Sorry if I've been a little slack in posting things lately. I decided not to do background notes for my last Henry VI play and I'm just now trying to finish it. Please post your reviews below either in the comments or by using Mr. Linky to link to your blog post.
Added 4/4: My Review for 3 Henry VI
While part of me is saying, "phew, finally done with Henry", most of me really enjoyed the journey. Overall, the three plays are a great prologue to Richard III. I look forward to rereading that one this month with a much more thorough background knowledge of the characters, especially the title one who appeared very vicious already in 3 Henry. For example, he says in a soliloquy in Act III: "Would he [his brother, King Edward] were wasted, marrow, bones, and all, That from his loins no hopeful branch may spring, To cross me from the golden time I look for!" Edward has only recently become king, ousting Henry and yet already Richard is hoping to be rid of him and his brother George of Clarence as well. By the end, after murdering Henry in the Tower, he kisses his young nephew Edward, naming himself as Judas in an aside, perhaps foreshadowing Edward's death in the Tower yet to come.
Throughout the play, Henry becomes more priest and prophet than king. He is told not to join the various battles because his wife, young son, and knights fight better without him. Also, in Act IV his nobles say farewell, kissing his hand, and he blesses each one more like a maiden than a king: "my Hector, and my Troy's true hope. . .Sweet Oxford, and my loving Montague." However, he does bless Henry, Earl of Richmond aka Tudor, and predicts that he is England's hope. And when Richard comes to kill him, he recounts all the evil signs that came at his birth as well as the orphans, widows, and old men who will mourn because of him. I felt sorry for him, yet it was clear that Shakespeare held him and his haughty queen responsible for the civil war. Various characters hinted that if he were more like his father (Henry V) this wouldn't have happened. The Yorkists even say through (King) Edward that they would not have pursued the throne so strongly if Margaret hadn't been his wife because she cost England treasure and land in France, leading to dishonor.
It's almost unnecessary to state that this is a very violent play. From Clifford exacting revenge on Richard Plantagenet for his father's death to various sons killing their fathers and fathers killing sons to the York brothers stabbing Prince Edward (Lancaster) before his mother Margaret to Richard killing Henry VI in the Tower; I would be interested to see how all of this appeared on stage.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Overall, I think I enjoyed this second part of Henry VI much better than the first. It was definitely more cohesive and it also gave me more of a sense of Henry as a king. The general trajectory of the play consisted of the powers behind the throne(Queen Margaret, Suffolk, the Cardinal, and York) plotting to get rid the only good guy besides the king, Humphrey of Gloucester, the Lord protector. Once he was killed, everything unravels until only the Queen and York are left--Suffolk is beheaded by a pirate and the Cardinal dies raving about Gloucester's ghost.
Throughout, I felt sorry for King Henry partly because he was powerless but also because he clearly loved and revered Gloucester. He consistently defends him but when he is arrested he bemoans his inability to do anything and trusts that somehow he'll make it through his trial. Part of me wanted to shake him and remind him that he was king, for goodness sake!, but at the same time, he little suspected that his other trusted advisors would have him killed. After Gloucester's death, he does banish one of the malefactors, Suffolk, but still holds out hope for the Cardinal to make a good death and trust in God. I think that at that point he was casting pearls before swine. Throughout, Shakespeare shows that his heart was not in ruling but that he would have done better as a monk. At one point, he has Henry say, "Was never subject long'd to be a king as I do long and wish to be a subject." Iden, a foil for the king, rhapsodizes over his simple, quiet life on his country estate and yet even he is thrust into the court life when he kills the rebel Jack Cade.
I was also struck by how little the queen tried to hide her malice and her love for Suffolk (perhaps invented by Shakespeare). When Gloucester's death is discovered, she doesn't even pretend to comfort her husband who swoons (again, not very kingly) but laments that Henry does not care for her in the same way as he does for Gloucester. She claims he would rather her be dead and that her difficult journey to England was for nothing. However, this "difficult" journey cost the English people 15% of their income and earned her father two territories in France, thanks to Suffolk. Also, when Suffolk is banished, she begs for his release and also grieves openly upon his death.
Not many lines stood out in terms of poetry but I did enjoy the pirate lieutenant's description of night:
The gaudy, blabbing, and remorseful day
Is crept into the bosom of the sea;
And now loud-howling wolves arouse the jades
That drag the tragic melancholy night;
Who with their drowsy, slow, and flagging wings
Cleep dead men's graves, and from their misty jaws
Breathe foul contagious darkness in the air.
The perfect setting for their evil deeds of murdering Suffolk and dealing with their other prisoners.
I realize I didn't really touch on York here but I guess his treachery seemed like a prelude to the next play so I'll address that more after I read the last part of Henry VI (hurray!).
Sorry it's taken me so long to post this! Please link to your reviews of the plays you've been reading this month using Mr. Linky below.