Abbreviations: BBC = British Broadcasting Company; H5 = Henry V; 1H6 = Henry VI, Part 1; 2H6 = Henry VI, Part 2; 3H6 = Henry VI, Part 3; John = King John; R3 = Richard III; RSC = Royal Shakespeare Company; True Tragedy = The true Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke; Union = The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and Yorke
Berman, Ronald. “Fathers and Sons in the Henry VI Plays.” Shakespeare Quarterly 13 (1962): 487–97.
Its immaturity notwithstanding, Berman claims that the H6 trilogy “shares the perceptiveness of Aeschylus and Sophocles,” for whom the most profound tragic action “emanat[es] from guilt of the past, and affect[s] the family and the state.” Central to the dynastic relationships of fathers and sons in the three plays are the rights of inheritance and questions relating to the issue of legitimacy—especially the idea of moral bastardy, which “comes to constitute more and more of a mocking counterpoint to the passionate claims made on behalf of the privileges of kinship, and derides the righteousness of the protagonists.” In 3H6, where “loyalty leads to revenge, but revenge leads only to futility,” the pattern is unmistakably ironic. Between two focal points—York’s tormented death (1.4) and its counterpart, the stabbing in Margaret’s presence of her son by the surviving progeny of York (5.5)—comes the allegorical scene (2.5) that expands the “sacred, corrupted theme of fathers and sons” to include national as well as personal degeneracy. Margaret’s phrase “bloody cannibals” (5.5.61) best symbolizes the moral debasement of birthright plaguing the House of Plantagenet: “the bastardy of nature shall continue until the deus ex machina of Henry Tudor rescues civilization from its by now inescapable corruption.”
Berry, Edward I. “3 Henry VI: Kinship.” In Patterns of Decay: Shakespeare’s Early Histories, pp. 53–74. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975.
In the chapter on 3H6, Berry brings his examination of the breakdown of society in the H6 trilogy to a close. Having focused on the decline of ritual and ceremony in Part 1 and of the rule of law in Part 2, he explores the decay of kinship in Part 3. The dissolution of family ties—Henry’s disinheriting his son and Margaret’s divorcing herself from the marriage bed in retaliation—“provide[s] the emblematic core” of the first scene. For the Lancastrians, the theme unfolds through the bonds between parent and child and husband and wife; for the Yorkists, the bond of brotherhood joins with parental and filial loyalties. The “mindless violence” that distinguishes 3H6 perverts the sacredness of such bonds: see, for example, the maniacal savagery of Clifford’s filial love (1.1.163–66; 1.3.48), the brutal consequences of Margaret’s natural affection for her son (1.4), the bloodlust (1.1.10–20) and oath breach (1.2.4–47) that taint the love between York and his sons, and the laments of a father who has killed his son and a son his father (2.5). In the latter part of the play, Richard of Gloucester’s emergence as the “self-conscious violator of all bonds of family affection” proves that even the Yorkist brotherhood cannot “surviv[e] the strains of power.” 3H6 depicts “the gradual dissolution of a society at war with itself, a society in which the single bond of kinship, isolated from the higher values that must sustain it, becomes increasingly corrupted and is finally destroyed.”
Blanpied, John W. “Henry VI, Part Three: ‘To make a bloody supper in the Tower.’ ” In Time and the Artist in Shakespeare’s English Histories, pp. 64–76. Newark: University of Delaware Press; Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1983. (The chapter incorporates “The Henry VI Plays: In Pursuit of the Ground,” Susquehanna University Studies 10 : 197–209.)
