Is it me, or does the guy in the picture look like a young James Comey?
Henry VI part III: act V
So, very belatedly, we reach the end of the road for Henry VI, and of history plays for a short while. I’m sad to say goodbye. The comedies aren’t generally my favourites, and these three HVI plays have been ones I’ve unjustly avoided until now. It’s been a brilliant rollercoaster ride.
Last time round, I said there could only be one, and finally, mercifully, someone does for Henry. And we all know who that someone is, right? Only one man for the job …
Richard, to be fair, fully justifies his complaint to Queen Elizabeth that:
Ere you were queen, yea, or your husband king,
I was a pack-horse in his great affairs;
A weeder-out of his proud adversaries, (Richard III, act I scene iii)
But before Richard can assume the role of ‘kingmaker’, the current incumbent, Warwick – that larger-than-life Brian Blessed ‘nutter’ (I think that’s the technical term) needs dealing with. Earlier in the play there appeared to be some antagonism between the two, and this surfaces properly in the final act, with Richard openly taunting Brian – oops, I mean Warwick – who responds in typically hyperbolic, multi-line sentence, kind:
I had rather chop this hand off at a blow
And with the other fling it at thy face
Than bear so low a sail to strike to thee. (Warwick: V.i.50-52)
NOT an informal, intimate, use of ‘thee’, then …
The tide is running against Warwick, though. Is there anything more dismal than seeing an ally suddenly ranged against you? An enemy within, in fact.
‘False, fleeting, perjured Clarence’ indeed. (RIII, I, iv)
Drowning in a tub of wine is too good for him (erm, spoiler alert). Coincidentally, I’ve taught that scene today, and can’t help but side with the murderers (not just because one of them is played by Bernard Hill – Theoden in LOTR – in the 1983 BBC adaptation) as they scorn his assumption of the moral high ground.
I’m sorry to see Warwick die, but as he so appositely puts it:
‘Lo, now my glory smeared in dust and blood.’ (V.ii.23)
We all get there, in the end.
I love the defiance in Margaret’s rabble-rousing speech. A while back I commented on her economy when everyone was flinging questions about. Now, she uses them as part of her trademark indignation and pride. I mean, six, on consecutive lines of V.iv, as part of a fusillade of twelve? Ouch!
This is a last show of fire from Margaret before she suffers herself from the kind of ‘deliberate cruelty’ she participated in so gleefully at the play’s opening. She’s left to grieve the son she sublimated so much of her love for Suffolk into. Richard, in the meantime, exits for The Tower, to complete his ‘pack-horse’ duties …
When they next meet, Margaret will have refined her plaintive cries of
‘Butchers and villains! Bloody cannibals!’ (V.v.61)
honing it into the curses that ultimately give her the last laugh.
At The Tower, I have little time for Henry by now. Fingers in ears, Henry: ‘la la la, I’m not listening!’ Which is odd, because he says many of the things that others repeat in Richard III. Yet I almost cheer (God help me) when Richard so bluntly, viciously declares:
‘Thy son I killed for his presumption.’ (V.vi.34)
Possibly the most interesting thing Henry says is to allege that Richard was born with teeth, which Richard then riffs on, in his precursor to the opening of his own play:
‘And so I was, which plainly signified
That I should snarl, and bite and play the dog.
Then, since the heavens have shaped my body so,
Let hell make crook’d my mind to answer it. ‘ (V.vi.76-79)
All composed, as my students might say, in cool, calculating, controlled iambic pentameter. Again, like at the beginning of RIII, I get a sense of cause and effect, of the idea that he is responding to the ‘blasted’ hand that he has been dealt by Nature.
We end with Edward looking forward to a time of peace and plenty (of girls) now his opponents are finally defeated. He has no reckoning on the enemy within, though, and he should know better, after his brother Clarence’s flip-flopping. We get that delicious sense of privilege and dramatic irony with Richard’s quick aside:
‘so Judas kissed his master
And cried ‘All hail’, when he meant all harm.’ (V.vii.33-34)
Thus did Brutus, too. Perhaps an English version of Dante’s Inferno would have placed Richard down in the Ninth Circle, along with Brutus, Cassius and Judas. We now await a great (in the dual senses of huge, and of fun too) betrayal in Richard III …
Specific line references are made to the appropriate Arden Third Edition. Other references are taken from www.opensourceshakespeare.org