucester's murder, word is brought to the King that the Cardinal is
dying of a sudden illness. When the King and Warwick visit him in 3.3, he
appears to have a bad conscience. The Cardinal's ravings are not quite
specific but they nonetheless convict him.
Cardinal Beaufort, although he was in fact a rival of Gloucester, was not
his murderer; in fact, Gloucester was probably not murdered at all. The
Cardinal may not even have had anything to do with Gloucester's arrest by
Suffolk, which led to the Duke's death, for Beaufort by this time had
largely abandoned his political role and retired from public life.
Shakespeare's version of the Cardinal's death is pure fiction; he actually
died at home in a normal manner at the age of 73, some months after
Gloucester's death. However, the playwright held the opinion, along with
his sources, that 'good Duke Humphrey had been victimized by his rivals,
and he accordingly made an unscrupulous villain, or Machiavel, of the
Cardinal, who was actually a far more prudent and statesmanlike figure
PLANTAGENET Duke of York
Duke of York (1411-1460) is a claimant to the throne of England against
the Lancastrian branch of the Plantagenets. York attempts to seize the
throne at the end of 2 Henry VI, launching the Ware of the Roses. He
fails, dying early in 3 Henry VI, but his son becomes King Edward
IV. The Yorkist cause thus succeeds, only to be brought to ruin (in
Richard III) by the greedy machinations of York's younger son, Richard
III, who inherits his father's ruthless ambition.
In 1 Henry VI
York's claim to the throne is established. His father, the Earl of
Cambridge, has been executed for treason (as is depicted in Shakespeare's
Henry V) for supporting the royal claims of Edmund Mortimer). The dying
Mortimer bequeaths his claim to York, his nephew, in 2.5 of 1 Henry VI,
thus laying the groundwork for the conflict to come. York feuds with the
Duke of Somerset, even at the expense of military disaster in the Hundred
In 2 Henry VI
York's story is at first overshadowed by that of Humphrey, Duke of
Gloucester, whose murder is seen as making the civil war inevitable. Early
in the play, York reveals his ambition to seize the throne, but this
crafty planner keeps a low profile, even when his appointment as Regent in
France is given to another Somerset, the brother and successor to his old
rival. York participates in the plot against Gloucester, but the chief
conspirators are the Duke of Suffolk and Cardinal Beaufort.
York is placed in
command of an army and sent to crush a revolution in Ireland. He sees that
these troops will permit him an opportunity to seize the crown. Despite
the grand boldness of his scheme and his demands on himself for
extraordinary courage, York's morality is sorely limited; he is prepared
to expend any number of lives in the pursuit of his own ambition. He
arranges for Jack CADE to foment a revolting England, providing an excuse
for him to bring in his army.
rebellion, staged in Act 4, York returns with his army, demanding the
imprisonment of Somerset. When this is not done, he announces his claim to
the throne and proceeds to battle the King's troops at St. Albans. York's
forces are victorious, but the King escapes to London. Thus the civil war
has begun as the play ends.
In 3 Henry VI
York compromises: King Henry will be permitted to rule in his own lifetime
but will pass the crown to York or his heirs. Richard persuades his father
to seize the throne anyway, just as Queen Margaret, who has herself
rejected Henry's deal, arrives with an army. In the ensuing battle, York
is captured; after a dramatic scene (1.4) in which Margaret mocks him
viciously, the Queen and Lord Clifford stab him to death. In his last
moments, York heaps insults on Margaret and weeps over the death of his
young son Rutland, with whose fate the Queen had taunted him.
functions more as a foil for other characters or incidents than as a
well-developed figure himself. In 1 Henry VI his ambitious rivalry with
Somerset functions as a dark backdrop to the upright and patriotic career
of Lord Talbot; in Part 2 his machinations are similarly contrasted with
the fate of 'good Duke Humphrey' of Gloucester. In the latter half of Part
2 and in Part 3, York simply exemplifies aristocratic ambition in a
mechanical manner dependent largely on mere assertion, backed by the
tableaux of the battlefield. Even his death scene serves chiefly to
present Margaret in the vicious, warlike personality she assumes in that
play. Only in his darkly malevolent speeches of Part 2 is he a stimulating
villain, and even then he is overshadowed by Suffolk. In any case, as an
agent of evil York pales before the grand Machiavel that his son Richard
is to embody.
York's function as an
archetype of selfish ambition is achieved at the expense of historical
accuracy. The historical York actually had little role in the action of
1 Henry VI; his presence is magnified in order to prepare for his role
in Parts 2 and 3. The character's rise begins with the return of his
dukedom to him in 3.1 of Part 1, but in fact, York had never been kept
from that title and so could not be restored to it. York and the Duke of
Somerset launch their quarrel in Part I, though in reality the contest
between York and Lancaster was not consequential until many years later.
Further, the quarrel is made the cause of Talbot's defeat and death, but
the divided command depicted by Shakespeare had occurred elsewhere and 10
years earlier. Also, York is assigned elements of the career of the Duke
of Bedford. All of these fictions serve to foreshadow the conflict to
come, establishing as a longstanding feud a rivalry that actually only
developed some years later.
difference between the historical York and Shakespeare's character is a
basic one: York's ambition is presented as a long-meditated plot to usurp
the king's power. In fact, although he was undeniably a powerful figure
who attempted to dominate the political world of England in the 1450s,
York has nonetheless been considerably misrepresented by Shakespeare. He
showed no intention to seize power until very shortly before he actually
attempted to do so in 1455, the action that sparked the fighting at St
Albans. He had competed fiercely with Somerset for power, but only for
power as a minister under King Henry. He seems to have acted to usurp
royal authority only when it became evident that his career and very
possibly his life would be in great danger from Somerset and Margaret if
he did not. Shakespeare has simply eliminated a great deal of intricate
and fascinating politics, most notably any reference to York's capable
rule in 1453-1454, when King Henry was insane and unable to speak.
It was not the
playwright's concern in composing the Henry VI plays to render
history accurately. He depicted unscrupulous aristocratic rivalry leading
to civil war, thus demonstrating the importance of political stability.
One of the ways in which he achieved his end was to make of the Duke of
York a simple paragon of selfish ambition, and his success is demonstrated
in the effectiveness of this fairly one-dimensional character in providing
the impetus for a great deal of complicated action in the three Henry
King Edward IV of
England (1442-1483) is the simply known as Edward until Act 3 in 3
Henry VI, King Edward IV receives his crown as a result of the
machinations of his ambitious father, the Duke of York, and his heirs are
murdered later by his brother, who succeeds him as Richard in.
In 2 Henry VI
Edward appears in 5.1 to support his father in his claim to the throne.
Edward has only one line, which Richard immediately tops. In 3 Henry VI,
although Edward comes into his own, he continues to be overshadowed by his
brother. He becomes King, but the leadership of the Yorkist cause is
clearly provided by Warwick, prior to that lord's defection, and by
Richard. Edward displays the unscrupulous ambition that characterizes the
aristocrats in all the Henry VI plays. He baldly displays his own
dishonesty, claiming that '. . . for a kingdom any oath may be broken: /1
would break a thousand oaths to reign one year' (1.2.16-17). However,
Edward is outclassed in criminality by his brother Richard.
Edward demonstrates a
selfish disregard for the responsibilities of kingship, and his behavior
necessitates a renewal of the Wars of the Roses. He ignores the
benefits of an alliance with France and abandons a marriage to Lady Bonain
order to satisfy his lust for Elizabeth). In the resulting war, he
indulges in pointless bravado and permits himself to be captured in 4.3.
After the final Yorkist victory, Edward casually allows Richard to murder
the finally displaced King Henry, demonstrating a lack of concern for
civil order that typifies England's corrupt public life. In Richard III
Edward appears only in 2.1, on his deathbed. He learns of the death of
Clarence, and his dismay, it is implied, leads to his own rapid demise.