Viewed from a metatheatrical perspective, 3H6 emerges as a “brute play, proliferating props and dramatic occasions with a kind of rampant mechanical energy, yet with little transfiguring power.” Setting the stage for what is to come, the opening moments (1.1.10–20) graphically express “gangster humor from Renaissance princes”; a reductive realism reduces characters to “heads and blood—not blood as pedigree . . . but lifeblood,” thereby exposing chivalry and ceremony as mere pretense. All is multiple and interchangeable: heads, oaths, alliances, battles, and kings. Forgoing “the myth of drama as a ‘naturally’ intelligible form,” Shakespeare expends little energy on “maintaining credible dramatic conventions,” and “scene after scene enacts the dissolution of language itself into one or another form of puppetry.” Blanpied singles out the Towton molehill episode (2.5) to illustrate the play’s overall helplessness as drama. Out of the chaos, however, the dramatist sees emerging a “profoundly ambiguous and misshapen version” of himself, the Richard of Gloucester in 3.2, whose newly energizing force imparts a sense of futurity to a plot previously dominated by repetitive impulses. Embodying disorder, Richard, in effect, “is tempted into being” and becomes “the dramatist we have been pursuing.” In what Blanpied calls an “outrageous parody of the artist,” Richard claims the power “to shape ‘history’ to his liking, in his own image”: “In creating himself, he will recreate the play itself.” R3 will “test out the terrific temptations” of that promise.
Brockbank, Philip. “The Frame of Disorder: Henry VI.” In Early Shakespeare, edited by John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris, pp. 72–99. London: Edward Arnold, 1961. (Reprinted in Essays in Shakespearean Criticism, edited by James Calderwood and H. E. Toliver [Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970], pp. 121–36.)
In a widely cited essay, Brockbank advocates greater critical appreciation of the “stresses and ironies, complexities and intricate perspectives” at work in the prolonged violence of the H6 plays, wherein chronicle theology—i.e., the Old Testament idea that “makes catastrophe a consequence of sin”—is exposed to the “ ‘machiavellian’ idea that makes it a consequence of weakness.” As Brockbank observes, the two kinds of “anarchic scepticism” in 2H6—the “soldier’s nihilism” of Clifford and the “politician’s realism” of York—give way in Part 3 to the more significant moral contrast between “two figures representing the ultimate predicament of man as a political animal—Henry and Richard, martyr and machiavel.” Henry’s virtue, which comes across as absurd and irrelevant in Parts 1 and 2 and in the opening scene of Part 3, assumes a finer quality as the play unfolds, just as Richard’s evil intensifies. Shakespeare’s treatment of the battle at Wakefield holds the seeds of this changing dynamic. Turning on “two blasphemies of chivalry”—the brutal slaying of the innocent young Rutland (1.3) and the iconoclastic paper-crowning of York (1.4)—the battle marks the end of conventional heroic ideals. Whatever its defects, Henry’s virtue, by the time of his murder at the hands of his “ultimate antagonist” (5.6), “commands . . . full reverence.” Brockbank disputes the claim that the Tudor myth informs the H6 trilogy: the ghost of Richard II does not haunt the plays, and the catastrophes of the Wars of the Roses are not attributed to the “original sin” of Henry Bolingbroke’s usurpation of the throne. Moreover, with respect to Part 3, Henry VI’s “catastrophic virtue” and Richard of Gloucester’s “catastrophic evil . . . are not an inescapable inheritance from the distant past but are generated by the happenings we are made to witness.”
Hampton-Reeves, Stuart, and Carol Chillington Rutter. Shakespeare in Performance: The Henry VI Plays. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006.
