Henry VI part III, act II
In Act I, I wondered about how Richard might respond to the loss of the father he seems so close to, and explored the ongoing death of chivalry and nobility.
It doesn’t take long to see both of these ideas addressed in Act II …
In hitting these issues, I’m deliberately skipping the weird ‘three suns’ episode. I don’t think I can do anything with it! Arden glosses Hall as having recorded it – perhaps he’d simply “eaten on the insane root that takes the reason prisoner.”
Again, it’s hard not to notice the subtle differences between Edward and Richard that subtly show the former as yet another unsuitable king for England. Witness their responses to the news of York’s death:
EDWARD: O, speak no more, for I have heard too much.
RICHARD: Say how he died, for I will hear it all. (II.i.48-49)
And Richard goes on to emulate Clifford, I think, in his fury. The tit-for-tat that is the Wars of the Roses is evident in his hot rage:
RICHARD: I cannot weep, for all my body’s moisture
Scarce serves to quench my furnace-burning heart;
[…] Tears then for babes; blows and revenge for me. (II.i.79-80,86)
Cue the Darth Vader March, and Yoda’s regretful ‘Young Skywalker is in pain’. Hayden Christensen may not bring much depth to his role in Star Wars (and let’s face it, George Lucas is no Shakespeare when it comes to dialogue), but one thing he DOES do well is that hot, menacing look of rage from under his eyebrows – that’s what I’m minded of here.
It was not long after this, that I began to realise how often Richard spoke specifically about the kingship; his remarkable soliloquy in Act III shouldn’t surprise us in the light of comments like this, to his brother:
RICHARD: For chair and dukedom, throne and kingdom ‘ssay (II.i.94)
Despite his later discussion of the difficulties in his way, he has his eye on the main prize from the word go, I think. Such terrible, unwavering ambition!
Another pattern is developed in scene i: the idea of Henry as a battlefield Jonah, with Warwick partly blaming his presence for an embarrassing retreat from the second battle of St Albans. Margaret later alludes to this:
MARGARET: […] this soft courage makes your followers faint. (II.ii.57)
But back to Warwick and St Albans. Something really interesting happens, I think …
Richard starts to pick a fight with Warwick!
I think there’s a definite sense that Warwick is ‘nettled and stung with pismires’ (as Hotspur would be) when Richard describes his retreat as a ‘scandal’ Witness this exchange:
RICHARD: Oft have I heard his praises in pursuit,
But Ne’er till now his scandal of retire.
WARWICK: Nor now my scandal, Richard, dost thou hear (II.i.149-150)
‘Oof!’, says my marginalia …
When Warwick returns to his normal multi-line bombast, I hear myself emphasising Richard’s line as follows for full ironic wind-up value:
RICHARD: Ay, NOW methinks I hear great Warwick speak. (II.i.185)
When battle is joined again, Henry is remarkably dismissed from the field by Clifford:
CLIFFORD: I would your highness would depart the field.
The Queen hath best success when you are absent. (II.ii.73-74)
He even has to be urged into some show of bravery by his own young son:
PRINCE EDWARD: My royal father, cheer these noble lords
And hearten those that fight in your defence. (II.ii.78-79)
But the coup de grace, as far as I’m concerned is Clifford’s stinging order:
CLIFFORD: My liege, the wound that bred this meeting here
Cannot be cured by words; therefore be still.
That’s Henry told, and he’s packed off to ponder the burden of being a king. Not dissimilar to Richard II, he finds himself sitting on the ground, musing on how kingship is absolutely NOT what it’s made out to be. If only he could tell Richard Gloucester this, we might be saved quite a bit of woe.
We often think of Shakespeare as being non-judgemental, and I’ve heard it said that this deliberate neutrality or ambiguity of message facilities all the different interpretations, indeed the fact that we still study him. But I think the famous father / son murders show one thing which he is definite about – that civil war is a terrible, terrible thing. I think I hear Shakespeare in the murderous father’s anguish:
FATHER: O pity, God, this miserable age!
What stratagems, how fell, how butcherly,
Erroneous, mutinous and unnatural,
This deadly quarrel daily with beget. (II.v.88-91)
I used the phrase ‘tit-for-tat’ close to the beginning, and of course we see the mirror of York’s death in the tanning of Clifford at the end of the act. There’s just time to note one more amusing tension between Warwick and Richard – this time the sly thrust is from the kingmaker.
WARWICK: No, ’tis impossible he [Clifford] should escape,
For, though before his face I speak the words,
Your brother, Richard, marked him for the grave
And wheresoe’er he is, he’s surely dead.
Again, I have emphasised part of the quotation. At which point Shakespeare playfully inserts a stage direction for Clifford to groan. Classic stuff 🙂
For references to the play I have used the Arden Third Edition. Any other quotations are taken from www.opensourceshakespeare.org