His death is reported in 2.2.
treatment of the reign of Edward IV is extremely unhistorical, for the
playwright wished to emphasize the disruption of English public life that
the coming of the Tudor dynasty repaired. Edward's 22-year tenure is
presented as a rapid succession of quarrels and battles. In fact, though,
Edward was a very competent ruler. He was judiciously merciful to most of
the Lancastrians; he introduced badly needed financial reforms; he
withdrew from France—at the cost of considerable personal popularity, but
to the immense benefit of the country. His marriage to Elizabeth was not
the chief, or even an important, cause of Warwick's rebellion. Although
his lusty appetites, given much emphasis in the play, were well known to
his contemporaries, they do not seem to have interfered with his public
duty, although it has been suggested that over-indulgence in wine and
women may have resulted in his early death.
Richard III, King of
England (1452-1485) is character in 2 and 3 Henry VI and title
character of Richard III. Known simply as Richard or Gloucester
until he is crowned in 4.2 of Richard ///, his ambition never
ceases to drive him towards that moment. Richard is more than simply a
villain; his dazzlingly evil nature, combining viciousness and wit, makes
him as important and valuable to the drama, especially in Richard III,
as any hero. He was Shakespeare's first great creation, marking a
tremendous advance over earlier, more ordinary characters.
Richard makes his
first appearance late in 2 Henry VI, when he is called to support
his father, the Duke of York. His role is minor; he is present chiefly as
a foreshadowing of the sequels to the play. He is nevertheless a cleanly
drawn figure, sardonically epigrammatic. For instance, he encourages
himself in battle with the cry, 'Priests pray for enemies, but princes
kill' (5.2.71). His bold and willfully, even pridefully, cruel nature is
already evident, after only a few lines.
In 1.1 of 3 Henry
VI Richard's extraordinary personality bursts forth. As the nobles
recount their exploits at the battle of St. Albans, Richard abruptly
throws down the head of Somerset, saying, 'Speak thou for me, and tell
them what I did (1.1. 16).' Richard's blood-thirstiness, not unmixed with
dry humor, is evident throughout the play, pointing towards the horrors he
is to commit in Richard III. In his famous soliloquy at the end of
3.2, he describes himself as able to '. . . smile, and murder whiles I
smile'; he will 'set the murderous Machiavel to school' (3.2.182, 193).
Killing the imprisoned King Henry VI, Richard raises'his bloody sword and
sarcastically crows, 'See how my sword weeps for the poor king's death'
(5.6.63). This bloody villain is fully conscious of his own viciousness
and savors it with a cocky irony that seems very modern. At the close of
the play, he even delightedly identifies himself with the arch-traitor of
Christian tradition, Judas Iscariot. Richard's monstrously evil nature is
thoroughly established in 3 Henry VI, in order that it may attain fullest
fruition in Richard III.
In Richard III
the title character has the secondlongest part in all of Shakespeare's
work (only HAMLET speaks more lines). He murders his way to the throne,
killing his brother, his young nephews, his wife, and a number of
political opponents. He is still a spectacular villain, with a fondness
for commenting humorously on his atrocities before committing them. Once
he becomes king, however, his wit and resourcefulness desert him; he
clumsily alienates his allies, and quite simply panics when he first
gleams of the approach of Richmond. In Act 5 he dies in battle, defeated
at Bosworth Worth Field. Richmond's triumph releases England from
the violence and treachery of the Wars of the Roses.
The personality of
Shakespeare's Richard is formed in part by his physical deformity—a
hunched back—referred to many times in the plays, often by Richard
himself. At the end of.? Henry VI, for instance, he says, '. . . since the
heavens have shap'd my body so, / Let hell make crook'd my mind to answer
it' (5.6.78-79). He rationalies his rejection of human loyalties by
theorizing that his physical nature has placed him beyond ordinary
relationships. Thus he can claim, 'I am myself alone' (5.6.83). Others
agree with him: a number of characters associate Richard's deformity with
his evil nature. Queen Margaret, for example, asserts, 'Sin, death, and
hell have set their marks on him . . .' (Richard III, 1.3.293), and
various of his enemies identify him with a range of carnivorous animals
and with such repulsive creatures as spiders, toads, and reptiles.
fascination with Richard derives largely from the disturbing reality that
he has undeniably attractive qualities as well. He has charisma and
self-confidence, and he is plainly quite intelligent. He has great energy
combined with immense self-control, and, probably most tellingly, he is
extremely witty. He cracks a joke even as he plots the murder of his
brother in 1.1.118-120 of Richard III.
admiration even as he repels because he plays to the audience directly.
Through his monologues and asides, he brings us into an almost
conspiratorial intimacy with him. He sometimes tells us what is shortly
going to occur, and then comments on it afterwards. In practicing deceit,
he also takes on different roles, much as an actor does: he plays a loyal
follower of his brother King Edward IV, a lover opposite Lady Anne, a
friend to his brother Clarence, and a pious devotee of religion before the
Mayor and his entourage.
With the collapse of
his fortunes, Richard's personality changes. He loses his resilience and
subtlety; he panics and is disorganized in the face of crisis. We learn
that his sleep is troubled; such insomnia was a traditional consequence
for royal usurpers, and Shakespeare's sources impute it to Richard
conventionally, but the playwright makes more of it, letting both Anne and
Richard himself remark on it, before presenting us with an actual
nightmare vision in 5.3 of Richard III. At this low ebb, Richard
seems almost deranged. He recognizes his terrible isolation from humanity
and despairs, crying out in anguish that his death will neither receive
nor deserve pity from anyone. However, Richard recovers his spirit later
in the scene and leads his men into battle with renewed flippancy.
Richard represents a
well-known type who was a popular figure on the Elizabethan stage, the
grandiose villain, first embodied in Tamburlaine, by Christopher Marlowe,
still popular when Richard III premiered. However, the character
has a longer pedigree than that. The medieval Morality Play featured a
villain figure, the Vice, whose resemblance to characters in Shakespeare
and Marlowe is not coincidental; both writers must have been familiar with
the Vice since childhood. But Richard also incorporates a more modern
archetype, the Machiavel, a calculating politician whose misdeeds are
directed towards particular ends. The Vice's lewd jests and common
horseplay give way to a grave assessment of political interest, although
verbal wit is part of the Machiavel's character. The Machiavel is a
naturalistic figure—a human being, if a depraved one—while the Vice is
more allegorical in nature. Thus Richard's personality has a humanly
believable quality that is lacking in the criminal-king of traditional
It is plain that
Shakespeare's character bears very little resemblance to the actual King
Richard III, who ruled only briefly. Surviving accounts of his times were
written largely by his enemies, and modem scholarship has discovered that
the reality of his reign borelittle resemblance to the version Shakespeare
received and popularized.
Richard has long been
envisioned as the physically repellent hunchback of legend. Thomas More
first wrote of Richard's physical deformity, and Shakespeare followed
suit. However, at his coronation Richard was stripped to the waist for
anointing, in accordance with tradition, and this exposure seems to have
provoked no comment. In fact, a hunched back is nowhere evident in
contemporary portraits or accounts of the man. It appears to have been a
malicious fiction, although Shakespeare surely believed it to be true.
More interesting are the playwright's purposeful alterations of the
historical record as he had it. As was his usual practice, Shakespeare
took many liberties with his already unreliable sources. For instance, at
the end of 2 Henry VI, Richard is made to participate in a battle
that occurred when he was only three years old. Richard actually lived in
exile until after Edward was crowned. His part in history did not begin
until the battle of Barnet, enacted in Act 5 of 3 Henry VI.