This study of the Henry VI plays in performance focuses on their “Englishness” and textual malleability as an index to their modern theatrical afterlife. Perhaps Shakespeare’s “most English works,” they are the least performed of the canonical dramatic texts outside of England, where productions since the 1950s have been “bound up with issues of nationhood and national culture.” The authors point to Peter Hall and John Barton’s 1963–64 landmark The Wars of the Roses: Henry VI and Edward IV as instrumental in establishing the RSC as England’s “de facto national theater.” While recent scholarship has emphasized the separateness of the plays, the modern theatrical approach has focused on them as either a trilogy or the first three parts of a tetralogy that demand adaptation, whether by compression (reducing the three parts to two), transposition of scenes, or verbal alteration of passages. Besides the Hall-Barton revival, other productions receiving extensive coverage include the following: Sir Barry Jackson and Douglas Seale’s staging for the Festival of Britain (Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 1953); Terry Hands’s uncut Folio-text trilogy (RSC, 1977–78); Michael Bogdanov’s “punk” Henry VI: House of Lancaster and Henry VI: House of York (English Shakespeare Company, 1987–89); Adrian Noble’s “dazzling” The Plantagenets: Henry VI and The Rise of Edward IV (RSC, 1988–90); Michael Boyd’s nightmarish, color-blind Part One: The War Against France, Part Two: England’s Fall, and Part Three: The Chaos (RSC, 2000–01); and, for the BBC, the Michael Hayes–Peter Dews 1960 adaptation of the two tetralogies titled An Age of Kings (episodes 9–13) and Jane Howell’s 1981–83 full-text treatment of each play. Part 3 receives special attention (chapter 8) because of Katie Mitchell’s 1994–95 revival at Stratford-upon-Avon’s The Other Place. Retitling the play Henry VI—The Battle for the Throne, Mitchell took a Brechtian approach, interpreting the text in light of the civil war then being waged in Bosnia to issue “an indictment to Britain for failing to intervene.” For Mitchell, 3H6 offered a “distinctive vision of medieval England as a peasant culture deeply rooted in folk tradition, nature and religious ritual”; this folk culture, however, was under threat by a “materialist modernity, represented by the Yorkists,” who sought to “replace communal expression with individual ambition.” In addition to an introductory overview and a chapter on the popularity of the plays in the early modern period, the authors also provide an appendix of major theater personnel for the productions discussed and a bibliography.
Harris, Laurie Lanzen, and Mark W. Scott, eds. “Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3.” In Shakespearean Criticism: Excerpts from the Criticism of William Shakespeare’s Plays and Poetry from the First Published Appraisals to Current Evaluations, 3:11–164. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986.
This volume presents significant passages from published criticism on the three parts of H6. The set of passages is introduced by a brief discussion of the “date,” “text,” and “sources,” followed by a longer discussion of the “critical history” of the plays. Each entry, beginning with Robert Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit (1592) and ending with Marilyn French’s Shakespeare’s Division of Experience (1981), is prefaced with a brief historical overview that places the excerpted document in the context of responses to the play. Of the almost sixty entries, early commentary derives from Thomas Nashe (1592), John Crowne (1681), Gerard Langbaine (1691), and such eighteenth-century editors as Nicholas Rowe, Lewis Theobald, Edward Capell, Samuel Johnson, and Edmond Malone; nineteenth-century critics are represented by such figures as William Hazlitt, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hermann Ulrici, and Georg Gottfried Gervinus; entries from the twentieth century include excerpts from the writings of Carolyn Spurgeon, E. M. W. Tillyard, Hereward Price, Wolfgang Clemen, Muriel C. Bradbrook, Harold Goddard, David Bevington, Irving Ribner, Robert Ornstein, Michael Manheim, John Cox, and Larry Champion. A briefly annotated bibliography of fifty-five additional items concludes the section. A subsequent volume, edited by Michele Lee (2002), updates the criticism through the 1990s under such headings as “Character Study,” “Henry VI as Comedy,” “Playing with History,” and “Unity and Design” (63:113–218).
Hodgdon, Barbara. “Enclosing Contention: 1, 2, and 3 Henry VI.” In The End Crowns All: Closure and Contradiction in Shakespeare’s History, pp. 44–99. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Combining performance criticism (mostly of RSC productions) with study of the play texts, Hodgdon explores “closural strategies” in the three parts of H6. She begins her commentary on Part 3 (pp. 68–76) by noting the connection between the last scene of 2H6 and the first of 3H6, a linkage closer than that between Parts 1 and 2. “Blurring distinctions between beginning and ending, [3H6] opens by stressing the mutability of both, querying its own discrete form.” Severely patterned alternations between Lancaster and York shape the play’s narrative strategy and serve as the mechanism “through which each broken oath, each betrayal, each instance of blood revenge breeds the next, as though ironically imitating the generative process.” The result is a “particularly subversive revenge comedy of succession . . . that recirculates and intensifies the festival inversions and transgressive family relations of the earlier plays. For [3H6] represents England’s civil war as a conflict between patrilineal and matrilineal power.” Shakespeare’s exploitation of the civil war along gender lines continues even after the battle of Towton, no longer the decisive marker of Yorkist victory it is in the source, Edward Hall’s Union. As Richard of Gloucester “relocates Joan’s witchcraft [from 1H6] in his mother’s womb [3H6 3.2.155–64], he absorbs some of Margaret’s . . . more potentially threatening attributes . . . [thereby becoming] her antithetical double.” In the penultimate scene, which enacts both the murder of King Henry and the “re-representation of [Richard’s] birth” (5.6.69–94), Richard repeats his earlier displacement of his deformities onto his mother; he also “subverts the myth of succession” (i.e., “The King is dead. Long live the King”) by beginning his erasure of Edward IV’s reign. This “perverse parody of generation and succession” continues in the final scene’s signals of comic closure, most notably the “generat[ion] of a new—and complete—family.” Margaret’s “monstrous female misrule” has been suppressed, but Richard’s Judas kiss (5.7.32–35) and “ironic gaze toward the future” qualify the generative promise of the newly established family unit and thus compromise the audience’s “absorption within this spectacle of comic closure.” Hodgdon concludes with a discussion of the “interrelations and variances” within closural sequences found in the productions of Peter Hall and John Barton (1963–64), Terry Hands (1977–78), Michael Bogdanov (1987–89), and Adrian Noble (1988–90) (pp. 76–99).
