PTS: 03/019: There can be only one

BH highlander
Don’t make me chop your head off …

Henry VI part III (Act IV)

Edward V, like Edward II, like Richard II, like Macbeth, maybe even like Richard III, seems to think that the crown’s enough.  Whilst there can be only one, physical possession of the golden round really isn’t a given.  Everyone else has to believe you’re king – not just you!

They are but Lewis and Warwick; I am Edward,

Your King and Warwick’s and must have my will. (IV.i.15-16)

That’s all very well, but if it that attitude couldn’t save Julius Caesar:

‘I rather tell you what is to be feared / Than what I fear: for always I am Caesar’ (CAESAR, Julius Caesar I.ii.210-211)

– and he was a dozen times the man you are – then your goose is cooked.  You have married in haste, and now you’re going to repent at leisure.  Frankly, if Richard says so, it’s good enough for me:

… hasty marriage seldom proveth well. (RICHARD:  IV.i.18)

I possibly need to apologise in advance for any aphoristic tone in today’s post.  Maybe it’s because I’m reading The Taming of the Shrew this month (sorry again for being behind, but I definitely will catch up), and the editor, Barbara Hodgdon, has gone mad, I mean mad, on aphorisms and proverbs in the text.  Or maybe it’s because I used the term in a model answer I wrote for students this weekend on The Tempest.  Maybe it’s because I’ve spoken to my Y11s this past week about Sherlock Holmes’ aphoristic tone.  Maybe, on the other hand, it’s simply the Boar’s Head beer on a Sunday night … hic!

It’s not just Edward’s marriage that annoys the brothers, but the connections of Anne’s family, which Edward appears intent on strengthening, against any dissent.  They may look stronger now, but ‘so much for’ this faction when Richard takes charge, as Claudius of Denmark might say … Richard foreshadows this in an aside which vividly recalls his father:

I hear, yet say not much, but think the more (IV.i.83)

Silence is indeed golden.  A while back I suggested that the two Richards of York were alike, and for the moment, Richard the Sith too bides his time.

Not for the first time, I grinned – from the safety of the audience – at Margaret’s reported reaction to the situation:

‘Tell him’, quoth she, ‘my mourning weeds are done,

And I am ready to put armour on.’  (IV.i.105)

Any sensible man – onstage, or in the audience – will cover his bits as if he’s standing in a wall for a free kick and just seen Ronaldo take a 20-yard run up.  Maybe it’s a good time to insert a quotation from my reading of The Shrew.  Margaret, regardless of what was reported earlier, will have:

Began to scold and raise up such a storm

That mortal ears might hardly endure the din.  (TRANIO, Taming of the Shrew:  I.i.171-172)

I repeat, what a woman!

And what a man!  Richard outshines his brothers yet again.  Whilst Clarence does a runner, and Edward blusters, Richard speaks to us once more, smelling an opportunity and echoing that insatiable hunger for the crown that we have previously seen:

I stay not for the love of Edward, but the crown. (IV.i.125)

Except he doesn’t stay too close – which is just as well, given the apparent cowardice of his brother’s guards, and Edward’s being taken by surprise despite being resolved not to sleep till Warwick is taken.  Warwick doesn’t wait – typically, he comes to deal directly and bluntly with his adversary, and spanks him in one of the multi-line diatribes we ought to have come to expect, not just from Warwick, but as a trope of the Henriad.  Great writing, Will!  Having said that, it’s water off a duck’s back compared to the sight of George’s defection, and Edward capitulates in the face of this fraternal betrayal, not the harsh words of Warwick.

Before we arrive at Richard’s daring rescue of his brother – surely more for the good of his family’s title to the throne than for this luxurious king – it’s worth taking a look at the introduction of his eventual nemesis.  Not for the first time, given the chronology of the plays, I wonder at Shakespeare’s ambition.  Surely, this is the only explanation for this introduction of someone who will be vital to the tetralogy when it is completed?  The foresight required to bring him in, and to build Richard up in the way he does, could only have been done afterwards, or if at the time, as the work of a genius, a man who – like a more benevolent Richard – had his eye on the bigger picture even as he wrote material that would get all-important bums on seats …

It is remarkable – yes, perhaps prophetic, given Henry has a son of his own, that he speaks of Richmond in these terms:

‘Likely in time to bless a regal throne’  (IV.vi.74)

I love the fact that by the time the Act ends my Arden has, on opposing pages, lines attributed to KING HENRY and KING EDWARD  (pp.332-333).  Could there be a more perfect illustration of the situation?  Perhaps this is one of the crises – like the killings of father by son and of son by father – of the Wars of the Roses.  Let’s go back to Highlander: ‘there can be only one.’

And I only know one man who will ensure by the end of the play that there WILL be only one …


Specific line references and page numbers are taken from the respective Arden Third Editions.  Any others are taken from www.opensourceshakespeare.org

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