Shakespeare wrote him into the action earlier, in order to begin to
approach the grand denouncement in Richard III, which he must have
foreseen as he wrote the Henry VI plays. Richard also provides an
interesting foil for Edward's tenderer character.
introduction is magnified by giving Richard the desire to rule long before
the question arises in the sources. Shakespeare's Richard begins to think,
'How sweet a thing it is to wear a crown' (3 Henry VI, 1.2.29),
fully 23 years before he comes to put one on. Not only does this generate
a long, slow rise in tension, but it also emphasizes Richard's nefarious
ambition early. Thus, when he is finally brought down, the resolution of
England's predicament is a clear one: Richard's career has been so
strikingly criminal that his death stimulates no further fighting in
revenge. The historical Richard was a very different man, innocent of
most, if not all, of the crimes imputed to him. Shakespeare's sources
attributed the murder of Henry VI to Richard, and the playwright added
urgency to his villain's action by inventing an impetuous journey to
London for the purpose. Modern scholars hold that Edward gave the order
for the ex-king's death; Richard, as Constable of England, would have been
responsible for seeing the order carried out. Henry's son, the Prince of
Wales, murdered by Richard and his brothers in 5.5 of,? Henry VI, actually
died in battle. Richard appears to have opposed the execution of Clarence,
which was definitely Edward's doing, historically. Richard's wife. Lady
Anne, died naturally.
That Richard did
seize the throne is indisputable; that he had long plotted to that end
seems unlikely. He could not have anticipated Edward's death at 40, and he
seems to have been committed to a career as a ranking prince. He was
clearly a trusted and reliable subordinate to his brother, governing the
difficult northern provinces with marked success for 12 years. Edward had
named Richard, the obvious choice, to serve as Protector after his death,
ruling for his son, the Prince of Wales. But when Edward died, Queen
Elizabeth and her relatives attempted a coup, keeping the news of the
king's death from his brother, assembling military forces, and arrangeing
for the Prince's hasty coronation. However, Richard overcame these
manoeuvres and assumed his role as Protector. He apparently had plans for
Parliamentary confirmation of this arrangement, along with the boy's later
coronation, when another coup was attempted. Richard crushed this plot,
but he now decided to forestall a third coup by taking the crown himself.
It is impossible, with the evidence that is known today, to reconstruct
the events of June 1483 precisely, but, as far as history indicates, this
marks the beginning of the process that Shakespeare presents as starting
two decades earlier. Also, Richard III compresses Richard's
two-year reign into a few frantic weeks. He seems to have been a quite
competent king, though the shortness of his troubled reign makes judgment
difficult. Shakespeare was unconcerned with the strengths or weaknesses of
Richard as ruler; he simply wanted to introduce Richard's splendid crash
immediately after his seeming success.
Richard may or may
not have murdered Edward's two sons. Once presumed guilty—at least in good
part on the strength of Shakespeare's evidence—Richard has attracted
defenders in recent years. It has been observed that, once securely in
power, he did not need to have them killed; that the Duke of Buckingham,
thought to have coveted the crown himself, had a better motive; that
Richmond, as Henry VII, might well have killed them, as he did a number of
other possible pretenders to the crown. However, the two youths were
never seen again after entering the Tower in 1483, and responsibility must
lie with Richard.
This does not make
him the fierce killer of the plays, of course; if he did have the princes
murdered, he was simply following a fairly ordinary political convention
of the day. However, what Shakespeare's rendering of Richard's career
lacks in historical validity, it more than makes up for in theatrical
success. Richard as a magnificent evildoer has entered our cultural
consciousness, and there he remains; we can hardly wish it otherwise.
Edmund Beaufort, Duke
of Somerset (1406-1455) is a Lancastrian rival of the Duke of York).
Edmund is the younger brother of John Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset in
1 Henry VI, inherited both the rivalry and the title after John's
death in 1444. The Somerset-York feud is a central feature in 1 Henry
VI; however, 2 Henry VI focuses first on the fall of the Duke
of Gloucester and later on the sudden rebelliousness of York, and this
Somerset is a relatively minor figure.
He is sufficiently
consequential, however, that the Duchess of Gloucester, seeking political
advice from the supernatural world, questions a Spirit about his future in
1.4. It is prophesied that Somerset should fear castles, a warning that at
the time seems incomprehensible. In 1.3 Somerset is appointed the King's
Regent in France, and he reappears in 3.1 to announce the loss of France,
evidencing the harm that infighting among ambitious noblemen has done to
England. When York returns from Ireland with an army, he demands
Somerset's imprisonment. Somerset volunteers to go to the Tower if the
king wishes, and York is placated. However, York encounters Somerset,
still free, in 5.1 and takes the fact as cause for an armed rebellion. In
the ensuing battle, the first of the Wars of the Roses, Somerset is killed
by York's son beneath a tavern sign depicting a castle, thus fulfilling
the prophecy. (In 1.1 of 3 Henry VI, Richard displays Somerset's
head as a demonstration of his prowess in battle.)
One theme of 2 Henry
VI is the death of' good Duke Humphrey' at the hands of scheming nobles,
who thereby deprived England of its only chance of avoiding the civil war
that erupted during Henry's weak reign. Shakespeare desired to compress
the events that led to that war, and he eclipsed Somerset's political
importance in the process. Somerset was the favorite of Queen Margaret
after the fall of Suffolk in 1450. However, Somerset had been the
commander under whom Normandy was lost in the late 1440s, and he was
Henry's chief minister in 1453, when England was irrevocably defeated in
southern France. He was therefore in extreme disfavor at the time. So,
even though Margaret would have preferred Somerset to act as Regent in the
summer of 1453, when King Henry succumbed to a disabling form of insanity,
his unpopularity with both the aristocracy and the public inhibited her,
and York was given the post. He governed well and faithfully until late in
1454, when the King recovered. At this point, Somerset was restored to
office, and it was this action, probably taken at Margaret's insistence,
that led York to gather an army and eventually declare himself king.
Shakespeare thus omits several years of intricate political maneuvering in
order to clarify York's drive for the throne.
William de la Pole,
Earl of Suffolk, later Duke (1396-1450) is an ambitious nobleman. Suffolk
attempts to control King Henry VI through his influence on Queen Margaret,
whose marriage to Henry he engineers in I Henry VI With Cardinal Beaufort
Suffolk leads the plot against Duke Humphrey of Gloucester and personally
engineers his murder The downfall and death of 'good Duke Humphrey'
presented as a man whose judgment and honesty might have saved the country
from the Wars of the Roses, dominates the first half of 2 Henry VI
Suffolk is thus largely responsible for a national catastrophe and he is
accordingly treated as an arch-villain calculatingly treacherous and
unscrupulous, who will stop at nothing.
In 1 Henry VI
Suffolk emerges as a figure of importance for the first time in 5.3. He
has captured Margaret of Anjou in battle and has fallen in love with her
on sight. Plotting to make her his paramour although he is already
married, he decides to marry her to King Henry. He offers her a bargain;
he will make her Queen of England if she will be his lover She defers to
her father, Reignier, who demands the cession of two territories, Anjou
and Maine, before he will give his consent. Suffolk agrees to arrange it.
In 5.5 Suffolk overcomes the scruples of the Duke of Gloucester and
convinces the king to break a previous marriage agreement and wed Margaret
Suffolk closes the play with a soliloquy in which he proposes to rule the
kingdom through Margaret when she is queen. Thus Suffolk's ambition lays
the groundwork for the disasters of the civil strife to come.
At the outset of 2
Henry VL Suffolk presents Margaret to Henry, who is delighted with his
bride, although the terms of the marriage contract include the cession of
Anjou and Maine, to the anger and disgust of the assembled nobility.
Suffolk's capacity for intrigue is immediately made evident in 1.2, when
the renegade priest Hume, having agreed to recruit sorcerers for the
Duchess of Gloucester, reveals that he is being paid by Suffolk to set the
Duchess up for arrest and prosecution. (The Duchess' seance produces a
prediction that Suffolk will die by water.) In 1.3 Suffolk takes advantage
of the minor episode of the armorer Horner to embarrass the Duke of York,
a potential rival. When Margaret complains to Suffolk of the arrogance of
various nobles, he replies that his plots will conquer all her enemies.
One of them, the Duchess is banished in the next scene. In 3.1, after
Gloucester has been arrested for treason, Suffolk urges that he be
murdered by any means necessary, lest he be acquitted of the charge.
Suffolk hires the Murderers, and we see him arranging to pay them in 3.2.
