Thursday, May 26, 2016

Henry VI Part 2 - Shakepseare

As part two commences, I'm not quite sure how to summarize the action of the play.  There are many peoples in the orbit of the king who are sometimes with him and sometimes opposed.  I could work my way through them bit by bit, but it would be almost impossible for a reader unfamiliar with the play (or actual history) to follow along.  In my mind, I pictured a scorecard which would list each player and their affiliation.  Some of them you would have to scratch out and change from time to time.  It's a very complicated work.
So, major themes?  The king is newly married to Margaret of Anjou.  As part of the bargain, England will give up its claim to various parts of France.  This deal was struck in secrecy and there is a growing sense in England that all of the work done towards conquest in France is being undone by betrayal.  These reversals are used constantly to claim betrayal or weakness on the part of the players involved.
Gloucester is still Henry's 'protector' but he is neatly removed by tempting his wife into a plot that combined treason with witchcraft.  She is exiled.  Gloucester himself is killed in bed by Suffolk.  The people riot and Suffolk is himself exiled.  While at sea, he is killed by members of the English navy.
Richard of York is still working to secure the throne for himself.  To that end, he encourages a popular uprising under a common man named John Cade.  (One of Cade's followers utters the immortal line "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers".)  This uprising goes so far as to seize London and Cade kills some notable people.  It fizzles there as his followers are granted pardons if they stop rioting.  Cade himself is killed in the garden of a nobleman.
Richard of York then returns to prominence.  He goes to London with an army behind him.  He quickly proclaims the throne for himself and the conflict is out in the open.  There is fighting near London, at St Albans.  York himself kills the older Clifford.  The younger Clifford vows to kill Yorkists even to their children.  Near the very end, we are introduced to Richard of York's son, also named Richard (who will become Richard III).  King Henry and Queen Margaret (and nobles) fly back to London.

I wasn't kidding up above about needing a scorecard.  Shakespeare does a good job of presenting each person and making their alliances clear, but it's still difficult.  Most of the men are named Henry, Richard or Edward.  They are often referred to by their titled land (i.e. York or Gloucester) which makes it tough.  Imagine a political drama in the modern US where each politician was referred to by the state they represent and you can see the issues.  While reading, I pictured a production where a picture of each actor would be set beside the stage.  These would be place in either the Yorkist or Lancastrian side.  Pictures would be moved when an alliance shifted.  They would be removed when the figure was killed.
I've been doing some side reading on the War of the Roses to try and keep it all straight.  This has mostly been from Churchill's 'History of the English Speaking Peoples' and Charles Ross 'The War of the Roses'.  Doing so has helped.  (I've stopped reading both because I don't want to 'read ahead' and spoil the story of Richard III.)  I recommend this approach.

1 comment:

  1. A significant number of his plays were distributed in releases of fluctuating quality and precision amid his lifetime. In 1623, in any case, John Heminges and Henry Condell, two companions and kindred performing artists of Shakespeare, distributed a more complete content known as the First Folio, an after death gathered release of his emotional works that incorporated everything except two of the plays now perceived as Shakespeare's. It was introduced with a lyric by Ben Jonson, in which Shakespeare is hailed, perceptively, as "not of an age, but rather for unsurpassed".
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