Henry VI, Part 2 or The Second Part of Henry the Sixt (often written as 2 Henry VI) is a history play by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1591, and set during the lifetime of King Henry VI of England. Whereas 1 Henry VI deals primarily with the loss of England's French territories and the political machinations leading up to the Wars of the Roses, and 3 Henry VI deals with the horrors of that conflict, 2 Henry VI focuses on the King's inability to quell the bickering of his nobles, the death of his trusted adviser Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, the rise of the Duke of York and the inevitability of armed conflict. As such, the play culminates with the opening battle of the War, the First Battle of St Albans.
Although the Henry VI trilogy may not have been written in chronological order, the three plays are often grouped together with Richard III to form a tetralogy covering the entire Wars of the Roses saga, from the death of Henry V in 1422 to the rise to power of Henry VII in 1485. It was the success of this sequence of plays which firmly established Shakespeare's reputation as a playwright.
Of the King's Party
Of the Duke of York's Party
The Petitions and the Combat
The False Miracle
Murder of Gloucester
Murder of Suffolk
The Cade Rebellion
The play begins with the marriage of King Henry VI of England to the young Margaret of Anjou. Margaret is the protégée (and possibly lover) of William de la Pole, 4th Earl of Suffolk, who aims to influence the king through her. The major obstacle to Suffolk and Margaret's plan is the Protector of the crown, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who is immensely popular with the common people and deeply trusted by the King. Gloucester's position however is undermined by the fact that his own wife also has designs on the throne, and as such, she has been duped by an agent of Suffolk into dabbling in necromancy. She summons a spirit and demands it reveal the future to her, but its prophecies are vague and before the ritual is finished, she is interrupted and arrested. At court she is then banished, greatly to the embarrassment of Gloucester. This done, Suffolk then allies himself with Cardinal Beaufort of Winchester and the Duke of Somerset in determining to bring about Gloucester's ruin. Suffolk accuses Gloucester of treason and has him imprisoned, but before Gloucester can be tried, Suffolk sends two assassins to kill him. Meanwhile, as this struggle plays itself out, Richard, 3rd Duke of York, reveals his claim to the throne (he is descended from Edward III's third son, whereas Henry is descended from the fourth son) to the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, who pledge to support him.
The Earl of Suffolk is subsequently banished for his role in Gloucester's death, whilst Winchester contracts a fever and dies cursing God. Margaret is horrified at Suffolk's banishment, and vows to see to it that he can soon return, but he is killed by pirates shortly after departing England, and his head sent back to the distraught Margaret. Meanwhile, York has been appointed as commander of an army to suppress a revolt in Ireland. Prior to leaving, York enlists a former officer of his, Jack Cade, to stage a popular rebellion so as to ascertain if the common people would support York himself should he make an open move for power. With York in Ireland and thus free from accusations of being involved in the uprising, Cade goes about his task. At first, the rebellion is successful, and he sets himself up as Mayor of London, but his rebellion is put down when Lord Clifford (a supporter of Henry) persuades the common people who make up Cade's army, to abandon the cause. Cade himself is subsequently killed several days later by a man into whose garden he climbs looking for food.
Meanwhile, York returns to England with his army, claiming that his intent is to protect the King from the duplicitous Somerset. When the King refuses to accept this, York openly states his claim to the throne, supported by his sons, Edward (the future King Edward IV) and Richard (the future King Richard III). The English nobility now take sides, some supporting the House of York, others supporting Henry and the House of Lancaster. A battle is fought at St Albans which sees the Duke of Somerset killed by Richard, and Lord Clifford by York. With the conflict lost, Margaret persuades the distraught King to flee the battlefield and head to London. She is joined in her efforts by Young Clifford, who has vowed revenge on the Yorkists for the death of his father. The play ends with the Yorkists setting out in pursuit of Henry, Margaret and Clifford.
Shakespeare's primary source for 2 Henry VI was Edward Hall's The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548). Also, as with most of Shakespeare's chronicle histories, Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1577; 2nd edition 1587) was also consulted. Holinshed based much of his Wars of the Roses information in the Chronicles on Hall's information in Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families, even to the point of reproducing large portions of it verbatim. However, there are enough differences between Hall and Holinshed to establish that Shakespeare must have consulted both of them.
For example, in his 2003 edition of 2 Henry VI for The Oxford Shakespeare, Roger Warren argues that the marked contrast between Henry and Margaret, so much a recurring theme in the play, comes directly from Hall, who presents Henry as a gentle, almost saint-like, victim of circumstances, and Margaret as a highly intelligent manipulator and egotist. Shakespeare must also have used Hall to establish York's claim to the throne (outlined in 2.2), as in the corresponding section in Holinshed, there is a mistake in the genealogy which adds an extra generation to York's lineage. On the other hand however, the meeting between Buckingham and York prior to the Battle of St Albans (dramatised in 5.1) is found only in Holinshed. Additionally, only Holinshed contains information about the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 which Shakespeare used as his basis for the scenes of Cade's rebellion throughout Act 4 (for example, details such as having people killed because they could read, and promises of setting up a state with no money come directly from Holinshed). Jack Cade is based on the leader of the revolt, Wat Tyler, whose depiction in Thomas Walsingham's Chronicon Angliae formed the basis of Holinshed's material.
Another piece of information represented differently in Hall and Holinshed is Henry's reaction to the Cade rebellion. In Hall, Henry pardons everyone who surrenders and lets them all return home unpunished, and this is how Shakespeare presents it in the play. In Holinshed however, Henry arranges a court and has several of the leaders executed (as he did in reality). Another historical parallel found in Holinshed is that Henry is presented as unstable, constantly on the brink of madness, something which is not in Hall, who presents a gentle but ineffective King (again, Shakespeare follows Hall here).
Shakespeare's largest departure from Hall and Holinshed is in his conflation of the Cade rebellion, York's return from Ireland and the Battle of St Albans into one continuous sequence. Both Hall and Holinshed present these events as covering a four year period (as they did in reality), but in the play they are presented as one leading directly, and immediately, to the other. Shakespeare also altered the timeline in relation to the conflict between Margaret and Eleanor. In reality, they never met, as Eleanor was banished for practising witchcraft four years prior to Margaret's arrival, yet in the play they are political and personal rivals.
Another source for Shakespeare was Richard Grafton's A Chronicle at Large (1569). Like Holinshed, Grafton reproduces large passages of unedited material from Hall, but some sections are exclusive to Grafton, showing Shakespeare must also have consulted him. The false miracle for example (dramatised in 2.1) is found only in Grafton, not in Hall or Holinshed (although a similar scene is also outlined in John Foxe's Acts and Monuments, Book of Martyrs (1563), with which Shakespeare may have been familiar).
Another minor source may have been William Baldwin's Mirror for Magistrates (1559; 2nd edition, 1578), a series of poems spoken by deceased, controversial historical figures, who have come forward to speak of their life and death, and to warn contemporary society not to make the same mistakes as they did. One such figure is Margaret of Anjou, and Roger Warren argues that Shakespeare may have taken the inspiration for Margaret's sorrowful departure from Suffolk (which is found nowhere in Hall, Holinshed or Grafton) from this poem. Another minor source could have been Robert Fabyan's New Chronicles of England and France (1516). This is possible insofar as in Fabyan, the Cade rebellion, York's return from Ireland and the Battle of St Alban's are depicted very much as they are in the play; they form one contiguous sequence.
The play must have been written by early 1594 as on March 12, 1594, a quarto version of the play was entered into the Stationers' Register by the bookseller Thomas Millington, and printed by Thomas Creede later that year, under the title The First part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster, with the death of the good Duke Humphrey: And the banishment and death of the Duke of Suffolke, and the Tragicall end of the proud Cardinal of Winchester, with the notable Rebellion of Jack Cade: and the Duke of Yorke's first claim unto the Crowne. This quarto is often theorised to be a reported text of a performance of what is today called 2 Henry VI. This places the latest possible date of composition of the play as early 1594.
However, there is evidence that the play was written several years earlier. The Diary of Philip Henslowe records a performance of a play by Lord Strange's Men called Harey Vj (ie Harry VI) on March 3, 1592 at the Rose Theatre in Southwark. Henslowe refers to the play as "ne" (which most critics take to mean 'new') and mentions that it had fifteen performances and earned £3.16s.8d, meaning it was extremely successful. Harey Vj is usually accepted as being 1 Henry VI for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is unlikely to have been either 2 Henry VI or 3 Henry VI as they were published in 1594 and 1595 respectively with the titles under which they would have originally been performed, so as to ensure higher sales, and as neither of them appear under the title Harey Vj, the play seen by Henslowe is unlikely to be either of them. Additionally, as Gary Taylor points out, Henslowe tended to identify sequels, but not first parts, to which he referred by the general title. As such, "Harey Vj could not be a Part Two or Part Three, but could easily be a Part One." The only other option is that Harey Vj is a now lost play.