However, he has gone too far; King Henry, stimulated by a furious reaction
from the Commons and his own grief at Gloucester's death banishes Suffolk
from England for life. Suffolk proceeds to vent his anger with a
bloodcurdling series of imprecations on his foes (3.2.308-327).
The farewells of
Suffolk and Margaret at the end of 3.2 reveal their passionate love.
Shakespeare often as here, made a point to emphasize the complexities of
human character by evoking some sympathy for a villain. We can,
astonishingly, forget Suffolk's viciousness for a moment as he laments the
prospect of dying without Margaret.
Suffolk comes to an
appropriate end. We see him for the last time, on a beach in Kent, as the
prisoner of pirates who have captured the ship carrying him into exile.
The Lieutenant of the pirates assigns each captive to a different crewman,
who can collect a ransom for each life. However, the pirate who receives
Suffolk has lost an eye in the battle for the ship-he wants vengeance and
proposes to kill his prisoner' He identifies himself as Walter Whitmore,
and, as Walter was pronounced 'water' by the Elizabethans, Suffolk sees
that his death could fulfill the prophecy made to the Duchess of
Gloucester in 1.4. The Lieutenant proves to be an English patriot who
detests Suffolk for the damage his ambitions have done the English cause
in France, and he recites Suffolk's political offences in virulent terms
before turning him over to Whitmore for execution. Suffolk dies with an
arrogant courage that can be admired.
Suffolk was a grasping, ambitious, and extortionate aristocrat, but he
probably did not earn the place he occupies in Shakespeare and in the
chronicles that were the playwright's sources. He was an inept general and
unsuccessful minister who bore some of the responsibility for the loss of
France at the end of the Hundred Years War, and he did receive a dukedom,
which he abused monstrously, for his role in arranging the marriage of
Henry and Margaret. But his love affair with the queen is entirely
fictitious, based on a passing remark in the chronicle of Edward Hall. The
cession of Anjou and Maine occurred some time after the marriage, on the
king's initiative; while Henry was doubtless influenced by Margaret, who
was possibly supported by Suffolk, the duke did not arrange the matter
himself. Suffolk was Gloucester's enemy, and he instituted his arrest at
Bury St. Edmunds. Edmunds, having called Parliament to that remote
location, within his own territories, in order to do so. But Gloucester
was probably not murdered, although rumor immediately and ever after laid
his death to Suffolk. In any case, Suffolk was neither charged nor
punished; in fact, his position grew stronger than ever after the deaths
of Gloucester and Cardinal Beaufort. Not until three years later, when
Normandy was finally and irrevocably lost, did Suffolk's enemies find
their opportunity to undo him, and even then he was banished for only five
years, not life. However, as in the play, his ship was captured by another
one, whose crew took it upon themselves to execute the man they believed
had slain 'good Duke Humphrey'. This murder proved to be the opening event
in the revolt of Kentishmen led by Jack Cade .
Stafford, Duke of Buckingham (d. 1455) Historical figure and character in
2 Henry VI, an ally of the Duke of Suffolk against Gloucester and
later of King Henry VI against the Duke of York. Buckingham enters
Suffolk's conspiracy cheerfully, nominating himself as a possible
replacement for Gloucester as Lord Protector (1.1.177-178). When the
Duchess of Gloucester is driven from the assembled court by Queen
Margaret, Buckingham volunteers to follow her, remarking that the woman's
anger will make her 'gallop far enough to her destruction' (1.3.151), and
in the next scene, indeed, Buckingham is able to arrest the Duchess for
witchcraft. When Gloucester himself is arrested, Buckingham impatiently
urges on the action (3.1.186-187). In 4.4 Buckingham counsels the King
during the rebellion led by Jack Cade, and, with Clifford, he later (4.8)
defuses that uprising by presenting the rebels with the King's offer of
pardon. In 5.1 he acts as the King's representative to the Duke of York.
Shakespeare's peremptory, sharp-spoken Buckingham rings one of the notes
of individual personality among the group of fractious nobles that mark
this play as an improvement over 1 Henry VI.
Buckingham died in the battle of Northampton, and his death is noted in
3 Henry VI (1.1), though it is placed at the battle of St. Albans,
fought at the close of 2 Henry VI. His son, Henry, Duke of
Buckingham, figures in Richard III. Bullcalf, Peter Minor character in
2 Henry IV, one of the men whom Falstaff recruits for the army in 3.2.
Bullcalf claims to be ill, despite the robust appearance his name
suggests, but he is recruited anyway. However, his friend Ralph Mouldy
secures release for them both by bribing Corporal Bardolph. The episode
satirizes the notoriously corrupt practices of 16th-century recruiters.
LORD CLIFFORD (CLIFFORD)
Lord Thomas Clifford (1414-1455) is a backer of King
Henry VI against the claims of the Duke of York. Clifford first appears as
a representative of the King, offering a pardon to the rebel followers of
Jack Cade in 4.8. Following York's declaration of rebellion in 5.1,
Clifford supports the King and exchanges insults and challenges with the
Earl of Warwick, but in the ensuing first battle of St. Albans, he is
killed by York. His son. Young Clifford, on seeing his father's corpse,
vows revenge on the followers of York, anticipating events in 3 Henry
VI. In a famous instance of Shakespeare's carelessness, Clifford's
death is reported in different ways in 3 Henry VI. In 1.1.9, it is
stated that Clifford was killed by common soldiers, which almost surely is
historically accurate. However, in 1.3.5 and 1.3.46, his son declares that
he was killed by York. The playwright was following separate accounts in
his sources, making good dramatic use of the son's reported
remark—probably a rhetorical one—and forgetting to omit the altogether
more plausible version.
Lord John Clifford
(c. 1435-1461) is the obsessed avenger of his father's death, who kills
both the Duke of York and his young son, Rutland. As Young Clifford, this
character appears briefly in Act 5 of 2 Henry VI as a supporter of
King Henry VI against the Duke of York and as a participant in the battle
of St. Albans. On the battlefield, he sees the dead body of his father,
Thomas Clifford, whom York has killed, and he delivers a famous speech
(5.2.40-65), a rhetorical comparison of this death with the last judgment,
closing with a vow of revenge that prefigures some of the most dramatic
action in 3 Henry VI.
In the later play
Clifford's bloodthirsty quest for revenge reflects the bestiality that
England's aristocracy has descended to as the civil war progresses.
'Patience is for poltroons', he cries (1.1.62), when King Henry tries to
placate an angry earl. In 1.3, when he encounters Rutland, a child
attempting to flee the battle of Wakefield, he kills the boy, despite his
pleas for mercy, citing his own father's death as justification. When York
is captured in 1.4, Queen Margaret can only with difficulty restrain
Clifford long enough to enjoy herself tormenting her enemy with an account
of Rutland's murder. Finally, unable to wait any longer, Clifford kills
York also. In 2.2, before the battle of Towton, Clifford chastises King
Henry for his 'harmful pity' in a speech filled with the animal imagery
that contributes to the impression of savagery that runs so strongly
throughout the play. Ironically, it is another bloody deed by Clifford
that costs his side the battle: when Warwick hears that Clifford has
killed his brother, that seemingly defeated leader is aroused and inspires
the Yorkists to rally and win the day. In 2.6 Clifford appears, wounded in
this battle, to deliver a death-bed speech in which he regrets the
weakness of the monarch that has brought the country to this bloody pass.
He recognizes that his enemies are upon him, and he dies daring them to
wreak their vengeance on him. When they recognize him, before they realize
he is dead, they taunt and mock him.
Shakespeare took his
account of Clifford's revenge on Rutland from Hall, but it is entirely
unhistorical. Rutland was not a child; he was an officer in the Yorkist
army. While he did die at Wakefield, it was never known who killed him.
Moreover, it is not known who killed Clifford's father at St Albans
either; he died in the\hick of the battle, as the playwright also reports
in 3 Henry VI (in 1.1.9), in a famous instance of Shakespearean
carelessness. Lastly, Clifford did not die at Towton, but in a skirmish
several days earlier. He was struck in the neck by an arrow, as in the
play, but was reported at the time to have died instantly.
