Henry VI, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 1 | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

This scene takes place at the court of King Henry VI. He enters the stage with a retinue of high-ranking English noblemen, including Exeter, Gloucester, Winchester, Warwick, Somerset, and Suffolk. Richard Plantagenet (not yet Duke of York) is also in attendance.

Almost immediately, Gloucester and Winchester begin trading insults, each accusing the other of treason. In fact, they and their partisans Somerset and Warwick bicker for nearly 70 lines before King Henry finally intervenes, urging the two men to reconcile. As Henry is attempting to break up the fight, the Mayor of London appears and announces that Gloucester's and Winchester's men have begun fighting in the streets. Weapons are outlawed, so they are throwing stones at each other, breaking windows and terrifying the citizenry in the process.

Three servingmen—two of Gloucester's faction and one of Winchester's—rush onstage in midbrawl, and the king urges them to "hold [their] slaught'ring hands and keep the peace." The servingmen ignore the king and continue to scuffle until, at Henry's urging, Gloucester offers Winchester his hand in truce. At first Winchester refuses this gesture of goodwill, but Henry shames him into making peace with Gloucester—or at least pretending to. He then commands the servingmen to stop fighting and "join in friendship as [their] lords have done." This time, they listen.

With that settled, Warwick asks that Richard Plantagenet be "restorèd to his blood"—the hereditary titles he was barred from when his father was arrested for treason. Henry assents to Warwick's request and confers on Richard Plantagenet the title of Duke of York. This decision displeases Somerset, but everyone else seems to approve, proclaiming, "Welcome, high prince, the mighty Duke of York."

Last on the agenda is the coronation. Gloucester urges King Henry to hold the ceremony in France, saying that it will be good publicity: "The presence of a king engenders love/Amongst his subjects and his loyal friends." Henry agrees, and all but Exeter leave the stage. In a closing soliloquy, Exeter predicts that the "dissension" among the English peers will only grow, even if they make a show of "forged love" in the presence of their king. He mentions an old prophecy "that Henry born at Monmouth should win all/And Henry born at Windsor should lose all." (Henry V, famed for his conquests in the Hundred Years' War, was born at Monmouth Castle; Henry VI, his son, was born at Windsor.)

Analysis

This is the first time King Henry has appeared onstage, and his first actions do little to instill confidence in his ability to rule. For one thing, he lets his noblemen carry on quarreling for several minutes before he finally tries to break up the fight. Then when he orders the servingmen to stop brawling, he finds he cannot even get their attention. King Henry's subjects are occasionally willing to humor him, but that's about all he can expect from this point onward.

This scene is also important as a further development in the Gloucester/Winchester feud. In earlier scenes featuring these two powerful figures, Shakespeare has generally portrayed Winchester as the "bad guy" in the quarrel, less forgiving and more self-serving than Gloucester. This scene continues the trajectory: Winchester won't even shake hands with his kinsman until the king asks him to. Then in an aside, he immediately reveals that his truce with Gloucester is all for show: he has no intention of giving up his campaign against the Duke.

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