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Henry VI, Part 3

Introduction to the play

Henry VI, Part 3 is dominated by a struggle between two military forces, neither of which can achieve victory for long. Until the end, the Yorkists and Lancastrians strive for the English crown. The conflict between these two families began under Richard II. Half a century later, during the reign of Henry VI, it moved toward civil war. Now, in Henry VI, Part 3, Henry’s long reign becomes intermittent as his cousin Richard, Duke of York, seeks the crown and York’s son Edward sporadically succeeds in seizing it.

As we watch the crown pass back and forth between Henry VI and Edward IV, our attention is caught by other characters: the Earl of Warwick, Queen Margaret, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Warwick is the power behind the challenge to Henry VI, until he shifts to Henry. Margaret raises an army in England and later leads one from France, all in a futile attempt to secure the throne for her son, Prince Edward. Historically, his death destroyed her, but Shakespeare wisely saves Margaret to bring her back in Richard III.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, increasingly draws our attention. Both attractive and repellent, he is energetic, self-aware, bitter about his deformity (which may not have existed historically), ruthless, and unable to care about others.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Henry VI, Part 3

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

O, tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide

Act 1, scene 4, line 140

Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile

Act 3, scene 2, line 184

Henry VI, Part 3 in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Henry VI, Part 3. Find more in our digital image collection

Queen Margaret. By J.W. Wright ; B. Eyles.
One of a set of seven original drawings. By Byam Shaw.
Act 2, scene 3: Warwick, Edward, and Richard at the Battle of Towton.
Portrait of York. By John Hamilton Mortimer.

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

Henry VI, Part 3

Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Henry VI, Part 3

Early printed texts

The textual history of the play we now refer to as Henry VI, Part 3 is (like Part 2) complicated. The play was first published as an octavo in 1595 with the title The true Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke, and the death of good King Henrie the Sixt, with the whole contention betweene the two Houses Lancaster and Yorke (O). This text was reprinted as a quarto with the same title in 1600 (Q1). In 1619, the play was printed with the second part under the joint title The Whole Contention betweene the two Famous Houses, Lancaster and Yorke (Q2). The play was included in the 1623 First Folio as The Third Part of Henry the Sixt (F1) in a version that is significantly longer than the earlier texts. Most modern editors, including those of the Folger Editions, base their texts on that of F1.