Richard Neville, Earl
of (Salisbury 1400-1460) is a patriotic nobleman, distinguished from the
selfishly ambitious aristocrats around him. In 1.1 Salisbury and his son,
the Earl of Warwick, determine to support the Duke of Gloucester, an
honest and capable minister, against his enemies. In general, Salisbury is
overshadowed by Warwick, who is to be a major figure in 3 Henry VI.
For example, in 3.2 Salisbury, speaking for the enraged Commons, demands
that Suffolk be punished for Gloucester's murder. However, it was Warwick,
a hundred lines earlier, who had established Suffolk's guilt.
moment comes in 5.1, when he announces his support of York's claim to the
throne. Reminded by King Henry VI of his oath of allegiance, Salisbury
replies, It is great sin to swear unto a sin, /But greater sin to keep a
sinful oath ...' (5.1.182-183).
Salisbury was the son of the Earl of Westmoreland, who appears in 1 and 2
Henry IV. He was also the son-in-law, and thus successor to the title, of
the Salisbury who dies at the siege of Orleans in 1 Henry VI.
Shakespeare distorted Salisbury's political career considerably. Although
he was not an enemy of Gloucester, he was not a notable ally of that lord
either. As a great magnate of northern England, Salisbury was rather more
limited in his concerns than the patriot depicted in 2 Henry VI.
His chief rivals were the Percy family, of neighboring Northumberland, and
he did not become close to York until, well after most of the events in
the play, York's rival, Somerset, fell into a dispute over land with
Warwick. As Somerset's enemy, York became the Nevilles' friend, and the
family allied itself with York in time for the beginning of the Wars of
the Roses. Salisbury was later captured at the battle of Wakefield and
executed at Pomfret Castle, although this is not mentioned when the battle
occurs in 3 Henry VI.
The early backing of
York's cause by Warwick and Salisbury in 2 Henry VI seems intended
to show how even the apparently upright patriots among the aristocracy
became caught in the web of hypocrisy and falsehood that pervades all of
these plays. It also serves to foreshadow Warwick's importance as the
chief Yorkist in 3 Henry VI. It is sometimes argued on textual
grounds that Salisbury originally had a small role in 1.2 of 3 Henry VI,
but that the character was eliminated, perhaps before any performance was
given, as a measure of economy for the acting company, and Salisbury's
lines were given to Montague.
Richard Neville, Earl
of Warwick (1428-1471) is the chief backer of the Duke of York and then
the leader of an effort to dethrone York's son Edward IV after he has
become King. The Earl of Warwick in 1 Henry VI was his
father-in-law, Richard Beauchamp, and Shakespeare confused the two. Early
in 2 Henry VI, Shakespeare has Neville laying claim to certain of
Beauchamp's military accomplishments (1.1.118-120).
The young nobleman of
2 Henry VI is a bold, hot tempered soldier, unswerving in his devotion to
serving the cause of right. A proud and spirited youth, Warwick is
unafraid to contradict such high-ranking lords as Cardinal Beaufort. Like
his father, the Earl of Salisbury, he seeks the good of England rather
than personal advancement, in contrast to the other aristocrats. York
confides in the Nevilles his intention to seize the throne, claiming
descent from Richard II, whose crown had been usurped by Henry VI's
grandfather. Warwick and his father agree to support York, accepting the
validity of his right to rule. In Act 5 Warwick distinguishes himself as a
warrior, fighting with York's forces at the opening battle of the Wars
of the Roses. He closes the play exulting in their success and hoping
for more to come, thus anticipating the action of 3 Henry VI.
It is in the later
play that Warwick becomes a major figure in the wars. After York is
murdered by Queen Margaret, Warwick becomes the leading lieutenant for the
Duke's sons. He boosts their spirits, encouraging Edward to claim the
throne himself, and he leads them to war against Margaret. When the battle
of Towton is all but lost, Warwick's rousing vow to revenge the death of
his brother restores Yorkist morale and the day is saved.
Edward is crowned and Warwick seems to have accomplished his goal. He goes
to France and negotiates a political marriage for Edward, thus securing
the Yorkist position by acquiring a strong ally. However, his arrangements
are peremptorily cancelled when word arrives that Edward has married an
English commoner, who becomes Queen Elizabeth. Warwick, furious that his
plans have been dismissed and that his promises to the French king have
been dishonored, immediately allies himself with Margaret and the
displaced Henry VI. He succeeds in capturing Edward and restoring Henry to
the throne, but Edward escapes and himself captures Henry. In 5.2 Warwick
is mortally wounded at the battle of Aarnet. He dies musing on the
insignificance of his former power and influence.
Warwick, known as the 'kingmaker', was indeed the chief architect of
Yorkist success, and Shakespeare's account of his drive and ambition ring
true. However, in his need to compress the sequence of historical events,
the playwright distorted the developments behind Warwick's defection to
Margaret, which in the play seems so sudden as to be almost frivolous.
Shakespeare preserved the essential features of the story, but Warwick's
motives were rather more complicated and humanly interested than those of
the fickle figure in the play.
Relations between the
kingmaker and his former protege became strained once Edward was in power.
Although Warwick disapproved of Edward's marriage, it did not occur while
he was in Paris arranging another one; nor was it the principal cause of
their split, which did not occur until years later. The two fought over
foreign policy, and Warwick's opinions were increasingly ignored.
Moreover, when Warwick tried to arrange a marriage between his daughter
and Edward's brother George, the king angrily rejected the idea. In 1469,
eight years after Edward's coronation, George and Warwick staged a coup.
Warwick ruled for nine months in Edward's name, but the king gathered
loyalist supporters and drove the usurpers from the kingdom. It was at
this point that Warwick, desperate, accepted the proposition of King
Lewis, Louis XI of France, that he ally himself with Margaret and restore
Henry to the throne. Accordingly, his other daughter, Anne, was betrothed
to the onetime Prince of Wales, Margaret and Henry's son. As in the play,
this alliance briefly placed Henry back on the throne before losing the
battle of Barnet, where Warwick did indeed die.
Lord Thomas Scales
(d. 1460) is the commander of the Tower of London during the rebellion led
by Jack Cade in 4.5. Scales, whose historical role is accurately
presented, helps drive the rebels from London. Scales is also mentioned in
passing in 1 Henry VI as having been captured by the French
(1.1.146), as indeed he had been historically.
Lord James Finnes
Say, (d. 1450) is the treasurer of England who is captured and killed by
Jack Cade’s rebels. Lord Say is presented as a noble and courageous man
who volunteers to stay in London when the rebels approach in 4.4, although
he knows that they particularly hate him, for unspecified reasons. He
refuses to retreat with the king, lest his presence endanger the monarch.
Seized by the rebels and taken before their leader in 4.7, Say is roundly
insulted by Cade and accused of deeds ordinarily considered good, such as
founding a school. He pleads his own virtues, but is beheaded by the
incorporated this merciless execution of a patently good man into his
version of Cade's rebellion in order to paint it as thoroughly evil. Just
as the reality of the revolt was different, so was Say a different sort of
nobleman than the one depicted here. He was a widely despised landowner in
Kent, greedy and oppressive, and a close associate of the equally detested
Duke of Suffolk. Moreover, as Treasurer, he was generally held responsible
for the high taxes necessitated by the same misrule that had sparked the
rebellion. When the rebels neared London, the King's government did not
hesitate to imprison Say in the Tower as a sop to public sentiment before
fleeing itself. When the rebels were welcomed into the city, one of their
first acts was to execute Say, who made no defence that was recorded.
Sir Humphrey Stafford
(d. 1450) is a nobleman sent, in 4.2, to deal with the rebellion led by
Jack Cade. An arrogant aristocrat, Stafford takes the position least
likely to defuse an uprising, addressing the mob as Rebellious hinds, the
filth and scum of Kent.' (4.2.116). He and his Brother are killed in the
skirmish that follows in 4.3. Stafford was not related to the Duke of
Buckingham, another figure in the play, although he bore the same name.
