Act II of Henry VI Part Three really seemed to me to be about the dissolution of a marriage. We’ve seen that Henry and Margaret don’t have a great relationship. In fact, Margaret was unfaithful with Suffolk right from the beginning of her marriage. Henry has rarely stuck up for himself with anyone, certainly not with Margaret. In this act, her domineering nature and his spinelessness clash spectacularly. She overrides him at every turn and even makes him sit out of battle because she says she does much better when he’s not around. This does not feel like a healthy marriage at all.
Once again, we are in the midst of battle as York and Lancaster duke it out (pun intended) for the English crown. Henry wants everyone to just get along, but Margaret and Clifford are bloodthirsty as all getout. Richard and Edward are joined by Warwick and the war rages on with Clifford dying a nasty death at the end and Edward headed to London to crown himself king. Throughout, we see Henry’s lack of decisiveness lead to rash actions that will ultimately dethrone him and imperil the realm. His wife, the queen, throws aside all pretense and a couple of times tells him in so many words to sit down while the adults are talking. Henry’s own son doesn’t respect him, Margaret certainly doesn’t respect him, he’s lost the support of the ever-faithful Warwick by breaking his word, and now the Yorks are taking the throne. Things look bad for our good king Henry. And as bad as it looks to us, he pities himself more than anyone. At one point he sees a son slay his father in battle and then a different father kill his own son. In their grief, the two surviving men go off to die rather than survive knowing what they’ve done. Henry sees all this and says that as bad as they have it, he’s got it worse. You know, I’m turning on Henry a little bit, too.
This act was also a bit of a showcase for Richard, who is proving himself to be manipulative and aggressive for his own pursuits. When Warwick and Edward are ready to give up the battle as they were completely overmatched, Richard told Warwick that his brother was slain by Clifford and with his dying breath, he implored Warwick to avenge him. Now, we never actually see this on stage and we never hear of any other reference to it, so there’s a good chance Richard made it up to get Warwick back into battle. This sort of thing isn’t necessarily an evil trait, but it’s most definitely manipulative. And I have a feeling we will see a lot of that kind of thing in the next play.
Boy, Part Three has been a wild ride so far! Will Act III be another battle sequence? Stay tuned to find out next time.