That Harey Vj is not a lost play however seems to be confirmed by a reference in Thomas Nashe's Piers Penniless his Supplication to the Devil (entered into the Stationers' Register on August 8, 1592), which supports the theory that Harey Vj is 1 Henry VI. Nashe praises a play which features Lord Talbot; "How would it have joyed brave Talbot (the terror of the French), to think that after he had lain two hundred years in his tomb, he should triumph again on the stage, and have his bones new embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators (at least), who in the tragedian that represents his person imagine they behold him fresh bleeding". It is thought that Nashe is here referring to Harey Vj, ie 1 Henry VI, as there is no other candidate for a play featuring Talbot from this time period (although again, there is the slight possibility that both Henslowe and Nashe are referring to a now lost play).
If one accepts that Harey Vj is 1 Henry VI, it means 1 Henry VI was on stage by March, 1592. However, it is known from another source that 3 Henry VI was on stage by September 1592. Robert Greene's pamphlet A Groatsworth of Wit (registered in September 1592) parodies a line from 3 Henry VI whilst mocking Shakespeare, to whom Greene refers as "an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his 'tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide', supposes that he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you, and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country". This parodies 3 Henry VI, 1.4.138, where York refers to Margaret as a "tiger's heart wrapped in woman's hide". This parody proves that 3 Henry VI was well known by at least September 1592, which means it must have been staged prior to June 23, as that was when the government shut the theatres to prevent an outbreak of plague. As such, 1 Henry VI was on stage by at least March 3, and 3 Henry VI by at least June 23, suggesting that 2 Henry VI must also have been staged some time in early-mid 1592. This would seem to indicate that it was probably written in 1591.
When the play came to be called Part 2 is unclear, although most critics tend to assume it was the invention of the First Folio editors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, as there are no references to the play under the title Part 2, or any derivative thereof, prior to 1623.
The 1594 quarto text of The Contention was reprinted twice, in 1600 (in quarto) and 1619 (in folio). The 1600 text was printed by Valentine Simmes for Millington. The 1619 text was part of William Jaggard's False Folio, which was printed for Thomas Pavier. This text was printed together with a version of 3 Henry VI which had been printed in octavo in 1595 under the title The 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. In the False Folio, the two plays were grouped under the general title The Whole Contention betweene the Two Famous Houses, Lancaster and Yorke. Also printed with The Whole Contention was Pericles, Prince of Tyre. The 1619 text of 2 Henry VI wasn't directly taken from The Contention however. The original text was edited slightly to correct a crucial error in York's outline of his genealogy in 2.2.
The text of the play that today forms 2 Henry VI was not published until the 1623 First Folio.
Due to the quarto title (The First Part of the Contention), and with the publication of True Tragedy in 1595, which makes no reference whatsoever to 1 Henry VI, some critics have argued that 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI were written prior to 1 Henry VI. This theory was first suggested by E.K. Chambers in 1923, and revised by John Dover Wilson in 1952. The theory is that The Contention and True Tragedy were originally conceived as a two-part play, but due to their success, a prequel was created. Various critics have offered various pieces of evidence to attest to this fact, such as R.B. McKerrow, who argues that "if 2 Henry VI was originally written to continue the first part, it seems utterly incomprehensible that it should contain no allusion to the prowess of Talbot." McKerrow also comments on the lack of reference to the symbolic use of roses in 2 Henry VI, whereas in 1 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI the device is mentioned numerous times. McKerrow concludes that this suggests 1 Henry VI was written closer to 3 Henry VI, and as we know 3 Henry VI was a sequel, it means that 1 Henry VI must have been written last; ie Shakespeare only conceived of the use of the roses whilst writing 3 Henry VI, and then incorporated the idea into his prequel. Eliot Slater comes to the same conclusion in his statistical examination of the vocabulary of all three Henry VI plays, where he argues that 1 Henry VI was written either immediately before or immediately after 3 Henry VI, hence it must have been written last. Likewise, Gary Taylor in his analysis of the authorship of 1 Henry VI, argues that the many discrepancies between 1 Henry VI and 2 Henry VI (such as the lack of reference to Talbot) coupled with similarities in the vocabulary, phraseology and tropes of 1 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI suggest 1 Henry VI was probably written last.
One argument against this theory is that 1 Henry VI is the weakest of the trilogy and therefore, logic would suggest it was written first. This argument suggests that Shakespeare could only have created such a weak play if it was his first attempt to turn his chronicle sources into drama; in essence, he was unsure of his way, and as such, 1 Henry VI was a trial-run of sorts, making way for the more accomplished 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI. Emrys Jones is one notable critic who supports this view. The standard rebuke to this theory, and the one used by Dover Wilson in 1952, is that 1 Henry VI is significantly weaker than the other two plays, not because it was written first but because it was co-authored, and may have been Shakespeare's first attempt to collaborate with other dramatists. As such, all of the play's problems can be attributed to its co-authors rather than Shakespeare himself, who may have had a relatively limited hand its composition. In this sense, the fact that 1 Henry VI is the weakest of the trilogy has nothing to do with when it may have been written, but instead concerns only how it was written.
As this implies, there is no critical consensus on this issue. Samuel Johnson, writing in his 1765 edition of The Plays of William Shakespeare, pre-empted the debate and argued that the plays were written in sequence; "It is apparent that [2 Henry VI] begins where the former ends, and continues the series of transactions, of which it presupposes the first part already written. This is a sufficient proof that the second and third parts were not written without dependence on the first." Numerous more recent scholars continue to uphold Johnson's argument. E.M.W. Tillyard, for example, writing in 1944, believes the plays were written in order, as does Andrew S. Cairncross in his editions of all three plays for the 2nd series of the Arden Shakespeare (1957, 1962 and 1964). E.A.J. Honigmann also agrees, in his 'early start' theory of 1982 (which argues that Shakespeare's first play was Titus Andronicus, which Honigmann posits was written in 1586). Likewise, Michael Hattaway, in both his 1990 New Cambridge Shakespeare edition of 1 Henry VI and his 1991 edition of 2 Henry VI argues that the evidence suggests 1 Henry VI was written first. In his 2001 introduction to Henry VI: Critical Essays, Thomas A. Pendleton makes a similar argument, as does Roger Warren, in his 2003 edition of 2 Henry VI for The Oxford Shakespeare.
On the other hand, Edward Burns, in his 2000 Arden Shakespeare 3rd series edition of 1 Henry VI and Ronald Knowles, in his 1999 Arden Shakespeare 3rd series edition of 2 Henry VI make the case that 2 Henry VI probably preceded 1 Henry VI. Similarly, Randall Martin, in his 2001 Oxford Shakespeare edition of 3 Henry VI argues that 1 Henry VI was almost certainly written last. In his 2003 Oxford edition of 1 Henry VI, Michael Taylor agrees with Martin. Additionally, it is worth noting that in the Oxford Shakespeare: Complete Works of 1986 and the 2nd edition of 2005, and in the Norton Shakespeare of 1997 and again in 2008, both 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI precede 1 Henry VI.
Ultimately, the question of the order of composition remains unanswered, and the only thing that critics can agree on is that all three plays (in whatever order) were written by early 1592 at the latest.
Some critics argue that the Henry VI trilogy were the first ever plays to be based on recent English history, and as such, they deserve an elevated position in the canon, and a more central role in Shakespearean criticism. According to F.P. Wilson for example, "There is no certain evidence that any dramatist before the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 dared to put upon the public stage a play based upon English history [...] so far as we know, Shakespeare was the first." However, not all critics agree with Wilson here. For example, Michael Taylor argues that there were at least thirty-nine history plays prior to 1592, including the two-part Christopher Marlowe play Tamburlaine (1587), Thomas Lodge's The Wounds of Civil War (1588), the anonymous The Troublesome Reign of King John (1588), Edmund Ironside (1590 - also anonymous ), Robert Green's Selimus (1591) and another anonymous play, The True Tragedy of Richard III (1591). Paola Pugliatti however argues that the case may be somewhere between Wilson and Taylor's argument; "Shakespeare may not have been the first to bring English history before the audience of a public playhouse, but he was certainly the first to treat it in the manner of a mature historian rather than in the manner of a worshipper of historical, political and religious myth."
In any case, there is much more critical disagreement about the play, not the least aspect of which concerns its relationship to The Contention.
Over the years, critics have debated the connection between 2 Henry VI and The Contention, to the point where four main theories have emerged:
Traditionally, critical opinion has tended to favour the first theory; that The Contention is a bad quarto, a memorial reconstruction, perhaps by the actor who had played Suffolk and/or Cade in early performances. Samuel Johnson originated this theory in 1765, but it was challenged by Edmond Malone in 1790, when he suggested the possibility that The Contention could be an early draft of 2 Henry VI. Malone's view was the dominant one until 1929, when Peter Alexander and Madeleine Doran, working independently of one another, re-established the dominance of the bad quarto theory.