Brother of Sir Humphrey. He
accompanies Sir Humphrey on a mission to put down the revolt led by Jack
Cade. The brother supports Stafford in his undiplomatic approach to
the rebels in 4.2; they are both killed in the skirmish in 4.3.
Sir John Stanley is a
nobleman to whose castle on the Isle of Man the Duchess of Gloucester is
banished in 2 3. In 2.4 Sir John escorts the Duchess from London after she
has been humiliated by being paraded through the streets. He is
sympathetic to her for her husband's sake, and promises to treat her 'Like
to a duchess, and Duke Humphrey's lady' (2.4.98). The Isle of Man, in the
middle of the Irish Sea, is remote and isolated even now; in the 15th
century it was an ideal place of exile. Sir Thomas Stanley inherited the
island from his father, Sir John, with whom Shakespeare confused him. John
had received it in 1406 from Henry IV, as a reward for supporting the
deposition of Richard II.
Sir William Vaux (d.
1471) is a messenger who announces the terminal illness of Cardinal
Beaufort in 3.2. Vaux gives a vivid account of the Cardinal's guilty
raving about the murder of the Duke of Gloucester. The historical Sir
William Vaux was a minor member of the entourage of the Cardinal. He later
died fighting for Henry VI at the battle of Tewkesbury. His son was the
Sir Nicholas Vaux who appears in Henry VIII, and his grandson was
the poet Sir Thomas Vaux.
Matthew Goffe (d.
1450) In 4.5, during the battle to drive Jack Cade’s rebels from London,
Lord Scales asserts that he will assign Goffe to a sector of the fighting,
and, in a stage direction at the beginning of 4.7, Goffe is said to be
killed in a skirmish. The historical Gough, a renowned warrior in the
French wars, had shared command of the Tower of London with Scales, and he
was indeed killed while fighting the rebels. His phantom presence in the
play may reflect an actual appearance that was deleted in a revision.
following the Contention, or Bad Quarto, assign this rank to the
Lieutenant, who appears in 4.1. This small difference presumably resulted
from an actor or viewer's assumption that the leader of the pirates would
be called their captain. The Quarto presents a reconstruction of the play
from memory, while the Lieutenant's rank in the First Folio edition and
its successors is believed to come from the original manuscript.
The master is a petty officer on a pirate
ship. In 4.1 the Lieutenant of the ship awards to the master the
ransom of a Gentleman. One of several captured by the pirates.|
Walter Whitmore is a
sailor on a pirate ship and the executioner of the Duke of Suffolk in 4.1.
The Lieutenant of the vessel gives Whitmore the authority to collect a
ransom from Suffolk, whom the pirates have captured from another ship.
Whitmore, having lost an eye in the battle for the ship, wants revenge,
not ransom, and lie insists, over the Lieutenant's protests, that he will
kill Suffolk. When he identifies himself by name, it is as 'Water'
Whitmore, the Elizabethan pronunciation of his name, and Suffolk is
reminded of the prediction made by a Spirit in 1.4 that he would die by
water. When the Lieutenant learns who Suffolk is, he denounces the Duke's
political crimes and sends him with Whitmore to be beheaded. Whitmore
returns with Suffolk's head and body and gives them to a released
prisoner, a Gentleman, who is to take them to London.
||Either one of
two gentlemen who are captured with the Duke of Suffolk. After the
gentlemen agree to pay their ransom, Suffolk is executed and one of the
gentlemen is released to deliver the ransom messages to London and he
delivers Suffolk's severed head as proof to Queen Margaret.
John Hume (active
1441) is a dishonest priest who arranges to hire a witch, Margery Jourdain,
and two sorcerers, John Southwell and Roger Bolingbroke, for the Duchess
of Gloucester. The Duchess wishes to read the future so that she can
prepare for a possible coup against King Henry VI. In 1.2 Hume reveals in
a soliloquy that he is also in the pay of the Duke of Suffolk, who seeks
the Duchess' downfall as part of his campaign against her husband, the
Duke of Gloucester. Consequently, Hume's information leads to the arrest
of the Duchess, along with that of Hume and the magicians, at a seance in
1.4. Hume's confederacy with Suffolk does him little good, for the king
sentences him to death in 2.3 for his part- in the plot. Historically,
Hume, whose first name was actually Thomas, was pardoned, for reasons that
the chronicles do not specify; there is, however, no evidence that he was
an agent of Gloucester's enemies. Shakespeare's reason for omitting Hume's
pardon, seemingly appropriate to his presentation, is not apparent.
Perhaps the playwright intended a subtle intimation of treachery on
Suffolk's part. Or this may simply be an instance of the petty
inconsistencies to which the playwright was persistently susceptible.
John Southwell (d.
1441) is a sorcerer whom Hume employs, along with Bolingbroke and Margery
Jourdain, to summon a spirit for the Duchess of Gloucester, who wishes to
see the future to prepare for a possible coup. In a seance in 1.4
Southwell helps Bolingbroke to cast a magic spell that summons the spirit
Asnath, who answers questions about the king and a certain noblemen.
Southwell is arrested, along with his fellows and their client, by the
dukes of York and Buckingham. In 2.3 the king sentences him to be
strangled. The historical Southwell was a priest. He died in prison the
night before his scheduled execution.
Roger Bolingbroke (d.
1441) is a sorcerer who, along with John Southwell and Margery Jourdain,
is hired by Hume to summon and question a spirit for the Duchess of
Gloucester, who wishes to know the prospects for a coup. Bolingbroke
addresses the spirit, Asnath. He asks it questions, provided by the
duchess, about the futures of the king and nobles. They are all arrested
by the dukes of York and Buckingham. In 2.3 the king sentences Bolingbroke
to be strangled. The historical Bolingbroke was a priest. His execution
was of a sort reserved for particularly heinous criminals: he was hanged
and then publicly disemboweled and quartered.
Thomas Horner is an
armorer who is reported to have remarked that his client the Duke of York
was 'rightful heir to the crown' (1.3.26). Homer's apprentice, Peter,
informs the Duke of Suffolk of Homer's assertion, and Suffolk brings them
both before the court in an effort to embarrass York. Horner denies
Peter's assertion, and a trial by combat is ordered by the Duke of
Gloucester, the Lord Protector. Thus a potentially explosive issue is
postponed and diverted into what will prove a minor spectacle for the
court. Also, at Gloucester's recommendation, the reappointment of York as
Regent of France is withheld until this question should cool off. Thus the
episode serves to illustrate Gloucester's qualities of prudence and
discretion—ironically not long before his downfall.
expected to win the combat against the cowardly Peter, arrives at the
contest drunk in 2.3 and is slain by his apprentice. Dying, he confesses
that Peter's account had been true, and the apprentice is exonerated.
Although the combat is not treated seriously by the court, it prefigures
York's rebellion in the Wars of the Roses, which begins later in
Peter is an
apprentice to an armorer, Thomas Horner. In 1.3 Peter reports that his
master has said that the Duke of York is 'rightful heir to the crown'
(1.3.26). This bit of hearsay is seized upon by the Duke of Suffolk, who
accuses York of treason and has Peter repeat his account later in the
scene. Homer denies having said such a thing, and the question is referred
to a trial by combat. This procedure, a judicious postponement of a
potentially explosive issue, is ordered by the Lord Protector, the Duke of
Gloucester. In the meantime, at Gloucester's suggestion, York's
reappointment as Regent of France is postponed until the matter is
resolved. Thus, as his downfall approaches, 'good Duke Humphrey' is given
an opportunity to display the qualities of prudence and judgment that are
shortly to be denied the country through the selfish ambitions of Suffolk
Although Peter is
desperately afraid to fight, Homer arrives for the contest drunk in 2.3,
and Peter slays him. The dying armorer confesses the truth of Peter's
report, and the apprentice is exonerated. Although the nobles do not take
this clownish incident seriously, the episode prefigures York's actual
treason, which sparks the Wars of the Roses, later in the play.
Clerk of Chatham.
