Henry VI Part 2 condensed

A new peace agreement with the French has been reached. The year is 1445.  After a brief courtship, and having had less than full support from some of his key people, Henry VI had married Margaret of Anjou.  She had been deftly promoted by the duke of Suffolk, William de la Pole, known here as Suffolk.  The dashing and charismatic Suffolk, hoping to keep in close touch with Margaret and hoping through her to influence events in England, had overridden the king’s Uncle Humphrey argument’s, when it came to whom should be England’s queen. Humphrey is generally referred to here by his title, the duke of Gloucester, or Gloucester.  To her chagrin, Margaret had naively believed that the king would be as charming as Suffolk.  Suffolk had cut some political deals, particularly with Margaret’s father, Reignier duke of Anjou.

Act 1. As Suffolk presents Queen Margaret to English nobility, Gloucester immediately chastises Suffolk for “arranging” the marriage.  Gloucester had been appointed by the king’s father, Henry V, to be the boy’s Protector, the boy at his father’s death being but eight months old.  Gloucester continues to serve as the king’s “Protector.”  Gloucester is particularly upset with Suffolk, claiming he “hath given the Duchy of Anjou and Maine unto the poor King Reignier.”  The young king is pious and naïve.  He replaces York (the white rose leader) with Somerset (the red rose leader) as Regent of France.  York and Somerset are still at each other’s throats.  York thinks about recruiting Salisbury and Warwick to his cause, both being Nevilles (Lancastrians), both “no simple peers” in the words of Suffolk.  Salisbury has said he wants to try to move towards “the common good of the country.”  Queen Margaret and Gloucester’s wife, the Duchess, are very competitive. The Duchess hires a sorceress to help her divine the future.  She has made a mistake. 

Act 2.  Attempting to form a broader coalition that could reinforce his base, York invites Salisbury and his son Warwick to dinner, persuasively convincing them that through his mother’s side of the family he should be king, his mother Anne being the great-granddaughter of Lionel duke of Clarence, Edward III’s third son.  They join York’s political team.  Meanwhile, the king has ruled that as a result of the Duchess’ indiscretion, visiting with a sorceress, she is for life to be banned to the Isle of Man.  As a protest, Humphrey resigns his position as the king’s Protector.  As she is led through the streets, she warns her husband of the dangers for him ahead.  He tends to dismiss her warnings. He puts up little fight to save his wife.

Act 3.  The King’s Council convenes.  Their plan is to try Gloucester for contrived offenses.  The Queen, Suffolk and York are after Gloucester’s scalp.  Part of Gloucester’s problem is that he is next in line to be king.  The king offers Gloucester nominal support, saying “’tis my special hope that you will clear yourself.”  Gloucester lashes out at the council members.  He is taken away and soon murdered.  The “common people in the streets” protest, claiming Suffolk and Cardinal Winchester are guilty of killing Gloucester.  The king banishes Suffolk from England. The queen and Suffolk, having long had an intimate relationship, share with us a most tender conversation. 

Act 4.  Having been sent out to sea, a disguised Suffolk is captured by a ship’s crew who provide us with a good history lesson.  They believe Suffolk is culpable in England’s social and commercial deterioration. They execute him. We learn that once again the Irish are irritating the English.  York accepts the king’s request to go to Ireland and bring their people under better control.  From Ireland, through a Jack Cade in London, York causes class turmoil, the craftsmen versus the lettered.  It’s here where Dick the butcher famously says “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”  Jack Cade creates real mischief.  Looking for a meal, Cade enters the garden of one Alexander Iden.  Cade and Iden fight. Cade dies in the fight. 

Act 5.  York returns from Ireland and directly challenges the king, audaciously suggesting he replace him.  Salisbury and Warwick throw their support to York, as unsurprisingly do York’s sons.  The king, queen, Somerset and Old Clifford know they need to defend England’s crown.  The two groups prepare to do battle at St Albans.  They fight at St Albans, the only battle in the War of the Roses.  Old Clifford and the duke of York fight.  Old Clifford is slain.  The duke of York’s youngest son, Richard, has a fight with Somerset, the long time leader of the red rose contingent.  Somerset is killed. Frightened, the king, queen and Young Clifford quickly head off to London.  York, his sons, along with Salisbury and Warwick chase after them.  The king and his entourage safely arrive in London.

 

Copyright © 2010 Condensed Shakespeare

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