One of their main arguments focused on a major genealogical error in The Contention, which they argue seems unlikely to have been made by an author, and is therefore only attributable to a reporter. In 2.2, when York is outlining his claim to the throne, in The Contention, he identifies Edmund of Langley as Edward III's second son, instead of his fifth (as in 2 Henry VI). This is important because it renders unnecessary his need to claim the throne through his mother's ancestry; if he was descended from the second son, his mother would not be important to his argument, as he himself would be descended directly from an elder son than Henry. This mistake renders much of his argument as to lineage completely pointless, and it has been argued that "no one who understood what he was writing, that is – no author – could have made this error, but someone parroting someone else's work of which he himself had but a dim understanding – that is, a reporter – could have."
Act 3, Scene 1 has been pinpointed as another scene which provides evidence that The Contention is a reported text. In The Contention, after the court has turned on Gloucester, Suffolk then illogically switches back to discussing the regentship of France. Horner and Thump are introduced and Gloucester arranges for them to formally duel. At this point, Gloucester leaves, but without any discernible reason (unlike in 2 Henry VI, where Margaret threatens his life just prior to his abrupt departure). Margaret then strikes Eleanor, Gloucester returns, and he and his wife leave together. Steven Urkowitz (a staunch opponent of the theory of bad quartos in general and a supporter of the early draft theory) argues that the difference in the two scenes is an example of "the finely Shakespearean first choices recorded in the Quarto." Roger Warren however argues that the scene provides strong evidence that The Contention is a reported text; "it is not hard to conjecture how the Quarto's version came about. The conflicting claims of York and Somerset led to the Armourer and his Man being introduced too soon; whoever was compiling the Quarto text remembered that Gloucester left the stage, though not why, but did remember that while he was offstage, Margaret struck his wife. The utterly unmotivated exit and reappearance of Gloucester in itself rules out the possibility that the Quarto's scene is a legitimate alternative to the Folio version rather than a confused report of it."
Further evidence for the reported text theory is provided in how other plays are used throughout The Contention. For example, Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus is quoted in the witchcraft scene ("Now Faustus, what wouldst thou have me do?" (1.3.36) is reproduced as "Now Bolingbroke, what wouldst thou have me do?"), and Marlowe's Edward II is paraphrased in Act 3, Scene 1 (Marlowe's "The wild O'Neill, with swarms of Irish kerns,/Lives uncontrolled within the English pale" (2.2.163-164) becomes "The wild O'Neill, my lords, is up in arms,/With troops of Irish kerns that uncontrolled/Doth plant themselves within the English pale"). Also, even a line from 3 Henry VI is used in Act 3, Scene 1 ("If our King Henry had shook hands with death" (1.4.103)), all of which seems to suggest that, as so often in the bad quartos, the reporter was filling in blanks (ie passages he couldn't remember) with extracts from other plays.
Steven Urkowitz has spoken at great length about the debate between the bad quarto theory and the early draft theory, coming down firmly on the side of the early draft. Urkowitz argues that the quarto of 2 Henry VI and the octavo of 3 Henry VI actually present scholars with a unique opportunity to see a play evolving, as Shakespeare edited and rewrote certain sections; "the texts of 2 and 3 Henry VI offer particularly rich illustrations of textual variation and theatrical transformation." Urkowitz cites the dialogue in the opening scene of 2 Henry VI as especially strong evidence of the early draft theory. In The Contention, Henry receives Margaret with joy and an exclamation that all his worldly troubles are behind him; in 2 Henry VI, he is more cautious, seeing Margaret as a relief for his problems, but only if she and he can find common ground and love one another. In The Contention, Margaret is utterly humble, and vows to love the King no matter what; in 2 Henry VI Margaret is much bolder and self-congratulatory. In The Contention, after the initial meeting, Henry asks Margaret to sit beside him before bidding the Lords to stand nearby and welcome her; in 2 Henry VI, there is no reference to anyone sitting, and the lords kneel before speaking to Margaret. Urkowitz summarises these differences by arguing, "In the visible geometry of courtly ceremony, the Folio version offers us a bold Queen Margaret and an exuberant king while the visibly subordinated nobles kneel before them. In contrast to the modest queen seated beside the king surrounded by standing nobles, in this text at the equivalent moment, we have an exertive queen standing upright with her monarch, visibly subordinating the kneeling, obedient lords. Distinct theatrical representations of psychological and political tensions distinguish the two versions of the passage. Both texts "work" by leading an audience through an elaborate ceremonial display fraught with symbolic gestures of emotional attachment, sanctification, regal authority and feudal obedience, but each displays a distinct pattern of language and coded gestures. Such fine-tuning of dramatic themes and actions are staples of professional theatrical writing." As such, the differences in the texts are exactly the types of differences one tends to find in texts which were altered from an original form, and Urkowitz cites Eric Rasmussen, E.A.J. Honigmann and Grace Ioppolo as supporting this view. He particularly refers to the case of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The School for Scandal (1777), which existed in an earlier form, also by Sheridan, in a two-part play The Slanderers and Sir Peter Teazel, and which he argues contain the same type of modifications as is found in the Henry VI plays.
Urkowitz is not alone in finding evidence to support the early draft theory. For example, in The Contention, Margery Jourdayne is referred to as "the cunning witch of Ely", but in 2 Henry VI she is referred to merely as "the cunning witch". The traditional argument to explain this disparity is that such information was added by either Shakespeare or someone else during rehearsals, but was not found in the prompt book which was used to print the First Folio. However, R.B. McKerrow argues against the likelihood of this theory. He asks why a writer would go back to a chronicle source to add a piece of information which is of no importance dramatically, and brings nothing to the scene. It makes no sense to McKerrow that Shakespeare would thrall through his sources simply to add a tiny and irrelevant piece of information such as "of Ely". McKerrow thus suggests that the line was actually cut after performance, not added prior to performance; essentially, the situation is not one of addition in The Contention but of removal in 2 Henry VI.
A similar example is found in Act 4, Scene 7 where Cade orders his men to kill Lord Saye and Sir James Comer. In 2 Henry VI, Cade simply orders them to cut off Saye's head and then go to Cromer's house and kill him, but in The Contention, he tells them to bring Saye to "Standard in Cheapside", and then go to Cromer's house in "Mile End Green". Again, the standard argument is that these details were added during rehearsals, and are hence examples of additions in The Contention. Again however, McKerrow argues that such unimportant detail suggests removal after performance rather than addition prior to performance.
More evidence is found in Act 2, Scene 1. In The Contention, after Winchester has accepted Gloucester 's challenge to a duel (l. 38; "Marry, when thou dar'est"), there is additional dialogue not found in 2 Henry VI;
Dare? I tell thee priest,
Plantagenets could never brook the dare.
I am Plantagenet as well as thou,.
And son of John of Gaunt.
I scorn thy words.
Again, McKerrow's argument here is not that these lines were added during rehearsals, but that they existed in an early draft of the play and were removed after rehearsals, as they were simply deemed unnecessary; the animosity between the two had already been well established.
However, the theory that The Contention may be an early draft does not necessarily imply that it could not also represent a bad quarto as well. Traditionally, most critics (such as Alexander, Doran, McKerrow and Urkowitz) have looked at the problem as an either-or situation; The Contention is either a reported text or an early draft, but recently there has been some argument that it may be both. For example, this is the theory supported by Roger Warren in his Oxford Shakespeare edition of the play. It is also the theory advanced by Randall Martin in his Oxford Shakespeare edition of 3 Henry VI. The crux of the argument is that both the evidence for the bad quarto theory and the evidence for the early draft theory are so compelling that neither is able to completely refute the other. As such, if the play contains evidence of being both a reported text and an early draft, it must be both; ie The Contention represents a reported text of an early draft of 2 Henry VI. Shakespeare wrote an early version of the play, which was staged. Shortly after that staging, some of the actors constructed a bad quarto from it and had it published. In the meantime, Shakespeare had rewritten the play into the form found in the First Folio. Warren argues that this is the only theory which can account for the strong evidence for both reporting and revision, and it is a theory which is gaining increased support in the late twentieth/early twenty-first century.
Language has an extremely important role throughout the play, often helping to establish the theme as well as the tone of a particular episode. For example, the opening speech of the play is an elaborately ornate, exceptionally formal declaration by Suffolk:
As by your high imperial majesty
I had in charge at my depart for France,
As procurator to your excellence,
To marry Princess Margaret for your grace,
So in the famous ancient city Tours,
In presence of the Kings of France and Sicil,
The Dukes of Orléans, Calabre, Bretagne, and Alençon,
Seven earls, twelve barons, and twenty reverend bishops,
I have performed my task and was espoused,
And humbly now upon my bended knee,
In sight of England and her lordly peers,
Deliver up my title in the Queen
To your most gracious hands, that are the substance
Of that great shadow I did represent:
The happiest gift that ever marquis gave,
The fairest queen that ever king received.
Suffolk is basically saying, "As I was instructed to marry Margaret on your behalf, I did so, and now I deliver her to you". However, the formality of the scene and the importance of the event itself require him to deliver this message in a heightened language quite divorced from that used in less formal conversations, with the formal significance of Henry's marriage to Margaret mirrored in the formal, ceremonial language used by Suffolk to announce that marriage.