Clerk is a victim
executed by the rebels led by Jack Cade. Cade and his men are suspicious
of the clerk's literacy, which they construe as a sign of hostility
towards the peasantry. They are particularly infuriated by the fact that
his given name is Emmanuel, a word often used to head legal documents.
Cade orders him hung 'with his pen and ink-horn about his neck'
(4.2.103-104). The incident is one of several that Shakespeare uses to
depict Cade's rebellion as an anarchic uprising by ignorant peasants
concerned only with killing their betters, although historically this was
not the case.
Mayor of Saint Alban's.
accompanies Simpcox, a confidence man who is presented to the king's
hawking party in 2.1.
Saunder Simpcox is an
imposter who claims to have been blind and had his sight miraculously
restored. The gullible villagers of St. Albans present him to the king's
hawking party and the equally credulous Henry VI begins to congratulate
him, but the Duke of Gloucester exposes the fraud through clever
interrogation. Simpcox, who has also said he is lame, is whipped on
Gloucester's orders, and he naturally runs away from the whipper, further
revealing his imposture. Gloucester orders Simpcox and his Wife to be
whipped through every town until they arrive at the remote village they
have claimed to come from. The incident, besides providing a bit of low
comedy, was intended by Shakespeare to demonstrate the sound judgment of
(active 1450) is a landowner who kills the rebel Jack Cade, who has hidden
in his garden, in 4.10. Iden represents an ideal of the English country
gentleman and small landowner. He is the very opposite of the subversive
and destructive Cade, and also of the scheming noblemen whose ambitions
are the chief business of the play. We see Iden before he knows of Cade's
presence, enjoying his garden and rejoicing in his lot. Challenged by the
desperate and angry Cade, Iden refuses to send for help. They fight, and
Iden kills Cade, cursing the rebel as he does so. In 5.1 he presents King
Henry VI with Cade's head and is knighted. Shakespeare created this
paragon of the minor gentry from a bare mention of Cade's killer in the
chronicles. The historical Iden was a sheriff of Kent who presumably
killed Cade for the sizeable bounty that was offered for the rebel's head,
which he in fact collected.
Jack Cade (d. 1450)
is the leader of a rebellion and pretender to the throne of England. Cade,
whose revolt occupies most of Act 4, is presented as a buffoonish but
brutal figure. He makes preposterous promises to his followers and
proposes to legislate on such matters as the length of Lent. He also
whimsically executes people for being literate or for being ignorant of an
arbitrary change in his title. He enthusiastically seconds a follower s
proposal: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers' (4.2.73). In
the case of Lord Say, the victim s actual virtues, such as having been a
benefactor of education, are used by Cade as grounds for his death. Cade
orders the destruction of London Bridge the Tower of London, and the Inns
of Court as well' All this viciousness is explained as having been
commissioned by the Duke of York in order to give him a reason to bring an
army into England and suppress the rebels.
In presenting this
episode, Shakespeare took remarkable liberties with history, for not only
did the historical York have nothing to do with Cade's rebellion, but the
uprising itself is based in part on accounts ot a different event, the
Peasants' Rebellion of 1381 when there were attempts to destroy London
Bridge and the Inns of Court. The proposal to kill the lawyers ( also
dates from the earlier revolt, which was a much more anarchic and bloody
affair than the one actually led by Cade.
The historical Cade
was probably Irish; he had married into a minor landholding family in Kent
and the rebels he led were lesser gentry, artisans, and tradesmen-that is,
members of the nascent middle class. Their revolt was intended to achieve
well defined ends that were expressed in a document, the Complaint of the
Commons of Kent', which demonstrates an informed awareness of real
political problems. It refers to the loss of France and subsequent Kentish
business losses, and to excessive taxation and the extravagance of the
royal household. It complains of the dominance of the Duke of Suffolk
among the King's councilors, for Suffolk was hated in Kent as an
unreasonable and extortionate magnate.
As Cade and his men
approached London, in June 1450, they ambushed a party of royal troops and
killed the commander, Sir Humphrey Stafford and his Brother, as in the
play. At this point, the royal government placed Lord Say in the Tower of
London as a sop to popular sentiment, and fled to the countryside. (Say
was a widely detested Kentish landowner and no model aristocrat, as
Shakespeare presents him. On July 4, the people of London welcomed the
rebels into the city, and Say was taken from the Tower and executed. After
several days, the Kentishmen had seemingly worn out their welcome, for the
citizens aided by the Tower guards under Lord Scales who appears in the
play, drove them south across the Thames into Southward There, the King's
pardon was offered to all who would disperse, and most did Cade himself
did not, and he was pursued and killed by Alexander IDEN, who was the
Sheriff of Kent and not the simple, patriotic landowner of the play.
Shakespeare thus took
a real episode from the period of his play and altered its character in
order to make certain points. From the prevalent Elizabethan point of
view, which Shakespeare shared, Cade and others like him were traitors
pure and simple propagators of vicious and immoral doctrines that could
only undermine society. Thus the playwright felt perfectly justified in
depicting Cade's undertaking as a more brutal and violent event than it in
fact was tor an important point addressed by the history plays' is the
value of political stability. The distinction between Cade's revolt and
the 1381 uprising was unimportant to Shakespeare; each constituted an
unacceptable subversion of a properly ordered society.
The episode of Cade,
as it is presented, serves three purposes. First, it provides comic relief
after the sustained political battle, ending in the murder of Gloucester,
of Acts 1-3. The buffoonery of Cade and his followers is in an old
tradition of comical rusticity that Shakespeare always favored. However
the humor quickly turns vicious, and the evil of anarchy is abundantly
demonstrated, which is the second function of the action. The uncontrolled
common people mirror the dissensions of the nobles and demonstrate
conversely Shakespeare's most important political point—that all social
good derives from a stable monarchy. Third, the episode is associated with
the rise of York and thus serves to introduce the final sequence of the
drama the ambitious advance to open rebellion by that lord. Thus
aristocratic ambition is demonstrated to have directly produced tragic
disorder among the common people.
He is a follower of the rebel Jack Cade.
In 4.2, Michael brings back word that Sir Humphrey Stafford is approaching
with troops to put down the rebellion.|
Smith is a follower of Jack Cade. As
the rebels are introduced in 4.2, Smith indulges in several joking asides
at the expense of his leader, exhibiting the buffoonery that was one
aspect of Shakespeare's characterization of Cade's uprising.|
butcher is a follower of Cade and makes several jokes at his leader's
expense in 4.2. Dick also delivers the famous line "The first thing
we do, let's kill all the lawyers. "
disuses the rebellion with his friend George Bevis and they join the
rebels when they appear. Holland also makes several joking asides.
An actor by this same name is known to have acted with Shakespeare's
company and that the character was simply given his name.
discusses Cade's rebellion with his friend John Holland in 4.2 and the two
men revolt. In 4.7 Bevis serves as the guard over the captured Lord
Say. Since Holland is known to have been a minor actors of the early
1590's, George Bevis probably was also, and his name likely give to this
||One of 3
murderers that kill the Duke of Gloucester. The First Murderer
calmly accepts payment for the crime from the Duke of Suffolk, thus
distinguishing himself from the second murderer who is conscience
||One of 3
murderers that kill the Duke of Gloucester. He regrets the deed
because their victim had died religiously.
Margaret of Anjou
(1430-1482) is the French-born Queen, and later widow, of King Henry VI.
Taken as a single role, running through four plays, Margaret is surely the
greatest female part in Shakespeare. She develops from an ingenuous young
woman thrust into prominence, through a career as a scheming plotter and a
courageous and persistent military leader, to a final appearance as a
raging, Furylike crier of curses against her triumphant enemies.
In 1 Henry VI
Margaret plays only a brief role as a French prisoner of war intended as a
bride for King Henry by the devious Suffolk, who loves her himself. Her
importance is chiefly to prepare the groundwork for the action of 2
Henry VI. She replaces Joan La Pucelle (Joan of Arc) as the symbolic
Frenchwoman who plagues an England that is divided by the selfish
ambitions of the aristocracy. Her appearance marks the completion of one
disaster, the loss of France, and begins another, a civil war.
In 2 Henry VI
Margaret's flawed personality is demonstrated early on. She conspires with
Suffolk to bring about the fall of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester because she
resents Gloucester's influence over the King and her own resulting
insignificance. She displays an evil temper when she abuses the
Petitioners in 1.3; later in this scene she mocks her husband's piety.
When Gloucester is forced by his wife's disgrace to leave his position as
Lord Protector, Margaret exults, comparing Gloucester's relinquished
scepter of office to an amputated limb (2.3.42). We are not surprised when
this bloody-minded woman proposes killing her enemy to ensure against his
possible return to power. When the King mourns Gloucester's subsequent
murder, Margaret dares to complain that Henry is paying too little
attention to her. Henry banishes Suffolk from England for his part in the
crime, and, as the Queen and the Duke bid each other farewell, they reveal
their passionate love. Shakespeare, aware as always of the complexities of
human nature, offsets his portrait of this villainess by evoking a glimmer
of sympathy for a woman losing her lover.
In 3 Henry VI
the Queen assumes a major role in the civil war, replacing the ineffectual
King at the head of his armies. Her bold and cruel nature reveals itself
most fully at the battle of Wakefield, when York has been captured.
Margaret insists on postponing his death so that she may torment him with
barbs and, most chillingly, with evidence of the murder of his child,
Rutland. Before he dies, York rages at her, calling her a 'she-wolf of
France' (1.4.111), an epithet that has been applied to her by writers ever
since, and as a 'tiger's heart wrapp'd in a woman's hide' (1.4. 137), a
line that was parodied in the earliest reference to Shakespeare that has
At the crucial battle
Townton, Margaret is plainly the leader of the King's forces; in fact, she
orders Henry to stay away from the fighting. Although the battle is lost
and York's son Edward is enthroned in Henry's place, Margaret refuses to
give up and she goes to France in search of military aid. When she is once
again prepared to fight, she sends word to Edward, 'Tell him my mourning
weeds are laid aside, / And I am ready to put armour on' (3.3.229-230).
Despite her viciousness, this dauntless warrior does command some
The subsequent battle
of Tewkesbury results in Margaret's final defeat. Forced to witness the
killing of her son, the Prince of Wales, Margaret is reduced to
lamentations and curses ironically similar to those delivered by York just
three acts earlier. Richard, later Richard III, wishes to kill Margaret,
saying, 'Why should she live to fill the world with words?' (5.5.43). He
aptly predicts her role in Richard III.
Margaret's role in
that work is limited to only two scenes, but it is a very powerful element
of the play, for she represents Nemesis, the personification of
retribution through fate, a theme that underlies the entire minor
Tetraology, which Richard III closes. In 1.3 she heaps elaborate curses
upon her victorious foes, reserving for Richard her choicest and subtlest
imprecations, hoping that his punishment not come to pass until his 'sins
be ripe' (1.3.219). In the formal and theatrical manner of a Greek Chorus,
Margaret restates past grievances and suggests future developments. She
departs with the prediction that her enemies will come to regard her as 'a
prophetess' (1.3. 301). Before her return, in 4.4, many of her curses will
have been substantially fulfilled through Richard's murderous malignity,
and Richard's own downfall is in progress. Several of Richard's victims
reflect on Margaret's curses as they go to their deaths, thereby making
more evident her role as Nemesis.
In 4.4 Margaret
gloats over the misfortunes of Queen Elizabeth, and leaves for France,
content that she has stayed in England long enough to witness the fall of
those who brought about her decline. As she departs, the climax of the
play is about to unfold, and she has fulfilled her function. As an almost
supernatural embodiment of Vengeance, she has represented an amoral world
that is now to be overcome by the Christian reconciliation of Richmond.
Although Margaret of
Anjou was a central figure in the Wars of the Roses, Shakespeare
took considerable liberties with her story. He magnified the importance,
and the evil, of a Queen who only naturally used her strengths to shore up
the fortunes other incompetent husband. Her foreignness and her gender
made her useful as a witchlike figure at the centre of the web of
treachery and violence that characterize the plays of the minor tetralogy.
Margaret's love affair with Suffolk, from its beginnings in 1 Henry VI,
is entirely fictitious. In Part 2 Shakespeare ascribes to her an important
role in English politics almost from the moment she sets foot in England
in 1444. In fact, Margaret was a 14-year-old bride with no political
experience, placed in an unfamiliar court and country, and she had little
or no impact on English affairs for a decade. The fall of the Duchess of
Gloucester, which she helps bring about in the play, occurred historically
before her arrival. The Duke of Gloucester was probably not murdered, and
Margaret had little to do with his political defeat in any case. In 1453
she attempted to assume the Regency of the realm during the period of her
husband's insanity (ignored by Shakespeare). However, government by a
Frenchwoman was unacceptable to the English aristocracy, and York was
appointed Protector. His replacement by the Queen's protege, Somerset,
eventually led to the opening of the wars, with the first battle of St.
The Queen was not
present at that conflict, as she is in Shakespeare, but in the period
immediately following it, she became an important leader of Henry's
forces. However, the central incidents in the playwright's version of
Margaret's role as a leader are fictitious. The Queen was not present to
seize control on the occasion of Henry's concessions to York, enacted in
1.1 of 3 Henry VI; nor was she a party to the killing of York,
depicted with such extravagance in 1.4. Although she was indeed a force
behind the later renewal of Lancastrian hopes, Warwick was far more
important. She was in any case neither captured at Tewkesbury nor forced
to witness her son's death; he was actually killed in the fighting, and
she escaped to be captured a week later. She was imprisoned for several
years and then ransomed by the King of France, to whose court she retired
for the last six years of her life.
In Richard III
Margaret's mere presence constitutes a final distortion of history, for
she first appears on an occasion that actually took place only after her
death in France. Shakespeare ignored this reality in order to use once
more, in a highly symbolic manner, the strong but malign character he had
developed in the course of the Henry VI plays.
Gloucester, Eleanor de Bohun (1367-1399) is sister-in-law of John of Gaunt
and widow of Duke Thomas of Gloucester. In 1.2 the Duchess visits Gaunt to
discuss her husband's murder. She blames King Richard II for his death and
passionately entreats Gaunt to avenge it. He insists that vengeance
against a king may be taken only by God, and the Duchess wrathfully
expresses the hope that Bolingbroke will kill Mowbray, whom she says
murdered Gloucester at the king's order. Then she resignedly asserts that
she will soon die of grief and departs for her home. Her death is reported
in 1.1. The episode casts light on the conflicts of 1.1 and 1.5, making
clear to the audience that Richard is implicated in Gloucester's murder
and that Bolmgbroke‘s accusation of Mowbray is embarrassing to the king.
Although the Duchess appears to be Gaunt s contemporary, she was actually
a generation younger, (being only 32 when she died, reportedly of grief at
the v death other only son. Shakespeare's rendering other as an older
woman helps to heighten the pathos of the vanishing medieval world that
colors his story of the king's fall.
Margery Jourdain (d.
1441) is a witch hired by Hume to summon a spirit for the Duchess of
Gloucester. In 1.4, at a seance, Margery summons the spirit Asnath, and,
after it has been questioned by the sorcerer Bolingbroke, she is arrested,
with her fellows and the Duchess, by the dukes of York and Buckingham. In
2.3 the King sentences her to be burned at the stake. The historical
Jourdain claimed to have magical powers and was convicted of using them in
the employ of the Duchess, and she was indeed burned at the stake.
Soldier is a
messenger who enters the camp of the rebel leader Jack Cade in 4.6,
unaware that Cade has just declared it an act of treason to address him as
anything but 'Lord Mortimer'. The Soldier, knowing no better, calls out
for 'Cade'; the leader orders him set upon, and he is killed. This
incident serves to present a vicious side of the uprising, which has
earlier been treated as a focus of broad humor. Now Cade, in addition to
being a buffoon, is shown to be a blood-thirsty tyrant in the making.
Post is a messenger
who brings word of an Irish rebellion in 3.1.
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