Jones, Emrys. “3 Henry VI: Civil Swords.” In The Origins of Shakespeare, pp. 179–92. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.
Jones attributes the “slight imaginative malaise” afflicting 3H6 to its “living off [the] inherited capital” of Part 2. Nevertheless, he argues for greater artistry in the ordering of scenes, taken both individually and in sequence. Choosing not to disguise the disorderliness of the historical events found in his sources, Shakespeare puts on the stage an England without a king, thereby making disorder his theme. The author focuses on what he sees as 3H6’s bipartite structure, the division coming after Act 2. Warwick’s switching his allegiance from the House of York (Acts 1 and 2) to the House of Lancaster (Acts 3, 4, and 5) is a major sign of this division. With different ends in view, each part has its own emotional range and tempo. The intense savagery of the first part, with its two climactic scenes at Wakefield (1.4) and Towton (2.5), points up the barbarity of civil war and is marked by an acutely felt revenge ethic. The second part—where there are two crowned kings—is governed by the “giddying instability” of Fortune. Fittingly, the “turncoat Clarence” replaces the “butcher Clifford” as the typical figure of this later sequence. Not as moving as the first, the second part is “plotted so as to make the most of its ironical possibilities”: “kings come and go, now captive, now free,” until the recapture of Henry (4.8), which sets the stage for the business of Act 5: the diffusive, piecemeal destruction of the House of Lancaster (first Warwick, then Margaret and Prince Edward, and finally King Henry). Even Henry’s death hardly seems climactic, since he “has abdicated, if not from his throne, in effect from his trilogy, long before its inconclusive close.”
Lee, Patricia-Ann. “Reflections of Power: Margaret of Anjou and the Dark Side of Queenship.” Renaissance Quarterly 39 (1986): 183–217.
Lee compares Shakespeare’s depiction of Margaret of Anjou in 2 and 3H6 and R3 with depictions of the historical Margaret found in letters and other documentary records. The queen who appears in the plays as pitiless and cruel but also determined and vigorous shares much with her historical counterpart; the theatrical image, however, was “overlaid” with years of cumulative bias and myth that had already made Margaret “the symbol of a particular kind of female ruler and a pattern of negative feminine power.” Shakespeare’s “archetypal villainess”—the product of both his own artistic creativity and a tradition established by generations of propagandists and chroniclers—serves as a commentary on feminine rule. In the final pages of the essay, Lee discusses how the malignity, evil, and revenge ethic that Margaret reveals after the death of Suffolk in 2H6 intensify in Part 3, where she proceeds to “act the man[,] . . . becom[ing] truly manlike, but only by adopting the most debased and violent masculine traits.” The author singles out her behavior at Wakefield and her martial vigor elsewhere in the play to demonstrate the character’s violation of “right order,” the fierceness of her nature, and her lack of royal dignity. To have depicted such a negative view of queenship while a queen occupied the throne of England would seem to have been a risky endeavor on Shakespeare’s part; but because Elizabeth I had successfully “turn[ed] her femininity to positive purposes” in a careful construction of androgynous power, thereby reversing the dark images associated with female rule, Shakespeare’s depiction of Queen Margaret and her illegitimate queenship posed no practical threat to either Elizabeth or the playwright. (For a more positive reading of the character, see Levine, below.)