Language is also vitally important in conveying the importance of religion throughout the play, especially in terms of revealing what specific characters think about religion. Oftentimes, Henry's language specifically echoes the Bible. For example, he refers to heaven as "the treasury of ever lasting joy" (2.1.18), recalling Matthew 6:20 ("lay up treasures for yourselves in heaven"), and then a few lines later he muses "Bless'd are the peacemakers on earth" (2.1.34), echoing Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:9). On both of these occasions however, Cardinal Winchester (who is supposedly a deeply pious man) takes up Henry's genuine piety and distorts it. After Henry's assessment of heaven, Winchester says to Gloucester, "Thy heaven is on earth, thine eyes and thoughts/Beat on a crown, the treasure of thy heart" (2.1.19-20). Then, after Henry praises peacemakers, Winchester hypocritically says, "Let me be bless'd for the peace I make,/Against this proud Protector with my sword" (2.1.35-36). Language here not only serves to show Henry's genuine fealty to and love for God, but also to show the hypocrisy and unscrupulousness of Winchester. The Cardinal again mocks religion just prior to the murder of Gloucester. Speaking of the forthcoming murder, Suffolk comments, "And to preserve my sovereign from his foe,/Say but the word, and I will be his priest" (3.1.271-272), to which Winchester sarcastically responds "But I would have him dead, my Lord of Suffolk,/Ere you can take due orders for a priest" (3.1.273-274). Again, this is in utter disdain of the notion of priesthood, both mocking it and trivialising the forthcoming murder. After Gloucester is dead, Winchester continues to blaspheme himself, proclaiming the death of Gloucester to be "God's secret judgement" (3.2.31), a callous and knowing distortion of what has actually happened.
On a more basic level, Shakespeare uses language to distinguish between different types of characters. The courtly scenes tend to be spoken in blank verse, whereas the commons tend to speak in prose, with fewer metaphors and less decorative language (Shakespeare uses this contrast in several plays, such as The Two Gentlemen of Verona, where prose marks the servants out from their masters). However, there is an irony in how this contrast is used in 2 Henry VI insofar as when power begins to go to Jack Cade's head, he begins to slip into a more courtly way of speaking himself. This is most noticeable in his adoption of the majestic plural, using phrases such as "our jurisdiction regal" (4.7.44), and "we charge and command" (4.7.116).
The longest speech in the play is Margaret's lament to Henry after they have found Gloucester's dead body. This lengthy speech is full of classical allusions, elaborate metaphors and verbosity as Margaret moves through a litany of topics in an effort to make her point;
Be woe for me, more wretched than he is.
What, dost thou turn away and hide thy face?
I am no loathsome leper, look on me.
What, art thou like the adder, waxen deaf?
Be poisonous too and kill thy forlorn queen.
Is all thy comfort shut in Gloucester's tomb?
Why then Queen Margaret was ne'er thy joy.
Erect his statua and worship it,
And make my image but an alehouse sign.
Was I for this nigh wracked upon the sea,
And twice by awkward wind from England's bank
Drove back again unto my native clime?
What boded this but well forewarning wind
Did seem to say 'Seek not a scorpion's nest,
Nor set no footing on this unkind shore'?
What did I then, but cursed the gentle gusts
And he that loosed them forth their brazen caves,
And bid them blow towards England's bless'd shore,
Or turn our stern upon a dreadful rock?
Yet Aeolus would not be a murderer,
But left that hateful office unto thee.
The pretty vaulting sea refused to drown me,
Knowing that thou wouldst have me drown'd on shore
With tears as salt as sea through thy unkindness.
The splitting rocks cow'red in the sinking sands,
And would not dash me with their ragged sides,
Because thy flinty heart, more hard than they,
Might in thy palace perish Margaret.
As far as I could ken thy chalky cliffs,
When from thy shore the tempest beat us back,
I stood upon the hatches in the storm,
And when the dusky sky began to rob
My earnest-gaping sight of thy land's view,
I took a costly jewel from my neck-
A heart it was, bound in with diamonds-
And threw it towards thy land; the sea received it,
And so I wished thy body might my heart.
And even with this I lost fair England's view,
And bid mine eyes be packing with my heart,
And called them blind and dusky spectacles,
For losing ken of Albion's wish'd coast.
How often have I tempted Suffolk's tongue-
The agent of thy foul inconstancy-
To sit and witch me, as Ascanius did,
When he to madding Dido would unfold
His father's acts, commenced in burning Troy!
Am I not witched like her? Or thou not false like him?
Ay me, I can no more. Die, Margaret,
For Henry weeps that thou dost live so long.
There is some debate amongst critics as to the meaning and purpose of this speech, although all tend to agree that the meaning is inherently tied up in the elaborate language. Some critics (such as Stanley Wells for example) have argued that the speech, with its wordiness, lack of any real concrete point, strained classical allusions and lengthy metaphors, is simply badly written, evidence that Shakespeare was not yet in control of his medium. Proponents of this theory point to The Contention, where only seven lines are retained, with the argument being that the rest of the speech was cut from performance because the company realised it wasn't especially good and accomplished very little.
Another theory, proposed by L.C. Knights, is that the speech is purposely over-the-top and elaborate because Margaret is trying to deflect Henry away from accusing Suffolk of the murder. Henry already suspects Suffolk, so Margaret engages him in a dizzyingly complicated speech which jumps from topic to topic and employs references which are not immediately apparent, in an effort to divert the already confused and dejected Henry.
Another theory, suggested by Roger Warren, is that Margaret's mind is growing increasingly confused and desperate. The plan she, Suffolk and Winchester conceived has gone awry almost immediately, with Henry accusing Suffolk of being involved in the murder, and as such, Margaret is simply panicking, and is babbling as she tries to appear calm; the words thus betraying her internal turmoil. As such, "the speech is there to establish the emotional, hysterical side of Margaret's nature. I think that is why the language gets so extremely elaborate – it is an attempt by Margaret to contain her turbulent emotions by expressing them in such a strange way."
The complete antithesis of this theory has also been suggested as a possibility; that the speech shows not that Margaret is losing control, but that she is completely in control of herself and her emotions. This theory is most noticeable in how director Jane Howell had Julia Foster act the part in the 1981 BBC Shakespeare adaptation. Here, Margaret uses her speech to give an outlet to her intense emotions, not to attempt to contain them. The far ranging metaphors and classical allusions are her way of letting go of her pent up rage and emotion, her disdain for Henry and her inherent passion.
Yet another theory is that Margaret is trying to bring Henry back from the brink of complete madness by engaging his mind in an elaborate, difficult to follow verbal dance. This is how it was played in Terry Hands' 1977 production for the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, with Helen Mirren as Margaret. Henry's preceding speech to Suffolk, where he demands Suffolk not look at him, and then immediately demands that he wants to look into Suffolk's eyes was played by Alan Howard in such as way as to suggest that Henry was losing his grip on reality, and in response to this, Mirren played the speech in such a way as to engage Henry's mind in the here and now, focus his thoughts and prevent them drifting away.
A major theme of the play is Henry's inherent weakness and his inability to control the country and his own court. According to Randall Martin in his Oxford Shakespeare edition of 3 Henry VI, Henry's weakness as king was the main reason that many nineteenth century critics judged 2 Henry VI to lack emotion; Henry was so inept, audiences could not empathise with him, and hence, his tragedy in the play was diminished. There are numerous examples throughout the play which such critics could have focused on. For example, Henry fails to unite his bickering nobles, and instead allows them to push him around as they decide for themselves how to act and what to do, and at the same time, he allows himself to be utterly dominated by Margaret. He is so subservient that he consents to the imprisonment of a man (Gloucester) he loves and knows to be innocent, and then attempts to hide from the implications of this decision, trying to leave the court after Gloucester's arrest;
My lords, what to your wisdoms seemeth best
Do or undo, as if ourself were here.
What, will your highness leave the parliament?
Ah Margaret, my heart is drowned with grief
Whose flood begins to flow within mine eyes.
This leads Henry to a realisation of how he has failed Gloucester, and to lament his own lack of decisiveness and resoluteness;
And as the butcher takes away the calf,
And binds the wretch and beats it when it strains,
Bearing it to the bloody slaughterhouse,
Even so remorseless have they borne him hence;
And as the dam runs lowing up and down,
Looking the way her harmless young one went,
And can do nought but wail her darling's loss,
Even so myself bewails good Gloucester's case
With sad unhelpful tears, and with dimmed eyes
Look after him, and cannot do him good,
So mighty are his vow'd enemies.
Another example of his weakness as ruler is seen in his utter indifference to the vital decision of choosing a new French regent; as Somerset and York debate the issue, each trying to convince Henry that they should be the one to get the job, Henry dismissively declares, "For my part, noble Lords, I care not which:/Or Somerset or York, all's one to me" (1.3.103-102). This lack of concern is forcibly emphasised when Somerset later tells Henry that all French territories have been lost, and Henry responds non-chalantly, "Cold news, Lord Somerset; but God's will be done" (3.1.86). His lack of decisive leadership is even referred to by Margaret; "Henry my great lord is cold in great affairs,/Too full of foolish pity" (3.1.224-225).
