“Richard Duke of York (or, Henry VI, Part III),” from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by W. Shakespeare

My Copy: 9780199267170

I admit, this might be the third (and last) part of Henry VI’s reign in a historical context, and the near-middle of Richard III’s, but boy, it sure was a long bridge to it.

Richard Duke of York (or, Henry VI, Part III) is all about transition. The “Richard” in the title is the head of the York house, the father of Edward and Richard (often called Dick by his enemies, or anything regarding his crippled state). He’s marched on London and sits on the throne in the beginning, waiting for King Henry VI to show up and surrender his crown or face death.

I get it that King Henry VI isn’t much of a king, per se. He’s too invested in hoping for the best and not creating more wars, especially civil wars. Queen Margaret, however, is pissed that he’d hand over the crown to York’s sons after his death, because what of their son, Prince Edward? I don’t like Margaret generally because of events in Henry VI, Part II, but I gotta admit that she’s got a point. So, she says “screw it,” and heads the army to fight the York clan for Edward’s crown.

And as people die, the contention is more like a feud and a civil war combined. Henry’s generally shoved aside by his angry wife and son, waxing philosophical about the state of things and how unhappy a circumstance this is. That really doesn’t help his case, except that he’s a fair and gentle soul and nobody really wants to kill him. Or so we’re meant to think.

The alliances shift quite a bit. It’s easy to see how confusing civil war could be in this time, with even the nobles uncertain of who they should be backing (unless they feel personally slighted, like Warwick, in which case it’s “Bring it on!). The people have a harder time in general, with Henry as King then Richard, Duke of York (the elder, not the hunchback).

Well, when Richard dies, hell breaks loose all over again. Henry’s the king, then it’s Edward (the first York son, aka, King Edward IV), then Henry, then Edward…sheesh!

Damned confusing, and then there’s the future Richard III (known as Richard of Gloucester in this play), creeping in and having more and more of a role. This becomes more apparent once Edward wears the crown. Edward sends Warwick to earn the hand of Lady Bona, the sister-in-law to King Louis of France, on his behalf. But then Edward is smitten with the witty Lady Gray and makes her queen, which ticks off the French and makes several allies in the know turn back to Henry’s side.

Note to self–go look for some good books about this period of British history. I’m a little confused (the editors admit, and I know, Shakespeare took some liberties with time-frame and events), and I didn’t get much of a British history element in my schooling, anyway.

Some characters have the same first name, or very similar ones, which make things tricky at times. This might make one confused and want to give up, or have to go back to the part list to get one’s bearings. But it’s kind of interesting, sticking with it. I think it’s a good bridge to what is the end of one line and the beginning of another (with a cliff-hanger of sorts that must’ve told the contemporary audiences that there would definitely be a play about Richard III some day…creepy guy).

Next week is Henry VI, Part 1. I’m really curious how the reign started with this unhappy king, and what created this contention between the houses of York and Lancaster. And the whole “War of the Roses” thing.

Yup–definitely wanna get my hands on some good British history books, because I don’t want to break my promise to myself and watch The Hollow Crown before I’ve finished these plays!

Though I can’t wait to see Tom Hiddleston as Henry V, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III. That’s gotta be spectacular!

Anyhoo, here’s some “Quotables” I found that ring a bell (or just sound good):

QUEEN MARGARET: Off with his head and set it on York gates,

So York may overlook the town of York.

–Act 1, Scene 4

CLIFFORD: The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on.

And doves will peck in safeguard of their brood.

Ambitious York did level at thy crown,

Thou smiling while he knit his angry brows.

He, but a duke, would have his son a king,

And raise his issue like a loving sire;

Thou, being a king, blest with a goodly son,

Didst yield consent to disinherit him,

Which argued thee a most unloving father.

–Act 2, Scene 2

LADY GRAY: My love till death, my humble thanks, my prayers–

That love which virtue begs and virtue grants.

KING EDWARD: No, by my troth, I did not mean such love.

LADY GRAY: Why, then, you mean not as I thought you did.

KING EDWARD: But now you partly may perceive my mind.

LADY GRAY: My mind will never grant what I perceive

Your highness aims at, if I aim aright.

KING EDWARD: To tell thee plain, I aim to lie with thee.

LADY GRAY: To tell you plain, I had rather lie in prison.

–Act 3, Scene 2

RICHARD: I’ll hear no more. Die, prophet, in they speech, [he stabs Henry]

For this, amongst the rest, was I ordained.

KING HENRY: Ay, and for much more slaughter after this.

O, God forgive my sins, and pardon thee.

–Act 5, Scene 6

Happy reading (at least you’ll be happier than these people are, I hope)!

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