Levine, Nina. “Ruling Women and the Politics of Gender in 2 and 3 Henry VI.” In Women’s Matters: Politics, Gender, and Nation in Shakespeare’s Early History Plays, pp. 68–96. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1998.
While Shakespeare’s early histories (1, 2, and 3H6, R3, and John) rewrite the Tudor chronicle record so as to acknowledge the importance of women in ensuring patrilineal succession, Levine contends that they also “generate a critique of patrilineal inheritance and legitimacy” that speaks to the Elizabethan present in which the plays are “situated.” The author is especially interested in how the H6 trilogy uses political contexts—“both on- and offstage”—to frame and qualify negative stereotypes of women. In the section on 3H6 (pp. 87–96), Levine argues that unlike the treatment in his chronicle sources, Shakespeare’s depiction of the queen in three scenes (1.1, 1.4, and 5.4) interrogates “gendered attacks on women rulers and calls instead for a political ethos based on the nation’s welfare.” “Rehabilitated as a mother,” and no longer the adulterous queen of 2H6, the aggressive Margaret of 1.1 is not out to subvert male rule. That is York’s doing, as signaled by his presumptive occupation of the throne. On the contrary, her goal as brave warrior is to preserve the patrilineal inheritance of her son. The chief difference between her and the cross-dressed, martial Joan la Pucelle of 1H6 is that the Margaret of Part 3 “fights for, rather than against, England, while her aristocratic male opponents stand for rebellion, disorder, and the inversion of patriarchal ideals.” Although such a distinction “boldly refigures the gendered conflicts” informing the first two parts of the trilogy, “misogynistic stereotypes continue to erupt onstage,” most notably in the torment inflicted on York in 1.4, where Margaret’s role as mother “lends an ambivalence to her actions”: motherhood both “authorizes her aggression [against York] and . . . intensifies the horror of her taunts.” But even at Wakefield, Shakespeare places Margaret’s behavior within a broader political context—namely, York’s oath breach—thus allowing for an alternative reading of the episode. Finally, at the battle of Tewkesbury (5.4), where the queen’s martial rhetoric recalls Elizabeth I’s Armada speech before the troops at Tilbury in 1588, Margaret appears impressive, not unseemly. All three scenes invite the audience “to revise traditional assumptions about women, power, and the nation-state.” In the concluding “image of brother against brother [5.6.81] and uncle against nephew [5.7.32–35] . . . set against the figure of the heroic mother” at Tewkesbury, Levine finds an anticipation of both “the anxieties about the succession that will [become] prominent . . . in R3 and John, and also the role that women will play in these plays as defenders of the nation-state.”
Liebler, Naomi Conn. “King of the Hill: Ritual and Play in the Shaping of 3 Henry VI.” In Shakespeare’s English Histories: Quest for Form and Genre, edited by John W. Velz, pp. 31–54. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1996.
Mindful of the dominance of ceremony and the playful forms it frequently assumes in Shakespeare’s two tetralogies (e.g., the rhetorical serve and return serve of the tennis ball insult in H5 1.2.254–310), Liebler reads 3H6 in light of “ritual and its parallel mode, the ludic,” with the intent of bringing sense to what some critics regard as a “mere welter of carnage.” Applying Johan Huizinga’s theory of the ludic to the play’s structure and scenes of violence, she demonstrates how Shakespeare used familiar forms of ritual, game, and play as structural and thematic elements, “sometimes as reciprocal metaphors and sometimes as antitheses,” to shape both the anarchy central to the narrative and the audience response to it. In 3H6, “the game is government, war, legitimacy, the totality of the play’s concerns.” Without one moment of political stability, Part 3 develops like a game in which “alternate control of the prize”—i.e., the crown, repetitively passed back and forth between Henry and Edward—“is the essential dynamic,” much like the children’s games Capture the Flag or King of the Hill, neither of which ends with the first victory and both of which last as long as the players are willing to play. The gamesmanship of the early scenes is “an inverse or reverse structure of adults behaving like children when children behave badly.” Such is the case in the “paper crown” episode (1.4), the “most powerful moment of formalized play” in Part 3. Whereas the chronicle accounts of Hall and Holinshed have Clifford killing York and placing a paper crown on his severed head, Shakespeare gives the crown business to Margaret, who cruelly “plays” with York in order to “carnivalize and debase” him. The real action of 3H6 is “not the uncrowning of the king, but the uncrowning of the crown[,] . . . emptied of . . . meaning and turned into a toy.” In Liebler’s reading, the “contextualization of ritual in play and of it as play” leaves the audience with “a picture of cultural and political implosion, collapsing in on itself with all of its accustomed structures” ultimately rendered meaningless.