Another point of indecision is depicted in the BBC Shakespeare adaptation of Act 2, Scene 1. After Thump and Horner are brought before the King, played by Peter Benson, the court looks to him, awaiting his judgement of the case, but he appears to panic, unsure of what to do, and hastily defers to Gloucester, played by David Burke, who appears exasperated by Henry's failure to respond to the situation himself.
Henry is presented as a good man, but a poor king, to whom Roger Warren refers as "a man of deep religious conviction but no political acumen." He is a weak leader, and it is partly his failure to assert his authority that is responsible for the chaos that takes over the country. As director Peter Hall says, "In theory, Henry should be a good king. He applies Christian ethics to government. But he is up against men who don't. They justify their behaviour by invoking the great sanctions – God, the King, Parliament, the People – that unscrupulous statesmen, motivated by the naked desire to be on top, have used throughout the ages. Here is the central irony of the play: Henry's Christian goodness produces evil."
Another major theme throughout the play is the contrast between Margaret and Henry, something which is introduced when they first meet. Henry thanks God for bringing Margaret to him, and exclaims "For thou hast given me in this beauteous face/A world of earthly blessing to my soul,/If sympathy of love unite our thoughts" (1.1.21-23). The irony here, much commented on by critics, is that this unity is exactly what doesn't happen - their thoughts never unite, and their contrasting and incompatible attitudes are seen time and again throughout the play. For example, after the false miracle, Henry is distraught and laments, "O God, seest thou this and bear'st so long?" (2.1.150), whilst Margaret's response is much more mundane; "It made me laugh to see the villain run" (2.1.151). Another example is when Buckingham arrives to bring news to Henry of Eleanor's dabbling in necromancy. Again, Henry's reaction is pious and sorrowful, "O God, what mischiefs work the wicked ones,/Heaping confusion on their heads thereby" (2.1.181-182). Margaret's response however is combative, using the news to forward her own agenda; "Gloucester, see here the tainture of thy nest,/And look thyself be faultless, thou wert best" (2.1.183-184). Later, when Horner and Thump are about to fight, Henry sees the contest as a sacred point of honour; "A God's name, see the lists and all things fit;/Here let them end it, and God defend the right" (2.3.54-55). Margaret however, is simply looking forward to a fight; "For purposely therefore,/Left I the court to see this quarrel tried" (2.3.52-53). As Roger Warren has written of Henry; he is "fatally married to his polar opposite."
The contrast between them is perhaps most forcibly realised when Gloucester dies in Act 3, Scene 2. Margaret makes a speech in which she points out how it is unfair to accuse Suffolk of the murder simply because Suffolk and Gloucester were enemies, as she and Gloucester's wife were enemies too, so if Suffolk is a suspect, so should she be one as well; "Ay me unhappy,/To be a queen, and crowned with infamy" (70-71). Again, she is turning events to focus on herself. Henry however, completely ignores her, calling out sorrowfully; "Ah, woe is me for Gloucester, wretched man" (72). This situation is repeated during the Cade rebellion, but this time they ignore one another. After the rebels deliver their terms to Henry, he tells Buckingham he will speak with Cade, but Margaret is concerned only with herself and Suffolk (whose head she is now carrying). Speaking to the head she ignores Henry's problems and exclaims, "Ah barbarous villain! Hath this lovely face/Ruled like a wandering planet over me,/And could it not enforce them to relent,/That were unworthy to behold the same?" (4.4.14-17). Henry however ignores this, and continues to deal with the rebel demands, saying simply, "Lord Saye, Jack Cade hath sworn to have thy head" (4.4.18). This tendency for them to ignore one another is another example of their incompatibility, their failure to unite in thoughts.
Religion is a fundamental fact of life to Henry, who is presented as a genuinely pious character, truly in love with God, and in great reverence of Him, and His judgement. Shakespeare may have taken this aspect of Henry's character from Edward Hall's description of him: "He did abhor of his own nature, all the vices, as well of the body as of the soul; and from his very infancy he was of honest conversation and pure integrity; no knower of evil, and a keeper of all goodness; a despiser of all things which were wont to cause the minds of mortal men to slide or appair. Besides this, patience was so radicate in his heart that of all the injuries to him committed (which were no small number) he never asked vengeance nor punishment, but for that rendered to Almighty God, his Creator, hearty thanks, thinking that by this trouble and adversity his sins were to him forgotten and forgiven."
Religion as a theme, specifically Henry's love for God, is introduced early. When Henry first meets Margaret, his reaction is to welcome her, and then immediately thank God for bringing her to him; "I can express no kinder sign of love/Than this kind kiss. O Lord, that lends me life,/Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness!" (1.1.18-20). Henry has barely greeted Margaret, and already, he has turned from her and thanked God. Another example of Henry's belief in the power of God is seen when he first hears of the false miracle. Even before meeting Simpcox, Henry exclaims, "Now God be praised that to believing souls/Gives light in darkness, comfort in despair" (2.1.64-65). Henry immediately accepts the authenticity of the event without any evidence, simply trusting in his faith that it is true and that God has performed a miracle.
Henry also comments several times on his belief in the absolute nature of God's judgements. After discovering that Gloucester has died, Henry asks God to pass judgement on what has happened, as only God is qualified to do so;
O thou that judgest all things, stay my thoughts,
My thoughts, that labour to persuade my soul
Some violent hands were laid on Gloucester 's life.
If my suspect be false, forgive me God,
For judgment only doth belong to thee.
Henry also believes that justice, truth and guilt are determined by God, not through human actions. After the fight between Horner and Thump, Henry announces,
For by his death we do perceive his guilt.
And God in justice hath revealed to us
The truth and innocence of this poor fellow,
Which he had thought to have murdered wrongfully.
Indeed, so devoted to God is Henry that other characters comment on it. For example, when Margaret is deridingly describing Henry to Suffolk, she says,
All his mind is bent to holiness,
To number Ave-Maries on his beads,
His champions are the prophets and apostles,
His weapons holy saws of sacred writ,
His study is his tilt-yard, and his loves
Are brazen images of canonized saints.
I would the college of the cardinals
Would choose him Pope and carry him to Rome,
And set the triple crown upon his head;
That were a state fit for his holiness.
Additionally, York twice refers to Henry's piousness. First, when outlining his plan to assume power he refers to Henry as a king "whose church-like humours fits not for a crown" (1.1.246). Then, when making his argument as to why he should be king, he says to Henry, "Thy hand is made to grasp a palmer's staff/And not to grace an aweful princely spectre" (5.1.97-98).
Ideas of justice are also paramount throughout the play, especially the notion of where justice comes from, who determines it. This is hinted at when Thump first meets Henry, and Henry asks Gloucester's opinion. Gloucester states,
Let these have a day appointed them
For single combat in convenient place,
For he hath witness of his servant's malice.
This is the law, and this Duke Gloucester's doom.
The idea of determining justice by physical combat illustrates that the lords feel it useless to actually listen to the debate, instead trusting simply that whoever wins must have been telling the truth, and whoever loses was the liar. Of this scene, Michael Hattaway has commented, "the feudal ritual of trial by combat is reduced to the grotesque fights between the drunken armourer and his apprentice [...] It serves to mirror the realities of the play: instead of seeing justice determined by God with regards to the rights of the adversaries, here we see simply a trial of might." As Henry himself says,
For by his death we do perceive his guilt.
And God in justice hath revealed to us
The truth and innocence of this poor fellow,
Which he had thought to have murdered wrongfully.
He returns to this notion later, again arguing that truth is a defence against death and defeat;
What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted?
Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just,
And he but naked, though lock'd up in steel,
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted.
The perversion of justice is also important in the fall of Gloucester, who assures Eleanor that as long as he has truth on his side, his enemies cannot destroy him (2.4.59-63). In this, he proves incorrect, as he is arrested on false charges and then assassinated prior to his trial. The nobles disdain for justice is revealed even more forcibly when Henry, unaware that Gloucester is dead, asks the court to treat him fairly, and Margaret, knowing full well he is both innocent and dead, responds, "God forbid any malice should prevail/That faultless may condemn a noble man" (3.2.23-24) As Michael Hattaway points out "In England under Henry, law bears little relation to divinity and stands divorced from equity. The regnal and judicial roles of the king's court are hopelessly confused, so that the status of the institution itself is compromised." Hattaway also refers to the period as one where nobles converted "law into expediency".
Additionally, the lords apparent failure to understand the need for an impartial and functioning judiciary system is echoed in the rebellion; "The virulent ambition and hostility to law that characterised the barons equally characterise the workmen," suggesting there is no difference between the old order and the would-be new one. This is particularly evident in Cade's speech after ordering the execution of Lord Saye; "The proudest peer in the realm shall not wear a head on his shoulders unless he pay me tribute. There shall not a maid be married but she shall pay to me her maidenhead ere they have it. Men shall hold of me in capite; and we charge and command that their wives be as free as heart can wish or tongue can tell" (4.7.112-117). In this proposed new world order, Cade envisions establishing an autocracy where all will pay fealty to him, and where his laws, which he can make arbitrarily, stand for everyone. As such, in this political system, as in the old, law and justice seem to have little relevance.
