When I started this project of reading everything by Shakespeare in roughly chronological order, I didn’t really think about how the man himself would grow as a writer. I imagined him springing forth fully-formed from a giant clamshell or something, writing the most influential literature in the Western canon from the start. The first two parts of Henry VI have proven to be less than the incredible feats of literary prowess that we come to expect from The William Shakespeare. Instead, I’ve found these plays to be fun, with an emphasis on action over character. There are certainly none of the Big Ideas that I’m sure we’ll be getting to soon enough.
I have found everything so far to be enjoyable, sure, but if these were the plays you put in front of me to demonstrate why this guy is taught in schools and admired so widely, I would think you were nuts. The action is there. The intrigue is sort of there. The characters are not there at all. Well, except for two notable characters. The rest are flat and all seem to share a common voice. The only two I’ve been impressed by are Joan of Arc in the first play and John Cade in the second play. Joan was in the whole play, though her part was quite minimal. She made quite an impact in her brief time on stage, however. Cade was only in one act of the second play, but he made the entire second part worthwhile. I know from my earlier reading of some of the big plays that Billy’s characters don’t remain two-dimensional. I’m looking forward to the richness and depth of the entire cast of characters in Hamlet. Unfortunately, the Henry VI plays don’t seem to have that going for them. But it’s kind of nice to start this whole thing off by reducing any intimidation factor with a couple of meh plays. Shakespeare has proven himself to be a mere mortal.
Now, one more of these plays, then we get to see why he’s immortal. Next up is Henry VI Part Three.