Martin, Randall. “Catilines and Machiavels: Reading Catholic Resistance in Henry VI, Part 3.” In Theatre and Religion: Lancastrian Shakespeare, edited by Richard Dutton, Alison Findlay, and Richard Wilson, pp. 105–15. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003.
In 3H6, two topical allusions may shed light on Shakespeare’s religious attitudes and his Catholic connections. Noting the classical references and choice of the word “Machiavel” in 3.2.190–95—the octavo True Tragedy has “Catiline”—Martin discusses verbal similarities between the two versions of the play and a 1572 pamphlet titled A Treatise of Treason Against Queen Elizabeth and the Crown of England by the Catholic polemicist John Leslie, bishop of Ross. (Leslie uses “Machiavel” and “Catiline” interchangeably as terms of abuse for two powerful members of Elizabeth’s inner circle, Sir Nicholas Bacon and William Cecil.) Contemporary accounts indicate that the anonymously published pamphlet was “exceptionally seditious, particularly in the context of the Jesuit missions and new government measures against recusants in the early 1580s.” It is likely that Leslie’s Treatise was among the books consulted by the Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion during his 1581 visit to Houghton Tower in Lancashire, home to a prominent Catholic family. If Shakespeare can be identified as the “William Shakeshafte” who was commended by Alexander Houghton in his will of that same year, the probability of the future dramatist’s access to the Leslie document increases. A second, possibly stronger, Catholic association appears early in Act 5, when Somerville corrects Warwick’s assumption that Clarence is soon to arrive in Coventry (5.1.7–15), a location near Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon. Since no historical Somerville can be connected with the scene—a “personal memory-site” for the dramatist because of its several references to Warwickshire place-names—one can assume that the choice of name was deliberate, Shakespeare intending his audience to recall two Catholics from the area condemned as traitors: Thomas Somerville and his father-in-law, Edward Arden (a possible relation to Shakespeare’s mother), whose heads were placed on London Bridge in 1583. Their deaths caused an outcry among both Catholics and Protestants because the evidence against them appeared defective. The author views Shakespeare’s positive portrayal of “Somerville” (“locally well-informed” and prudent, in contrast to Warwick) as a response to the playwright’s recently disgraced Catholic relations. When taken together, the two allusions underscore Shakespeare’s “use of, and participation in, a range of Catholic oppositional discourses.”
Martin, Randall. “The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and 3 Henry 6: Report and Revision.” Review of English Studies 53 (2002): 8–30.
For much of the twentieth century, textual scholars considered certain pre-1623 quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays to be reports of the First Folio texts as reconstructed by actors from their memories of performance. Recent textual critics have challenged this assumption to argue that these quarto texts represent “earlier or alternative play-scripts” later revised by Shakespeare. With respect to the Folio 3H6 and the octavo True Tragedy (1595), the prevailing view has been that the latter falls under the category of a memorial reconstruction. Martin’s experience in editing the Oxford 3H6, however, led him to find “some heuristic value” in both “report and revision” theories as a way of explaining True Tragedy’s “wide range of anomalies and variants.” On the basis of his examination of the two texts, he concluded that True Tragedy “is an earlier and often conceptually different version of the play which Shakespeare later revised, but that its text was also memorially reported [as suggested by internal repetitions indicative of faulty memory] by players who originally performed it.” Variant passages, moreover, suggest that Shakespeare’s revision of True Tragedy “was associated with an interpretive shift away from Hall and towards Holinshed—a change that in wider terms accords with his evolving career as a playwright and with the English history plays in particular.”
Martin, Randall. “ ‘A woman’s generall: what should we feare?’: Queen Margaret Thatcherized in Recent Productions of 3H6.” In Shakespeare and His Contemporaries in Performance, edited by Edward J. Esche, pp. 321–38. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2000.
Martin examines how five recent British stage and television productions of 3H6 have dealt with Queen Margaret; he focuses on Part 3 because of the introduction of a new aspect of the character—the role of mother—that “stands apart from the sexually defined continuum of her roles as French maiden-princess [1H6], ambitious and sorrowful lover [2H6], avenging she-wolf [3H6].” The directors and productions discussed are Terry Hands, RSC (1977); Jane Howell, BBC (1982); Adrian Noble, The Plantagenets, RSC (1988); Michael Bogdanov and Michael Pennington, The Wars of the Roses, English Shakespeare Company (1987–89); and Katie Mitchell, RSC (1994). Martin focuses on the cuts and abridgments made in speeches by and about Queen Margaret to argue that they marginalize the character, robbing her not only of stage time but also of complexity. Specifically, by omitting or abridging speeches related to Margaret’s “intimate and maternal self” (e.g., 1.1.222–33; 5.5.51–67), all five productions, in varying degrees, lost sight of Shakespeare’s “fashioning [of the queen] as fierce amazon and aggrieved mother.” The author relates this unwillingness to recognize Margaret’s “transgressive hybridity” to the fact that four of the five productions examined date from the 1980s and ’90s, and presented the queen “in ways distinctly recalling” Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” who served as British prime minister from 1979 to 1990. Portrayed in the media as a bellicose Amazon, Thatcher was abhorred by the theater world because of her cuts in funding for the arts. The “cultural domination” of such a female political figure “seems to have made it difficult for English theatre companies to imagine presenting Shakespeare’s warrior queen with any convincing degree of integrity as a mother, or even a woman.” In each production, the deletions or abridgments of passages exemplifying Margaret’s “multiple selves[,] . . . evolving subjectivity[,] . . . [and] heroically oriented role as militant mother” ultimately worked “against opening up Shakespeare’s text to plural interpretation or wider cultural debate.”
Pearlman, E. “The Invention of Richard of Gloucester.” Shakespeare Quarterly 43 (1992): 410–29.
Pearlman traces Richard’s genesis through 2 and 3H6 to argue that the character is a work in progress who undergoes a radical metamorphosis in the major soliloquy that begins “Ay, Edward will use women honorably” (3H6 3.2.126). In the “shift from a descriptive to an etiological psychology,” Shakespeare fuses the naturalistic (Richard as conscious of the deformity that causes his villainy) and the symbolic (Richard as Vice) to reveal for the first time the “ironic, leering, self-conscious, and devilish” character familiar to audiences of R3. The transformation of Richard from the flat character introduced at the end of 2H6 (“little more than ugly and audacious”) to the reconceived figure of dissimulation and strategic resolve in 3.2 culminates a series of experiments with a “variety of tongues” echoing Seneca, Marlowe, Kyd, and the traditions of epic and sonnet (e.g., 3H6 1.2.22–34; 2.1.9–24, 79–89; and 2.3.14–22). Shakespeare amplifies the transformed Richard in subsequent scenes (notably his soliloquy in 5.6 following the murder of Henry, especially lines 81–84) so that the character is “fully realized” by the time he speaks the opening soliloquy of R3. A line from that speech—“I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks” (1.1.14)—is “the great discovery” of Richard’s soliloquy in 3H6 3.2. Pearlman concludes that Richard’s “transitional soliloquy” carries further implications for the play’s thematic shift from conflict between generations to conflict among brothers.
Riggs, David. “The Hero in History: A Reading of Henry VI.” In Shakespeare’s Heroical Histories: Henry VI and Its Literary Tradition, pp. 93–139. London: Oxford University Press, 1971.
