Henry VIth Part 3 was probably written as early as 1592 or even earlier employing Raphael Holinshed’s and Edward Hall’s “Chronicles of England, Scotland & Ireland” (1587) as well as “The Union of the Two Noble & Illustre Families of Lancaster and York” (1548) as a reference. The Stratfordian case claims that William Shakspere, the actor left Stratford for London in 1587, so within five years as resident there he is presumed to have written several history plays when beginning his career as a playwright. The conventional Stratfordian academics then go on to say Shakspere miraculously arrived in London fully primed intellectually and dramatically to write A Comedy of Errors, Titus Andronicus, Two Gentlemen of Verona and Taming of the Shrew before turning his hand to write poetry (Venus & Adonis and Lucrece) during the plague years. When it was first printed in 1595 it was entitled “The True Tragedy of of Richard Duke of York, and the Death of Good King Henry the Sixth with the whole Contention between the Two Houses of Lancaster & York”, but when included in the 1623 Folio it was renamed as “The Third Part of Henry Sixth, with the Death of the Duke of York”. It appears to be a continuation of “The First Part of the Contention” which introduces two of York’s sons, Edward and the presumed to be “hunch-backed” Richard who acquires the title Duke of Gloucester. Much of the play addresses his ruthless attempts to re-instate his father’s claim to the English throne which he later lays claim to in the play entitled simply: “The Tragedy of Richard the Third”. The play also features the line which the playwright Robert Greene famously paraphrased to attack Shakespeare as the “Upstart Crow” with a reference to: “O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide” in 1592, which Shakespeare employs to describe Queen Margaret in her uncompromising military resistance to Richard Duke of York. This is evidence that the play had already been performed or was available in manuscript form in that year. A somewhat shortened octavo version of “Richard Duke of York” was finally printed in octavo format in 1595, another in quarto appeared in 1600. By 1602 Thomas Pavier owned the copyright in its shortened form who re-issued it in 1619 for publication. However, by the time the 1623 Folio was printed this play had an additional 1,000 lines and numerous stage directions presumed to be derived the playwright’s “foul papers”. The octavo and quarto versions also contain their own authorial revisions and some stage directions that are presumed to have been derived from the stage promptbook.
Although Richard is killed early on in the play as Queen Margaret’s forces rally against him, his sons, Edward and Richard continue their resistance with the aid of Edmund, Earl of Rutland and George, Duke of Clarence. When finally captured Edward, Henry’s son is killed before Queen Margaret presumably to avenge the death of their father, Richard Duke of York who is killed in the first act. Although the action covers the events of some sixteen years (1455-1471), the narrative of the play compresses and in some cases distorts the timeline from the Battle of St Albans (1445) on to the Duke of York’s death (1450) when the future King Richard III was a mere three years old, living in exile abroad and clearly unable to take an active part in military and political strategy! Similarly, when Richard Duke of York is killed at the Battle of Wakefield, his younger son Richard was a mere seven years old even though Shakespeare depicts him as a full-grown man taking part in the battle and vowing vengeance for his father’s death. Holinshed’s version of events is that Clifford taunted Richard before beheading him, in the play it is Queen Margaret and Clifford who torture and then both stab Richard to death thereby consigning him to a commoner’s execution. Furthermore, Margaret orders his severed head to be displayed on the gates of the City of York, again an act of humiliation as well as civic horror. However, many of these chronological and historical distortions are done purely for dramatic effect. Severing the bonds of loyalty between father and son is a theme that Shakespeare plays with in this play as well as natural and unnatural entitlement. At the beginning of the play the Yorkist faction appears united as a family and stake their claim without compromise, while Henry’s family appears weak, ambivalent and divided. However, when Rutland is killed at the Battle of Wakefield, his remaining three sons diverge from their initial family loyalties, the young Richard beholds a vision of 3 suns in the sky, and then vows to use the emblem as a motif on his shield. Edward disgusts his follower Warwick by his wish to marry a commoner, Elizabeth Gray and George temporarily abandons his brother to join the Lancastrian cause and marry Warwick’s daughter. By the middle portion of the play Richard relentlessly stands by his wish to ascend the English throne:
My ashes, as the phoenix, may bring forth
A bird that will revenge upon you all.
Towards the end of the play Richard is portrayed as un-loved, partly because of his deformity or because he is incapable of wooing a woman. Just after he has murdered King Henry he soliloquises on his deformity:
Then, since the heavens have shaped my body so,
Let hell make crook’d my mind to answer it.
I have no brother, I am like no brother;
And this word ‘love,’ which graybeards call divine,
Be resident in men like one another
And not in me: I am myself alone.
The play ends leaving the audience with a hint of what will transpire in effect hanging over the precipitous events that are to unravel with the advent of the Duke of Gloucester becoming King Richard the Third. This portrayal of Richard surely matches Christopher Marlowe’s own Machiavellian portrayal of Tamburlaine but in the majestic style only Shakespeare could achieve.
The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Pathenogenesis” are as follows: