Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Henry VI Part 3 - Shakespeare

As with the previous part, there is far too much action to try and sum up the plot.  Also, by it's nature, it's very confusing.  Instead I'll simply highlight some of the touching scenes.

The play begins with King Henry in Richard's hands.  They come to an agreement where Henry will live out his life and when he dies, the throne will go over to Richard and his heirs.  Queen Margaret is furious at Henry for selling out their children.  She flees London and goes to the north, where she has support.
There is more battle, near the city of York.  Clifford finds Richard's young son Rutland.  He won't allow him to flee.  Clifford remembers his vow to kill all of the family and kills Rutland there.  Soon after, Richard is captured.  Queen Margaret and Clifford taunt Richard with Rutland's blood and then kill him.  Richard's head is cut off and put on display above the city with a paper crown.  The king is horrified by all of this.
Fortunes reverse and Richard's son Edward is crowned king.  Queen Margaret flees to France.  She tries to convince the King of France to allow his daughter to marry her son, Edward.  As she is making her argument, an embassy by Warwick arrives from the opposing side for her to marry Edward.  The king of France is unsure what to do.  While he is deciding, word comes that Edward has already married someone else.  Warwick is incensed and changes sides.  France decides to aid Queen Margaret.
Another battle and Queen Margaret loses.  The sons of Richard capture her and her son Edward.  They kill him in front of her.  As it's done, Richard's son Richard (the youngest surviving son) leaves for London and the tower.  There, he confronts King Henry and calmly kills him.
King Edward IV is now king with no other major claimant.

Before starting on the Henry VI plays, I read that not many people bother with them.  I can see why.  The plot isn't easy to follow.  The casts are enormous and hard to keep track of.  Most of the nobles use several names, varying between Christian (i.e. 'first') names to their noble names.  Almost all of the important men are named Henry, Richard or Ed.  This would have been an absolute mess to watch.
But I enjoyed it.  In many ways, the three plays together were like an epic mini-series.  Factions gained prominence and were cut down.  Major people are introduced.  They do important things and then find themselves on the wrong end and are killed.  There is a broad scope to the entire spectacle.  (It helped to read some secondary sources on the War of the Roses.)
And the future Richard III gains prominence throughout.  In the third part he has a tasty soliloquy where he talks about how he is surprisingly ok with having to do violence and evil.  The crown is not far from him and he is on the look out for a way to put it on his own head.  He sees this as his certain future.  It's chilling and yet we can't look away.
The Henry VI plays were some of the earliest that Shakespeare wrote and apparently they were extremely popular during the time.  I can see why.  His contemporaries would have been able to follow the action much more easily than we could have.  They would have enjoyed the huge swings of power and fortune.  I'm sure they also shuddered as the villainous Richard III climbed higher and higher too.
I liked it too.

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