Poor Gloucester just can’t seem to get a break. He’s had to watch his wife’s public disgrace, lose his job, and face accusations of impropriety in his office. Unfortunately for him, Act III just gets worse for him. He starts off in ignominy and then dies violently through no fault of his own. York is turning into a right villain, and some major players are removed from the board entirely.
We begin with the king holding Parliament and Gloucester showing up late, giving everyone else an opportunity to talk about him in his absence. Each of our noblemen and the queen spend a little time gossiping about how horrible Gloucester is. When he finally does arrive, he’s arrested by Suffolk for treason. When the king is safely out of earshot, Cardinal Beaufort and Suffolk hatch a plan to get rid of Gloucester for good, clearing the way for their own respective power grabs.
There is a rebellion in Ireland and York is dispatched to deal with it since his rival Somerset lost France entirely to Charles. York is excited because now he has an army with which to challenge Henry. He has even sown the seeds of rebellion in England by enlisting the aid of one John Cade to wreak havoc in York’s absence so upon his return to England, he can pick up the pieces and crown himself king.
The day of Gloucester’s trial arrives and Suffolk sends a bunch of murderers to kill off the accused to make sure he doesn’t have any chance of being found innocent. Suffolk and the Cardinal are found out immediately. Suffolk is banished and he and the queen, his mistress, have an incredibly long and melodramatic parting full of speeches of undying devotion and yadda yadda yadda. The Cardinal is suddenly taken ill or poisoned and dies an ugly death at the end of the act.
I liked this act as I felt like York is emerging more and more to become a truly nasty piece of work. He started out fairly sympathetic in the first play and is now making some unpleasant things happen. It was fun to see Gloucester’s fate come to its logical end. He was a good guy, so he deserved to die a violent death. I did not enjoy the endless groaning and moaning between Suffolk and Queen Margaret after he is banished. I have to hold out hope that one or both of them will encounter a vicious end fairly soon. Henry himself is turning out to be something of a milquetoast, which is disappointing in the titular character, a king no less. But, I have never felt like these plays are truly about Henry, just that his name is an easy shorthand for the era.
My English history is not so good, but I believe York is going to become the monstrous usurper Richard III, which is great because that play comes right after the third part of Henry VI. In the meantime, I will keep an eye on him.