Henry VI Part T2: Judgement Day

Here we go, starting on the middle installment of the Henry VI trilogy. I was excited to start on this because we were left with some intriguing loose ends at the end of the last play, with Henry being a young and inexperienced king, the struggle between York and Lancaster starting to heat up, the restive Charles Dauphin plotting something away in France, and of course the revelation that Suffolk has his eye on controlling England through his influence over the brand new queen.

As complicated as all that sounds, Act I of the second part goes buck wild on plot, reminding me of the neck-breaking twisty intrigue found in Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible. Let me give you a brief run-down of where things now stand:

Gloucester has sponsored York in being Regent of France as per the terms of the treaty with Charles. However, Gloucester is irritated that all his hard work conquering France is going to waste with this peace. Cardinal Winchester and Suffolk have decided to join forces to bring down Gloucester after hearing G’s complaints about the king. In an aside, York tells us that he is angling to take over the throne when the opportunity presents itself.

Gloucester’s wife Eleanor turns out to be pretty awful, as she has enlisted the aid of one John Hume to help her take the throne for herself, with or without Gloucester himself.

We learn something of the new queen, as she expresses her distaste for the king and prefers Suffolk’s direct and less-than-pious attitudes. She wants power for herself, and wants Gloucester and particularly Eleanor out of her way.

Somerset (of House Lancaster) is still dead-set against against York and is trying to get the French Regency away from his rival. Through luck and some machinations from his friends, an accusation is leveled against a man that he said York is the true king and Henry is a usurper. This casts a shadow on York and now Gloucester admits his choice for Regent needs to switch to Somerset. Egg is on both faces through no fault of their own. So now York is stuck in England while his rival gets the power in France.

Finally, there is an odd little scene at Gloucester’s house in which the Duchess of Gloucester has a group of conspirators over to work some witchcraft in order to help her win the crown. These witches and wizards summon a demon named Asmath who tells them an ambiguous prophecy that could mean either Henry or Gloucester is deposed, one will outlive the other, and one will have a violent death. Asmath tells everyone he’s busy and really needs to get going and heads back to Hell. As soon as he’s gone, York and Buckingham bust in and arrest everyone, including Eleanor.

Asmath has places he would rather be

The setup for all the different plotlines is exciting and, I have to admit, much more engaging than any of the intrigue introduced in the last play. This was a long first act that was a bit of an info-dump, but Shakespeare was able to add in some good character points, particularly with Eleanor and Margaret the Queen. I am not necessarily only interested in plot, but it was nice for Billy to get things moving quickly here in the beginning of the play.

What will Act II bring? I think we will see an execution (Eleanor) and a fight (the guy who was accused of treason and his accuser), but what is Somerset going to get up to while he’s in France and York is in England, close to the king? We have a lot of possibilities for further secrets and misdeeds to pile up against our poor, innocent, pious Henry.

Published by Alex H.

Reader, writer, editor, dum-dum.

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