Riggs’s analysis of the three parts of H6 within the context of exemplary history and heroic drama (as defined by Marlowe’s Tamburlaine) leads him to conclude that the trilogy is crucial to Shakespeare’s developing conception of the history play as a dialectic between heroic ideals and ethical and political realities. In the author’s anti-Tillyardian reading, the H6 plays become “an extended meditation on the decline of heroic idealism” between the Hundred Years War and the Yorkist accession. The opening sequence of 3H6 reveals an image of heroic character markedly different from that found in the first two parts of the trilogy. The confrontation of Westmorland, Northumberland, Young Clifford, and Warwick (1.1.90–104), so soon after the initial emphasis on slaughter (1.1.10–20), transforms what was the open, chivalric trial by combat in the original encounter between York and Old Clifford (2H6 5.2.19–30)—and, by extension, the entire first battle of St. Albans ex post facto—into a “personal tragedy involving the violation of family pieties.” Despite its obsession with the bloodlust of revenging sons, Part 3 does not “degenerate into a pseudopolitical revenge tragedy,” primarily because its major characters have double roles: as “member[s] of an aggrieved family and as . . . participants in a complex political struggle” that mirrors the early modern transition from the heroic ideals of a feudal world to the Tudor politics of a Machiavellian one (see, e.g., Northumberland’s advice to Young Clifford at 1.4.59–60: “It is war’s prize to take all vantages, / And ten to one is no impeach of valor”). Richard of Gloucester’s language in 3.2.188–97, like that of Tamburlaine, shows him emerging from a world of heroic tradition. Speaking as a Renaissance prince who evokes ancient myth and the language of epic, Richard turns the “very formulas of rhetorical invective to his own advantage, [to argue] that it is precisely those qualities which make a man despicable in the world of copybook humanism that best qualify him for an early crown.” The new “prince” of policy thus gives one last “ironic turn of the screw to the humanistic pursuit of fame and honor.” In 3H6, Shakespeare “pictures human history as the visible effect of uncontrolled revenge and cynical Machiavellian ambition, a final anarchic distortion of heroic ideals.” The choric figure of Henry VI offers a melancholy counterpoint to these themes.
Saccio, Peter. “Henry VI and Edward IV: The Rival Kings.” In Shakespeare’s English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama, pp. 115–55. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
The author discusses 3H6 under the heading “Edward IV, 1461–1471” (pp. 138–55). Unlike Part 1, with its radical rearrangement of chronology, the third part of the trilogy is similar to Part 2 in its extensive exaggeration of the historical record, especially with respect to the Wars of the Roses—really nothing more than “a skirmish in 1455 (first St. Albans), six battles in 1459–1461, and three . . . in 1469–1471.” To read Parts 2 and 3 is to see the period as one of ceaseless turbulence, with widespread devastation in the land, a vision of mid-fifteenth-century England “born largely of [Tudor] propaganda,” which Shakespeare “converts . . . into eloquence.” In 3H6, which covers the years 1455–71, Shakespeare “elides and omits” fewer historical facts than he does in the first two parts of the trilogy. When he does omit and compress, it is usually for dramatic effect: e.g., the omission of the battle at Mortimer’s Cross (saving the meteorological event of the three suns [2.1.25–32]) and the reporting of the second battle of St. Albans allow the emphasis to fall on the more significant battle of Towton; the focus on Edward IV’s marriage to Lady Grey at the expense of foreign policy disputes as the sole reason for the gradual estrangement between Edward and Warwick streamlines the action by avoiding unnecessary and, from a dramatic perspective, tedious detail. Some changes seem intended to increase the pathos of a scene (e.g., Rutland is made a child rather than the seventeen-year-old soldier he actually was; and Prince Edward, who died in battle, is brutally stabbed by the Yorkist brothers). The most significant departure from the sources, however, has to do with the “sheer invention” of the future Richard III (only two years old in 1455) as a young man actively engaged in pursuing revenge and his own ambitions. Most historians reject the idea that he murdered Henry VI, claiming instead that the order was probably given by Edward IV, with Richard, as constable of England, having the responsibility to see that it was carried out.