Physical violence is another major theme throughout the play, with multiple characters dying violently. Gloucester is suffocated in his bed, Winchester dies in a passionate frenzy, Suffolk is beheaded, Somerset and Clifford are killed in battle (as is Buckingham, as revealed early in 3 Henry VI, when Edward announces that he killed him), Cade has Matthew Gough, Humphrey Stafford, William Stafford, Lord Saye, James Comer and the Clerk of Chatham all executed during the rebellion, and is then killed and beheaded himself by Alexander Iden.
Gloucester's death in particular is associated with the physical, as seen in Warwick's detailed description of the body;
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 eyeballs further out than when he lived,
Staring full ghastly like a strangled man;
His hair upreared, his nostrils stretched with struggling,
His hands abroad displayed, as one that grasped
And tugged for life and was by strength subdued.
Look, on the sheets: his hair, you see, is sticking;
His well-proportioned beard made rough and rugged,
Like to the summer's corn by tempest lodged.
It cannot be but he was murther'd here;
The least of all these signs were probable.
Winchester's death is also physically grotesque as he distorts his face and curses God, haunted by the ghost of Gloucester.
However, many of the after-death actions are even more macabre than the deaths themselves. Characters don't just die, their bodies are destroyed; Suffolk's head is delivered to Margaret, who carries it around ¬court for the last two acts of the play. Lord Stafford and his brother are killed and their bodies dragged through the streets behind horses. Lord Saye and his son-in-law are beheaded and their heads carried throughout the streets on poles and made to kiss. Cade is beheaded and his head delivered to the king. Not only is physical violence presented as a major theme, but so too is physical desecration, a disregard for the body after death.
After the original 1592 performances, the complete text of 2 Henry VI seems to have been rarely acted. The first definite performance after Shakespeare's day was on April 23, 1864 (Shakespeare's tercentenary) at the Surrey Theatre in London, as a stand-alone performance (ie without 1 Henry VI or 3 Henry VI), with director James Anderson playing York and Cade. Of this production, The Illustrated London News wrote, "It is a revival, or rather restoration to the stage, of an utterly neglected work, which has not been played for 270 years." The next definite performance was in 1889, when George Osmond Tearle directed another stand-alone production at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, starring Erskine Lewis as Henry and Ellen Cranston as Margaret. In 1899, F.R. Benson directed yet another stand-alone production of the play at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. In 1906, he revived the play, and included 1 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI in a production of Shakespeare's two tetralogies, performed over eight nights. As far as can be ascertained, this was not only the first performance of the octology, but was also the first performance of both the tetralogy and the trilogy. Benson himself played Henry and his wife, Constance Benson, played Margaret.
In 1951, Douglas Seale directed a production at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, starring Paul Daneman as Henry, Rosalind Boxall as Margaret, John Arnatt as York and Alfred Burke as Gloucester. 2 Henry VI has not been performed as a stand-alone play since then, although Seale's production was so successful that 3 Henry VI followed in 1952, and 1 Henry VI in 1953, all with linked casting.
A production which made much of its unedited status came in 1977, at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, where Terry Hands presented all three Henry VI plays with Alan Howard as Henry and Helen Mirren as Margaret. Although the production was only moderately successful at the box office, it was critically lauded at the time for Alan Howard's unique portrayal of Henry. Howard adopted historical details concerning the real Henry's madness into his performance, presenting the character as constantly on the brink of a mental and emotional breakdown. Also praised was the staging of the battle of St Albans, which was fought between the principal characters only, without any extras or suggestions of it being a larger battle, thus emphasising that the whole conflict grew from what was originally a small family squabble. Possibly as a reaction to a recent adaptation of the trilogy under the general title Wars of the Roses, which was strongly political, Hands attempted to ensure his own production was entirely apolitical; "Wars of the Roses was a study in power politics: its central image was the conference table, and Warwick, the scheming king-maker, was the central figure. But that's not Shakespeare. Shakespeare goes far beyond politics. Politics is a very shallow science." Aside from Howard and Mirren, the production starred Emrys James as York and Graham Crowden as Gloucester.
Under the direction of Michael Boyd the play was presented at the Swan Theatre in Stratford in 2000, with David Oyelowo as Henry, Fiona Bell as Margaret, Clive Wood as York and Richard Cordery as Gloucester. The play was presented with the five other history plays ((Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, Henry V and Richard III) to form a complete eight-part history cycle under the general title This England: The Histories (the first time the RSC had ever attempted to stage the eight plays as one sequence). This England: The Histories was revived in 2006, as part of the Complete Works festival at the Courtyard Theatre, with the Henry VI plays again directed by Boyd, and starring Chuk Iwuji as Henry, Katy Stephens as Margaret, Jonathan Slinger as York and, reprising his role from 2000, Richard Cordery as Gloucester. When the Complete Works wrapped in March 2007, the history plays remained on stage, under the shorter title The Histories, as part of a two-year thirty-four actor ensemble production. 2 Henry VI was performed under the title Henry VI, Part 2: England's Fall. At the end of the two-year programme, the entire octology was performed over a four-day period under the title The Glorious Moment; Richard II was staged on a Thursday evening, followed by the two Henry IV plays on Friday afternoon and evening, the three Henry VI plays on Saturday (two afternoon performances and one evening performance), and Richard III on Sunday evening.
Boyd's production garnered much attention at the time because of his interpolations and additions to the text. Most notably, Boyd introduced a new character into the trilogy. Called The Keeper, the character never speaks, but upon the death of each major character, the Keeper (played by Edward Clayton in 2000, and by Anthony Bunsee in 2006/2007), wearing all red, would walk onto stage and approach the body. The actor playing the body would then stand up and allow himself to be led off-stage by the figure. Another alteration was that the 'Lieutenant' who orders Suffolk's death in 4.1 was in fact the ghost of Lord Talbot (played by Keith Bartlett), who had been killed in 1 Henry VI. Additionally, during Jack Cade's rebellion, the ghosts of Gloucester, Winchester and Suffolk all appear as rebels, and in a much lauded piece of double casting, Clayton and Bunsee also played Dick the Butcher in their respective performances. The production was also particularly noted for its realistic violence. According to Robert Gore-Langton of the Daily Express, in his review of the original 2000 production, "blood from a severed arm sprayed over my lap. A human liver slopped to the floor by my feet. An eyeball scudded past, then a tongue."
Outside the UK, unedited stagings of the play took place at the Weimar Court Theatre in 1857. Directed by Franz von Dingelstedt, it was performed as the sixth part of the octology, with all eight plays staged over a ten day period. A major production was staged at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1873, with a celebrated performance from Friedrich Mitterwurzer as Winchester. Jocza Savits directed a production of the tetralogy at the Munich Court Theatre in 1889 and again in 1906. In 1927, Saladin Schmitt presented the unedited octology at the Municipal Theatre in Bochum. The next major German production was Peter Palitzsch's presentation of the tetralogy as Der krieg der rosen in 1967 at the Stuttgart State Theatre. Denis Llorca staged the tetralogy as one twelve-hour piece in Carcassonne in 1978 and in Créteil in 1979. In 1999, director Ruediger Burbach presented 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI at the Zurich Playhouse. This production was unique insofar as a woman (Katharina Schmoelzer) played Henry. Margaret was played by Katharina von Bock. The first major American performance was in 1935 at the Pasadena Playhouse in California, directed by Gilmore Brown, as part of a production of all ten Shakespearean histories (the two tetralogies, preceded by King John and proceeded by Henry VIII).
Evidence for the first adaptation of 2 Henry VI is found during the Restoration, when, in 1681, John Crowne created a two part play entitled Henry the Sixth, The First Part and The Misery of Civil War. Henry comprised Acts 1-3 of 2 Henry VI focusing on the death of Gloucester, Misery adapted the last two acts of 2 Henry VI and much of 3 Henry VI. Writing at the time of Popish Plot, Crowne, who was a devout royalist, used his adaptation to warn about the danger of allowing England to descend into another civil war, which would be the case should the Whig party rise to power. As such, the scenes of Jack Cade's rebellion, as depicted in Misery, were much more violent than in Shakespeare, with painted backdrops of people on fire and children impaled on pikes. Crowne also rewrote the roles of Gloucester and Winchester to make Gloucester more saint-like and taintless, and Winchester even more villainous. He also linked the murder of Gloucester to the recent assassination of Edmund Berry Godfrey, an incident which had led to an outbreak of anti-Catholic hysteria in London in 1678. By creating this link, Crowne was aiming to enhance anti-Catholic sentiment even more and ensure the passing of the Exclusion Bill, which would prevent the Catholic James Stuart, Duke of York succeeding his brother, the Protestant Charles II. To this end, Crowne rewrote the murder scene to give more characterisation to the three murderers, who were depicted as devout, but cold blooded Catholics.
