- King Henry VI
- Edward, Prince of Wales. Henry’s son
- Louis XI, King of France
- Dukes of Somerset and Exeter + Earls of Oxford, Northumberland, and Westmoreland + Lord Clifford (Henry’s allies)
- Duke of York
- Edward (later King Edward IV), York’s son
- George (later Duke of Clarence), York’s son
- Earl of Rutland, York’s son
- Richard (later Duke of Gloster), York’s son
- Duke of Norfolk + Marquis of Montague + Earls of Warwick and Pembroke + Lords Hastings and Stafford (York’s allies)
- Sir John and Sir Hugh Mortimer (York’s uncles)
- Queen Margaret
- Lady Grey (later Queen to King Edward IV)
- Bona, sister to French Queen
The Play’s the Thing: York and some of his cronies open the play hanging out in Parliament pondering how King Henry managed to get away from their forces and exchanging news of who they slaughtered (with Richard tossing Somerset’s head on the floor). Henry finally arrives and has a power showdown with York. He ultimately caves and agrees to name York as his heir as long as York allows Henry to continue the rest of his reign in peace. Henry’s allies are disgusted at these peace terms, Margaret is furious that Henry has betrayed his son in this way and decides to lead an army against York herself. York is happy with his deal for about thirty seconds until the cronies convince him to depose Henry and then word arrives of Margaret and her army and everyone heads out to fight. Clifford kills Rutland, refusing to pity the fact he’s a child. Later, when Margaret, Clifford and company capture York, they rub in the fact they’ve killed Rutland. York gives a moving speech and then is stabbed by Clifford and Margaret and then dies.
Edward and Richard are wondering where their father is when they get news that he’s been killed. Edward vows to take Henry’s crown. He then receives word that Margaret wants to have a meeting. Meanwhile, Margaret is asking King Henry if he’s happy York is dead, and being Henry, he isn’t. Margaret and Clifford then tell Henry to get lost because they do better in battle without him and they’ve just received news that Warwick and Edward are on their way. However, Henry decides he’ll stay this time. Edward and Henry then have a power showdown over who is rightfully the king and then they head off to battle. There’s a few battle scenes between various parties, then King Henry gives a soliloquy about how he’d much rather be a shepherd with a peaceful life. We then see a son who’s killed his father and a father who’s killed his son (take note: civil war is bad). Henry is then urged to run by Margaret and their son because they’re being soundly beaten. Edward, Richard, and George happen upon Clifford as he dies. Edward then makes himself King and names Richard Duke of Gloster and George Duke of Clarence. Warwick heads to France to solicit Bona to be Edward’s wife so they can cement relations with France.
Two deer hunters capture Henry who’s just returned to England after hiding out in Scotland for a while and decide to turn him over to Edward. During this scene, we learn that Margaret and their son are in France begging for aid from the King of France to help Henry defeat Edward. In London, Edward has been utterly charmed by Lady Grey, a widow who is begging for her husband’s land to be left with her. Edward propositions her and she refuses so he decides to marry her instead. We also get our first hints that Richard has higher aspirations than his current dukedom and wants the crown all to himself. In France, Margaret is asking King Louis for aid. Warwick then shows up to ask for Bona’s hand on behalf of Edward. Louis decides to give Bona to Warwick for Edward because Edward has more public support than Henry and he wants to back a winning horse. Then a messenger shows up with letters for everyone. Everyone’s received news of Edward’s marriage to Lady Grey. Louis decides to back Henry after all, Warwick switches to Henry’s side because of the perceived betrayal, and everybody sends verbal hate mail back to Edward via the messenger.
Edward is chatting with George and Richard about his wife. George thinks he made a poor choice and Richard falsely sucks up and says he likes her. The messenger shows up and tells Edward all the nasty things the peeps from France said about him. Edward fakes that its no big, although he freaks a bit in an aside when George switches sides as well. We then get more battle stuff. Warwick, George, and Oxford capture Edward in his tent. In London, Edward’s wife tries not to freak out too much about Edward’s capture because she’s pregnant. Out in the boonies, Richard and some cronies rescue Edward from captivity. In London, Warwick and George are releasing Henry from the Tower. They get news Edward’s escaped and head off to battle some more. Edward has a showdown with the mayor of York who initially refuses to let him in but then eventually relents. Henry sees off a bunch of his cronies who are headed out to fight Edward’s army but when Henry is alone, he’s capture by Edward and shipped back to the Tower again.
Warwick and Edward exchange words and George switches sides back to his brother. There’s some battle scenes and Warwick is killed. Edward is crowing about his victory and receives word that Margaret has arrived with an army of her own and he heads off to meet her. There’s some battle speeches from Margaret and company and then some fighting. Edward captures Margaret and her son. He, Richard, and George all stab him and he dies. Margaret pleads for them to kill her too but they refuse. Richard heads off at light speed to London to kill Henry, which he does in the tower. Richard then gives a soliloquy about his plans to nab the crown. However, first he and George make up with Edward and his wife, and kiss their new baby. Edward ends the play stating his hope for a peaceful future.
Heroes and Villains: There’s some truly fascinating characters wandering around this play but none of them are particularly likable. Margaret gets a lot of points for being such an amazing military leader and negotiator. However, Richard also deserves some notice as Shakespeare plants the seeds in this play for the heights of villainy he’ll get up to when we see him next.
Speech to Know: Richard has a few speeches where he plots his overthrow of his brothers and his final major speech in the penultimate scene of the play is probably the best of them.
“I that have neither pity, love, nore fear. –
Indeed, ’tis true that Henry told me of;
For I have often heard my mother say
I came into the world with my legs forward:
Had I not reason, think ye, to make haste,
And seek their ruin that usurp’d our right:
The midwife wonder’d; and the women cried,
O, Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!
And so I was, which plainly signified
That I should snarl, and bite, and play the dog.
Then, since the heavens have shap’d my body so,
Let hell make crook’d my mind to answer it.
I have no brother, I am like no brother;
And this word love, which greybeards call divine,
Be resident in men like one another,
And not in me: I am myself alone. –
Clarence, beware; thou keep’st me from the light:
But I will sort a pitchy day for thee;
For I will buzz abroad such prophecies
That Edward shall be earful of his life:
And then, to purge his fear, I’ll be thy death.
King Henry and the prince his son are gone:
Clarence, thy turn is next, and then the rest;
Counting myself but bad till I be best. –
I’ll throw thy body in another room,
And triumph, Henry, in thy day of doom.” (V.vi)
View from the Pit: Henry VI Part 3 is a bit of a letdown after the awesomeness of the previous part. There are a lot of plotlines going on and a lot of time being covered in very short order and things come across as a bit crammed. While there is some distinct awesomeness from Margaret and the body count is pretty high with at least one major-ish character dying in every act, this play mostly serves as a preview of the villainy we can expect from Richard. Sadly, Henry VI himself never really moves beyond the cardboard cutout he started out as in the first part. He remains a one-note character that doesn’t really grow over the arc of the play and I mostly felt sorry for this man who was so ill-suited to power and forever living in the shadow of his thoroughly awesome father.