Henry VIth Part Two

Henry VIth Part Two is presumed to have been written from 1587-92 and registered at the Stationer’s Office 12th of March, 1594 (Q1), with the second Quarto in 1600 (Q2), followed by another in 1619 (Q3) and finally in the First Folio in 1623 (F1). Among the sources required there would have been reference to Edward Hall’s (1498-1547) “The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and Yorke” (3rd. ed., 1550). Other sources include Robert Fabyan (?-1513) with his “New Chronicles of England and France” (1516). Raphael Holinshed (c. 1528-c. 1580) with his own “The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland” (2nd ed., 1587) and Richard Grafton, (c.1512-c.1572) who wrote “A Chronicle at Large of History of the Affayres of England” (1516), as well as John Hardyng, (1378-c.1465) whose own “The Chronicle of John Hardyng” would have been consulted (1543) and John Foxe‘s, (1516-87) “The Book of Martyrs” (4th ed., 1583).

Originally listed as “The First Part of the Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster”, unlike the Folio title it describes the attempts by Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the 3rd son of Edward IIIrd, (House of York) against the Lancastrian claim of Henry VIth to sovereignty. In actual fact presumed by scholars to have been written before Henry VIth Part One (1591) but as already mentioned it could have been written even earlier or around the same time as Part One. While part one could be summarised as a “Royal House in Conflict”, the second part might assume the title “Loss of Empire”. Margaret of Anjou, now married to the young King reveals to the Duke of Suffolk her opinion of Henry’s ability to rule effectively:

I tell thee, Pole, when in the city of Tours
Thou rann’st a-tilt in honour of my love
And stol’st away the ladies’ hearts of France
I thought King Henry had resembled thee
In courage, courtship and proportion.
But all his mind is bent to holiness,
To number Ave-Maries on his beads.

Margaret soon fills the vacuum created by Henry’s pious or insane attitude and assumes the leadership of the his army. This leaves the majority of nobles in contention over who they might serve and who among them is second in command should the occasion arise. Eventually, the new Queen, the Duke of Suffolk, Cardinal Beaufort and the Duke of York combine to bring down the Duke of Clarence. In the original quarto play the Duke is strangled onstage in his own bed, but in the Folio version he dies offstage although his corpse is paraded onstage in both versions. The Earl of Warwick describes the state of the body of the Duke of Gloucester in Act 3, scene 1:

See how the blood is settled in his face.
Oft have I seen a timely-parted ghost,
Of ashy semblance, meagre, pale and bloodless,
Being all descended to the labouring heart;
Who, in the conflict that it holds with death,
Attracts the same for aidance ‘gainst the enemy;
Which with the heart there cools and ne’er returneth
To blush and beautify the cheek again.
But see, his face is black and full of blood,
His eye-balls further out than when he lived,
Staring full ghastly like a strangled man;
His hair uprear’d, his nostrils stretched with struggling;
His hands abroad display’d, as one that grasp’d
And tugg’d for life and was by strength subdued:
Look, on the sheets his hair you see, is sticking;
His well-proportion’d beard made rough and rugged,
Like to the summer’s corn by tempest lodged.

However, the play recounts the fall of the Duke of Gloucester in Act 3, followed by Dukes of Winchester, Suffolk, Somerset and numerous other prominent nobles of the realm. In other words the body politic is gradually dismembered while popular but ambiguous prophecies, presumed to be contrived through witchcraft, declare the outcome of events for the King and his enemies. In the confusion that emanates the rebel Jack Cade emerges, secretly supported by a noble family to overthrow the King. Historically the Cade rebellion occurred in 1450, but in Shakespeare’s play he draws on another source; the Peasant’s Rebellion of 1381 involving Wat Tyler who burned London Bridge and destroyed the Savoy, the residence of John of Gaunt. Further populist rebellions occurred with attacks on immigrant workers in London in 1589 (Kett’s Rebellion) and the economic protests throughout the decades based on grievances over the price of woollen and other domestic commodities being imported and exported. The play highlights the mutual contempt of commoners towards the highly educated nobility and the nobles contempt of the uneducated labouring classes. Furthermore, in the light of weak monarchic leadership how the common man will rise violently against his rulers.

The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:


Website: www.qudosacademy.org

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