Two more adaptations followed in 1723. The first was Humfrey Duke of Gloucester by Ambrose Philips, which used about thirty lines from Acts 1-3 of 2 Henry VI and was performed at Drury Lane. In a possible comment on the politics of Crowne's adaptation, Phillips dedicated his version to William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath, a leading Whig politician. The second 1723 adaptation, also performed at Drury Lane, was Theophilus Cibber's King Henry VI: A Tragedy, which used Act 5 of 2 Henry VI and Acts 1 and 2 of 3 Henry VI, and which featured his father Colley Cibber as Winchester.
In 1817, Edmund Kean appeared in J.H. Merivale's Richard Duke of York; or the Contention of York and Lancaster, which used material from all three Henry VI plays, but removed everything not directly related to York. Material from 2 Henry VI included the lamentation about the lose of Anjou and Maine, the conflict between Gloucester and Winchester, the murder of Gloucester, the death of Winchester (where all Warwick's dialogue is reassigned to York), and Cade's rebellion.
Following Merivale's example, Robert Atkins adapted all three plays into one for a performance at the Old Vic in 1923 as part of the celebrations for the tercentenary of the First Folio. Guy Martineau played Henry and Esther Whitehouse played Margaret. Atkins himself played York.
The success of the 1951-1953 Douglas Seale stand-alone productions of each of the individual plays in Birmingham prompted him to present the three plays together at the Old Vic in 1957 under the general title The Wars of the Roses. Barry Jackson adapted the text, altering the trilogy into a two part play; 1 Henry VI and 2 Henry VI were combined (with almost all of 1 Henry VI eliminated) and 3 Henry VI was edited down. Seale again directed, with Paul Daneman again appearing as Henry and Alfred Burke as Gloucester, alongside Barbara Jefford as Margaret and Derek Godfrey as York.
The production which is usually credited with establishing the reputation of the play in the modern theatre is John Barton and Peter Hall's 1963/1964 RSC production of the tetralogy, adapted into a three-part series, under the general title The Wars of the Roses, at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The first play (entitled simply Henry VI) featured a much shortened version of 1 Henry VI and half of 2 Henry VI (up to the death of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester). The second play (entitled Edward IV) featured the second half of 2 Henry VI and a shortened version of 3 Henry VI, which was then followed by a shortened version of Richard III as the third play. In all, 1,450 lines written by Barton were added to 6,000 lines of original Shakespearean material, with a total of 12,350 lines removed. The production starred David Warner as Henry, Peggy Ashcroft as Margaret, Roy Dotrice as Edward and Ian Holm as Richard. Barton and Hall were both especially concerned that the plays reflect the contemporary political environment, with the civil chaos and breakdown of society depicted in the plays mirrored in the contemporary milieu, by events such as the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Hall allowed these events to reflect themselves in the production, arguing that "we live among war, race riots, revolutions, assassinations, and the immanent threat of extinction. The theatre is, therefore, examining fundamentals in staging the Henry VI plays."
Another major adaptation was staged in 1987 by the English Shakespeare Company, under the director of Michael Bogdanov. This touring production opened at the Old Vic, and subsequently toured for two years, performing at, amongst others, the Panasonic Globe Theatre in Tokyo, Japan (as the inaugural play of the arena), the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy and at the Adelaide Festival of Arts in Adelaide, Australia. Following the structure established by Barton, Bogdanov combined a heavily edited 1 Henry VI and the first half of 2 Henry VI into one play (Henry VI), and the second half of 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI into another (Edward IV), and followed them with an edited Richard III. Also like Barton, Bogdanov concentrated on political issues, although he made them far more overt than had Barton. For example, played by June Watson, Margaret was closely modelled after the British Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher, even to the point of having similar clothes and hair. Similarly, Paul Brennan's Henry was modelled after the [[Edward VIII of the United Kingdom|King Edward], prior to his abdication. Jack Cade, played by Michael Pennington was presented as a punk with spiked hair and wearing a shirt depicting a Union Jack with a white rose in the middle, and during the Cade rebellion, football hooligan chants were heard. Indeed, the Cade rebellion in general was modelled on the National Front. Bogdanov also employed frequent anachronisms and contemporary visual registers, in an effort to show the relevance of the politics in the fifteenth century to the contemporary period. The production was noted for its pessimism as regards contemporary British politics, with some critics feeling the political resonances were too heavy handed. However, the series was a huge box office success. Alongside Watson and Brennen, the play starred Barry Stanton as York and Colin Farrell as Gloucester.
Another adaptation of the tetralogy by the Royal Shakespeare Company followed in 1988, performed at the Barbican. Adapted by Charles Wood and directed by Adrian Noble, the Barton structure was again followed, reducing the trilogy to two plays by dividing 2 Henry VI in the middle. The resulting trilogy was entitled The Plantagenets, with the individual plays entitled Henry VI, The Rise of Edward IV and Richard III, His Death. Starring Ralph Fiennes as Henry, Penny Downie as Margaret, Anton Lesser as York and David Waller as Gloucester, the production was extremely successful with both audiences and critics.
Michael Bogdanov and the English Shakespeare Company presented a different adaptation at the Grand Theatre in Swansea in 1991, using the same cast as on the touring production. All eight plays from the history cycle were presented over a seven night period, with each play receiving one performance only, and with only twenty eight actors portraying the nearly five hundred roles. Whilst the other five plays in the cycle were unadapted, the Henry VI plays were combined into two, using the Barton structure. The first was named The House of Lancaster and the second, The House of York.
In 2000, Edward Hall presented the trilogy as a two-part series at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury. Hall followed the Jackson/Seale adaptation, combining 1 Henry VI and 2 Henry VI into one play which all but eliminated 1 Henry VI and following this with an edited version of 3 Henry VI. This production was noted for how it handled the violence of the play. . The set was designed to look like an abattoir, but rather than attempt to present the violence realistically (as most productions do), Hall went in the other direction; presenting the violence symbolically. Whenever a character was decapitated or killed, a red cabbage was sliced up whilst the actor mimed the death beside it.
In 2001, Tom Markus directed an adaptation of the tetralogy at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Condensing all fours plays into one, Markus named the play Queen Margaret, doing much the same with the character of Margaret as Merivale had done with York. Margaret was played by Gloria Biegler, Henry by Richard Haratine, York by Lars Tatom and Gloucester by Charles Wilcox.
Another unusual 2001 adaptation of the tetralogy was entitled Shakespeare's Rugby Wars. Written by Matt Toner and Chris Coculuzzi, and directed by Coculuzzi, the play was acted by the Upstart Crow Theatre Group and staged outdoors at the Robert Street Playing Field as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. Presented as if it were a live rugby match between York and Lancaster, the 'play' featured commentary from Falstaff (Stephen Flett), which was broadcast live for the audience. The 'match' itself was refereed by 'Bill Shakespeare' (played by Coculuzzi), and the actors (whose characters names all appeared on their jerseys) had microphones attached and would recite dialogue from all four plays at key moments.
In 2002, Leon Rubin presented the tetralogy as a trilogy at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. Using the Barton method of combining 1 Henry VI with the first half of 2 Henry VI, and the second half of 2 Henry VI with 3 Henry VI, the plays were renamed Henry VI: Revenge in France and Henry VI: Revolt in England. Michael Thierry played Henry, Seana McKenna played Margaret, Thom Marriott played York and David Francis played Gloucester.
Also in 2002, Edward Hall and the Propellor Company presented a one-play all-male cast modern dress adaptation of the trilogy at the Watermill Theatre. Under the title Rose Rage, Hall used a cast of only thirteen actors to portray the nearly one hundred and fifty speaking roles in the four-hour production, thus necessitating doubling and tripling of parts. Although a new adaptation, this production followed the Jackson/Seale method of eliminating almost all of 1 Henry VI. The original cast included Jonathan McGuinness as Henry, Robert Hands as Margaret, Guy Williams as York and Richard Clothier as Gloucester. After a successful run at the Watermill, the play moved to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The American cast included Carman Lacivita as Henry, Scott Parkinson as Margaret, Bruce A. Young as York and Sean Fortunato as Gloucester.
Outside England, a major European adaptation of the tetralogy took place in 1864 in Weimar under the direction of Franz von Dingelstedt, who, seven years previously had staged the play unedited. Dingelstedt turned the trilogy into a two-parter under the general name Die weisse rose. The first play was called Haus Lancaster, the second Haus York. This adaptation was unique insofar as both plays were created by combining material from all three Henry VI plays. Following this structure, Alfred von Walzogen also produced a two-part play in 1875, under the general title Edward IV. Another European adaptation was in 1965 at the Teatro Piccolo in Milan. Directed by Giorgio Strehler it went under the title Il gioco del potenti (The Play of the Mighty). Using Barton's structure, Strehler also added several characters, including a Chorus, who used monologues from Richard II, both parts of Henry IV, Henry V, Macbeth and Timon of Athens, and two gravediggers called Bevis and Holland (after the names of two of Cade's rebels in the Folio text), who commented (with dialogue written by Strehler himself) on each of the major characters as they set about burying them.
The first television adaptation of the play was in 1960 when the BBC produced a mini-series entitled An Age of Kings. The show comprised fifteen one-hour episodes which adapted all eight of Shakespeare's sequential history plays. Directed by Michael Hayes and produced by Peter Dews, with a script by Eric Crozier, this production featured Terry Scully as Henry, Mary Morris as Margaret, Jack May as York and John Ringham as Gloucester. The tenth episode, under the title 'The Fall of a Protector' covered 2 Henry VI from Acts 1 to 3. The eleventh, 'The Rabble from Kent', presented Acts 4 and 5.
In 1965, BBC 1 broadcast all three plays from John Barton and Peter Hall's The Wars of the Roses trilogy (Henry VI, The Rise of Edward IV and Richard III) with David Warner as Henry and Peggy Ashcroft as Margaret. The play was presented as more than simply filmed theatre however. At certain performances of the plays, cameramen with hand-held cameras were allowed on stage to shoot battle scenes, and camera platforms were created around the theatre. In all, twelve cameras were used to record the performance, allowing the final product to edited more like a film than a piece of static filmed theatre. Filming was done following the 1964 run of the plays at Stratford-upon-Avon, and took place over an eight-week period. In 1966, the production was repeated on BBC 1 where it was re-edited into eleven episodes of fifty minutes each.
Another television version of the play was produced by the BBC in 1981 for their BBC Shakespeare series, although the episode didn't air until 1983. Directed by Jane Howell, the play was presented as the second part of the tetralogy (all four adaptations directed by Howell) with linked casting; Henry was played by Peter Benson, Margaret by Julia Foster, York by Bernard Hill and Gloucester by David Burke. All four plays were set in a children's playground area, which decayed and became more and more dilapidated as the plays went on and social order became more fractious.
Howell's The Second Part of Henry the Sixt was one of the most lauded of the entire series, with Julia Foster's performance as Margaret, Peter Benson's as Henry, Bernard Hill's as York, David Burke's as Gloucester and Mark Wing-Davey's as Warwick garnering considerable critical plaudits. The adaptation was based on the folio text rather than the quarto, however, it departed from that text in a number of places. For example, numerous lines were cut from almost every scene. Some of the more notable omissions include; in Act 1, Scene 1, both of Gloucester's references to Bedford are absent (ll. 82-83, 95-96), as is the reference to Suffolk's demands that he be paid for escorting Margaret from France (ll. 131-133), and York's allusion to Althaea and Calydon in his closing soliloquy (ll.231-235). Absent in Act 2, Scene 1 is Gloucester's question to Winchester "Is your priesthood grown peremptory? Tantaene animis caelestibus irae?" (ll.23-24), as are lines 173-180, where Winchester taunts Gloucester about Eleanor's arrest and Gloucester calls off their duel. York's outline of Edward III's seven sons is absent from Act 2, Scene 2 (ll.10-17), as is Salisbury's reference to Owen Glendower (l.41). Suffolk's accusation that Gloucester was involved in necromancy with Eleanor is omitted from Act 3, Scene 1 (ll.47-53), as is Gloucester's outline of how he dealt with criminals during his time as Protector (ll.128-132). Also absent from 3.1 are the comments by Winchester, Suffolk and Margaret after Gloucester accuses them of conspiring to bring him down (ll.172-185), and York's references to how he fought alongside Cade in Ireland (ll.360-370). In Act 4, Scene 1, all references to Walter Whitmore's name as Gualtier are absent (ll.38-39). The entirety of Act 4, Scene 5 (a brief scene showing Scales and Gough on patrol at the Tower of London) is absent. In Act 5, Scene 1, some of the dialogue between Clifford and Warwick is absent (ll.200-210).
However, there were also some additions to the text, most noticeably some lines from The Contention, such as in Act 1, Scene 1, where two lines are added to Salisbury's vow to support York if he can prove he is a legitimate heir to the crown. Between lines 197 and 198 is added "The reverence of mine age and the Neville's name/Is of no little force if I command." In Act 1, Scene 3, two lines are added to the conversation between Margaret and Thump between lines 31 and 32, where Thump mistakes the word 'usurper' for 'usurer" and is corrected by Margaret. Another example is found in Act 2, Scene 1, where the extended conversation between Gloucester and Winchester in which Gloucester says Winchester was born "in bastardy" is included. Other changes include the transferral of lines to characters other than those who speak them in the Folio text. The most notable of these is 1.3.211 where Gloucester's line "This is the law, and this Duke Gloucester's doom" is given to Henry. Additionally, in Act 1, Scene 4, during the conjuration, there is no separate spirit in the scene; all the spirit's dialogue is spoken 'through' Jourdayne, and her lines from the Folio are omitted. Also, later in the scene, it is Buckingham who reads the prophecies, not York. In Act 4, Scene 1, the second half of line 139 ("Pompey the Great, and Suffolk dies by pirates") is spoken by the Lieutenant, not Suffolk.
Another notable stylistic technique is that the soliloquies of York in Act 1, Scene 1 and Act 3, Scene 1, as well as those of Eleanor and Hum in Act 1, Scene 2, and York's asides in Act 1, Scene 1 and Act 3, Scene 1 are all delivered direct to camera, as is the Dick the Butcher's comments in Act 4, Scene 2, as Cade delivers his speech to the masses. Also worth noting is that character of George Plantagenet is introduced just prior to the Battle of St Albans, whereas in the text, he is not introduced until 3 Henry VI, Act 2, Scene 2.
In 1964, Austrian channel ORF2 presented an adaptation of the trilogy by Leopold Lindtberg under the title Heinrich VI. The cast list from this production has been lost. In 2003, German channel ZDF presented a filmed version of the 1967 Peter Palitzsch presentation of the tetralogy in Stuttgart.
In 1923, extracts from all three Henry VI plays were broadcast on BBC Radio 1, performed by the Cardiff Station Repertory Company as the third episode of a series of programs showcasing Shakespeare's plays, entitled Shakespeare Night. In 1947, BBC Third Programme aired a one hundred and fifty minute adaptation of the trilogy as part of their Shakespeare's Historical Plays series, a six-part adaptation of the eight sequential history plays, with linked casting. Adapted by Maurice Roy Ridley, King Henry VI starred John Bryon as Henry, Gladys Young as Margaret, Richard Williams as York and Baliol Holloway as Gloucester. In 1952, Third Programme aired an adaptation of the tetralogy by Peter Watts and John Dover Wilson under the general name The Wars of the Roses. The tetralogy was adapted into a trilogy but in an unusual way. 1 Henry VI was simply removed, so the trilogy contained only 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI and Richard III. The reason for this was explained by Dover Wilson, who argued that 1 Henry VI is "patchwork in which Shakespeare collaborated with inferior dramatists." The adaptation starred Valentine Dyall as Henry, Sonia Dresdel as Margaret, Stephen Jack as York and Gordon McLeod as Gloucester. In 1971, BBC Radio 3 presented a two-part adaptation of the trilogy by Raymond Raikes. Part 1 contained an abridged 1 Henry VI and an abridged version of the first three acts of 2 Henry VI. Part 2 presented Acts 4 and 5 and an abridged 3 Henry VI. Nigel Lambert played Henry, Barbara Jefford played Margaret and Ian McKellen played both York and Richard III. In 1977, BBC Radio 4 presented a 26-part serialisation of the eight sequential history plays under the general title Vivat Rex (Long live the King). Adapted by Martin Jenkins as part of the celebration of the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, 2 Henry VI comprised episodes 17 ("Witchcraft") and 18 ("Jack Cade"). James Laurenson played Henry, Peggy Ashcroft played Margaret, Peter Jeffrey played York and Richard Burton narrated.
In America, in 1936, a heavily edited adaptation of the trilogy was broadcast as part of NBC Blue's Radio Guild series. Comprised of three sixty minute episodes aired a week apart, the adaptation was written by Vernon Radcliffe and starred Henry Herbert as Henry, and Janet Nolan as Margaret. In 1954, CBC Radio presented an adaptation of the trilogy by Andrew Allen, who combined 1 Henry VI, 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI into a one hundred and sixty minute episode. There is no known cast information for this production.
In 1985, German radio channel Sender Freies Berlin broadcast a heavily edited seventy-six minute two-part adaptation of the octology adapted by Rolf Schneider, under the title Shakespeare's Rosenkriege.
All references to Henry VI, Part 2, unless otherwise specified, are taken from the Oxford Shakespeare (Warren), based on the First Folio text of 1623. Under its referencing system, 4.3.15 means act 4, scene 3, line 15.
King Henry VI Part 2 is a history play by William Shakespeare, originally known as The First Part of the Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster. It was probably written ca. 1590-91 as the second part of the trilogy on Henry VI of England and is often grouped together with Richard III as a tetralogy on The Wars of the Roses, the success of which established Shakespeare's reputation as a playwright.