Henry VI II: Act II
Sorrow on thee and all the pack of you
That triumph thus upon my misery!
(KATHERINA, The Taming of the Shrew: IV.iii.33-34)
When the nobility goes hunting; it seems they do it in packs …
A while back I taught The Hunger Games. I’d not read it, in my biblio-snobbery, nor had (have) I seen the films, and several of the girls in the class were determined to prove to me that it had literary merit: I’m thinking especially of you, Niamh McCoy! So, through gritted teeth, I picked it up and came to grudgingly admit that it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d assumed. I still, quite often, use the opening to Chapter 11 (Katniss standing on that disc for sixty seconds, waiting for the gong to go off, and everyone to leap towards the cornucopia), as an analysis piece for how writers build tension. We also, in my current place, use the novel’s opening for assessment. If you’d told me, back then, that I would be:
- blogging about Shakespeare; and
- quoting The Hunger Games in one of my posts
I would have laughed at you on both counts. Yet here goes (also from Chapter 11):
‘So they’re fighting in a pack. I’m not really surprised. Often alliances are formed in the early stages of the Games. The strong band together to hunt down the weak; then, when the tension becomes too great, they begin to turn on one another.’
I think that neatly sums up the situation, as everyone begins to turn on Gloucester, and the King pathetically mouths “stop it!”. But no-one’s listening to him, and even on the page I think the conversation between Gloucester and the Cardinal sparkles, as they openly discuss the hunt for Henry’s ears, whilst arranging, sotto voce, a suitable time and place to resolve things once and for all. I noticed, sadly, that they decided to edit out this bit in The Hollow Crown version. Understandable, perhaps, but I was disappointed.
Whilst I’m referencing ‘popular’ culture, surely the grimly comic interlude with Simpcox of St. Albans (itself perhaps representative of the way dissembling has infected the whole country) is the ancestor of THIS ‘miracle’ scene: Eddie Murphy in Trading Places (1983). When Murphy’s character starts going on about his war record I thought of Donald Trump wearing that jacket. Then when Murphy says he was ‘Agent Orange’, I spat my tea out …
Simpcox gives way to Gloucester’s unpalatable breakfast from the end of Act I. And unpalatable it is. I’ve seen various commentaries about unhappy marriages being endemic in Shakespeare, but Gloucester is aghast at his wife’s actions, and I don’t see it as a selfish response.
Slowly but surely, York is gaining ground – he mostly seems to bide his time, channeling the Christian virtue of Patience, however much it’s derided by nobles in Shakespeare’s plays. Ironically, the main quotation I have in mind is from another Duchess of Gloucester:
‘That which in mean men we entitle patience
Is pale cold cowardice in noble breasts.’
(DUCHESS OF GLOUCESTER, Richard II: I.ii.33-34)
His careful exposition of his title to Warwick and Salisbury reminds me not just of Henry V but of the Old Testament too – long drawn out genealogies, perhaps designed to bore people into submission rather than actually prove anything? Still, York’s henchmen are persuaded, or at least wake up at the appropriate time to make positive noises!
Can going to the Isle of Man really be a fate worse than death?
I’ve never been, but it was certainly on the list – in some ways more so, when Eleanor is crushed to be banished there. I have to see what all the fuss is about. And I wonder, to be honest, why she wasn’t executed. Meanwhile, the indignities are piled against Gloucester as the pack tastes blood in the water – his wife to be shamed in England, then sent to the land of the three-legged men, and finally his own third leg, his staff of office removed from him. He seems to accept all this with more grace and dignity than I could muster – and to think I called him ‘obnoxious’: I feel the need to apologise again!
Until … his practically suicidal assertion to his dishonoured, deranged and desperate wife that:
‘I must offend before I be attainted.’ (II.iv.59)
Erm, hello? Apology withdrawn! The rest of us have been hearing the cello’s urgent sawing for some minutes now. We’ve seen flashes of fins cutting the water, mixed with underwater POV shots of Margaret, Suffolk, et al surging along the seafloor. Gloucester? It appears he is blithely splashing on the bright yellow lilo of his loyalty.
There’s going to be blood. Lots of blood. Oh, goody!
All line references to Shakespeare’s works relate to the respective Arden Third Edition titles.